“Did you know that teachers in Wisconsin make $100,000 a year?”
“Maybe that’s why their students rank second in achievement.”
This is how rumors get started—and how public opinion is shaped. In the wake of the heated, national debate over the elimination of teachers’ unions’ collective bargaining rights, including bargaining for salary rates, many such “facts” have surfaced. However, a quick check on FactCheck.org shows that $100,000 is not the average salary, but rather the total average compensation package, salary and benefits, for teachers in Milwaukee. The claim that Wisconsin ranks second in combined SAT and ACT scores is based on questionable data from more than a decade ago.
Much of the back-and-forth discourse in the media about teachers’ unions can distract us from what matters most: Do they help make teaching better for teachers? If so, does it translate into better learning for students? In a chapter from School Reform Proposals: The Research Evidence (Molnar [Ed.], 2002), Robert Carini of Indiana University Bloomington examined the effect of teachers’ unions on student achievement in 17 studies. He found that unions “modestly” raise achievement for most students in public schools, especially on math and verbal sections of standardized tests. However, Carini also found that unions were “harmful” for the lowest- and highest-achieving students.
Others, like Andrew J. Coulson in the CATO Journal article, “The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education,” argue that achievement has stagnated while unions and the cost of schooling have grown dramatically. The value of unions for its members, he asserts, is protection from having to compete in the educational marketplace—essentially a “government school monopoly.”
Have unions affected your job, your teaching, and your students, for better or worse? Do you think they help or hold back education?
Maura McGrath is Knowledge Management Specialist at McREL.