Study: Teachers' unions don't provide more pay

October 20, 2009

Teachers' unions have little impact on a school district's allocation of money, including teacher pay and spending per student, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Labor Economics.

Using data from school districts in Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota, Cornell economist Michael Lovenheim compared district spending trends before and after each district became unionized. He also compared trends between union and non-union districts. Specifically, his analysis looked at teacher pay, spending per student, number of teachers employed and student-teacher ratio.

"My results indicate unions have no impact on teacher pay, either in the short or long run," Lovenheim writes. "I also estimate little effect on per-student expenditures, particularly in the long-run."

Unionization does increase the number of teachers that a district employs, the study found. But those increases were offset by increases in student enrollment. As a result, there was no difference in student-teacher ratio attributable to unionization.

The study also found that unionization has no effect on student drop-out rates—an indication that unions do not improve teacher productivity or educational outcomes, Lovenheim says.

The findings are at odds with previous studies on teachers' unions, most of which have found that unions do increase teacher pay and district spending. But Lovenheim argues that those studies used inaccurate data on which districts were actually unionized and when those unions became active.

To correct this, Lovenheim gathered certifications of union elections from state Public Employment Relations Board offices. The certifications mark the exact time when teachers in each district elected someone to represent them at the bargaining table. Knowing exactly which districts unionized and when is essential for an accurate analysis, Lovenheim argues.

The results raise the question: If teachers' unions have no clear impact on such a wide swath of measures, why unionize at all?

"One possible answer to this puzzle is teachers perceive organization increases their pay," Lovenheim writes. "Indeed, when talking to union members during this study, wage increases were the most commonly mentioned benefit of , in contrast to what this analysis shows."

It is also possible that unions provide benefits in working conditions such as hiring and firing rules, pay structure or promotion. "There is anecdotal evidence teachers' unions provide these benefits…, but I lack the data to test for such effects," Lovenheim writes.

More information: Michael Lovenheim, "The Effect of Teachers' Unions on Education Production: Evidence from Union Election Certification in Three Midwestern States." 27:4 (October 2009).

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: U.S. union rates up substantially in 2008 for first time since 1970s, study shows

Related Stories

Performance pay is a good lesson for education, expert finds

March 13, 2009

Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced a new education reform, calling for a merit-pay system for teachers in hopes of improving student performance. As the nation's public schools spend $187 billion in salaries, based ...

Study: Teachers choose schools according to student race

May 27, 2009

A study forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics suggests that high-quality teachers tend to leave schools that experience inflows of black students. According to the study's author, C. Kirabo Jackson (Cornell University), ...

Recommended for you

Amateur paleontologist finds rare fossil of fish in Arizona

September 3, 2015

Growing up, Stephanie Leco often would dig in her backyard and imagine finding fossils of a tyrannosaurus rex. She was fascinated with the idea of holding something in her hand that was millions of years old and would give ...

X-rays reveal fossil secrets

September 3, 2015

A sophisticated imaging technique has allowed scientists to virtually peer inside a 10-million-year-old sea urchin, uncovering a treasure trove of hidden fossils.

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CWFlink
not rated yet Oct 21, 2009
The union serves as a "broker" or "middle man" (... "middle person"?) between labor and management. It is valuable if there is a serious power or intelligence difference between the two and management is prone to exploitation.

School systems are not profit driven and are run by compassionate people largely dedicated to service to their own communities and children.

Teachers are well educated (relatively) and certainly should be able to represent themselves in an intelligent manner without the aid of a union.

I'm thus not surprised with the result in this market, but doubt it extends beyond education.

BUT.... a much better future for unions would be to expand into offering "pooled services" to their members. Rather than fight managment over health benefits and insurance programs for employees, unions could provide a much better service by OFFERING insurance programs to their members. Model: AARP... basically a union for the "retired". Good example.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.