But full disclosure right up front-- I can't really make sense out of her methodology. Han takes sixteen pages just to explain how she did what she did, and it includes all sorts of economist equationing and data mumbo-jumbo that is just plain beyond me. Things like this:
Han has a Ph.D. from Harvard and she has, no kidding, an impressive bucket list. And I can follow the reasoning behind her data crunching, but not the crunching itself. And if her findings seem vaguely familiar, it's because they have been covered elsewhere (check out this interview with Han from Edushyster). But there are some pieces of research that are worth re-blogging about. You say "redundant;" I say "amplifying the message."
So here are the conclusions Han reached with her data crunching.
Union Strength Affects Teacher Pay-- But So Do Other Factors
Much to nobody's surprise, districts with stronger collective bargaining units end up with higher-paid teachers. Generally that "wage premium" is paid for teachers with the most experience.
However, there are other factors that figure in. Districts with a high percentage of minority students pay their teachers more. But teachers who work in districts with a large student population, and teachers who work in districts with a large free/reduced lunch enrollment are paid "significantly less." And of course, where collective bargaining is illegal, teachers get paid less (so those legislators who have stamped out collective bargaining have achieved one of their goals-- congratulations, you cheapskates). As has been pointed out innumerable times, the "right to work" does not go along with the "right to be paid a great wage."
Union Strength Affects the Dismissal of "Bad" Teachers
But not the way you would expect it to. To listen to the rhetoric of the past years, one would think that unions are out there building fortresses around the worst teachers, allowing those terrible teachers to commit professional malpractice, suck the brains out of students, and kill puppies with impunity. Changing the system so that Bad Teachers can be gotten rid of has been consistently raised as one of the great educational concerns of the age, and unions have been painted as the principal obstacle to the bad teacher jettisoning.
Not so, says Han. It's a little more complicated than that.
|from Han, The Myth of Unions' Overprotection (2016)|
So, high collective bargaining districts fire the largest number of their new, untenured teachers. And schools where there are no collective bargaining rights at all fire the fewest of their new hires before they can become tenured. No collective bargaining schools also fire the largest percentage of tenured teachers.
There's actually an economics rule for this, which basically says that the more you pay for something, the more inclined you are to demand quality. True for toasters, new cars, and, Han asserts, for hiring teachers as well. Districts that pay big-- well, bigger-- bucks are more inclined to make careful use of their tenure system, says Han.
Union Effect on Retention
When it comes to teacher retention, districts with strong collective bargaining do the best job of holding onto their people. Districts with no collective bargaining are most likely to lose teachers through voluntary departure.
Han also notes that voluntary retirement is a U-shaped curve, with most folks checking out either very early in their career or after many, many years. This fits with an assertion many have long made, which is that what mostly happens to Bad Teachers is that within a year or two they look around and decide they want to get out of dodge. While reformsters search for punishments that will drive bad teachers out, the best discouragement for any person is to return day after day to face a roomful of students one is not equipped to teach. Teaching badly is really hard on a person, and very few people can stand to teach badly for more than a year or two.
Union Effect on Quality and Achievement
Let me lead with the usual disclaimer-- we aren't really talking about teacher quality or student achievement. We're talking about test scores, which is a useful metric for almost nothing. But it's the metric many folks love, so let's see if-- by their metric-- unions have any kind of effect.
Surprise. Teachers in the high collective bargaining schools were 5% more likely to be high quality teachers than those in the no collective bargaining schools. Student test scores are maybe a bit better; unionism seems to have no real effect on the dropout rate.
Restricting Bargaining Rights and Retaining Teachers
Taking away bargaining rights causes many teachers to start looking for greener pastures. We needed an economist to figure this out?
Han's observation is that strong collectively bargained pay systems do a better job of attracting and retaining teachers than things like merit pay and performance bonuses. Also, a strong union results in less turnover of staff, which provides more stability for the school and students.
In short-- where you find a stronger union, you will find a stronger school district.
Now, I do see some caveats here. Some of Han's data is five years old, which is a lot of time in the current climate. I am also wary that with all these factors flying around, there may be some confusion between correlation and causation. Strong unions may be a symptom of a strong school community, and not a cause.
But that doesn't change one significant part of the findings-- the notion that busting unions will make schools better has absolutely no data to support it. "If we could just get rid of the union, we'd have better teachers in our schools," is bunk without a leg to stand on. Reformsters should welcome one finding here-- Han's work finds one more way to support the notion that schools in poor communities are not getting the best teachers in their classrooms. What reformsters may not like is the notion that one way to strengthen those schools (beside, you know, getting the government to fully fund them) is by strengthening the local union.
Imagine that. Test results come in showing a struggling school, so policy makers and legislators and school leaders put their heads together and say, "Well, we need to call the NEA and the AFT and see how we can get a stronger union in these buildings." Wouldn't that be an interesting new approach to school reform.