New study shows strong teachers union bosses hurt student performance
It’s becoming clear that teachers’ union bosses are doing a lousy job representing the best interests of their members. Case in point: Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis. Not only did she organize a strike and agree to a contract that she knew would cost thousands of her fellow union members their jobs, but she...
It’s becoming clear that teachers’ union bosses are doing a lousy job representing the best interests of their members. Case in point: Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis.
Not only did she organize a strike and agree to a contract that she knew would cost thousands of her fellow union members their jobs, but she also blocked reforms aimed at improving teacher accountability.
But a new study from the University of Chicago shows that union bosses such as Lewis aren’t just failing their unions, they are actively advocating for policies that have a negative effect on people they are supposed to care the most about: students.
Teachers unions gain their power through collecting union dues from teachers, regardless of whether or not they want to pay them. Union bosses then spend large amounts of that money on political campaigns in hopes that the legislators they support will vote for laws that benefit the union.
The study’s authors compared union dues per teacher and union spending per student to student test scores nationwide to analyze the effect that the growth in teachers’ union power has on student performance.
The results are stunning:
- A $233 rise in union dues per teacher causes student math and reading scores to drop almost 4 percentage points
- A $14 increase in union spending per student results in a 3 percentage point decrease in math and reading scores
This happens because powerful teachers union bosses are able to pass laws that protect their interests and make it more difficult to implement education reforms that boost student achievement.
Previous research demonstrates as much:
- For the 17 states where union dues per teacher are on the low-end of the scale, between $24 and $172 annually, and teachers unions are weak:
- For the 16 states where union dues per teacher are on the high-end, between $338 and $883, and teachers unions are strong:
Though the findings in this study are based on national data, it would not be surprising if Illinois teachers unions have a similar effect on student outcomes.
A look at the Illinois Policy Institute’s recently released Labor Book shows just how powerful the state’s teachers’ union bosses are.
In fact, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union combined gave $15.9 million to elected officials between 2002 and 2012.
That can buy much-needed access to legislators when education-related bills are being voted on.
Illinois legislators should support laws that boost student outcomes, such as ending teacher tenure and increasing merit pay, rather than laws that empower union bosses to the detriment of the state’s students.
But as long as union bosses are able to flex their muscles and block real reforms, they’ll kill bills that seek to change the status quo.
That needs to change, especially here in Illinois.