Do teacher bargaining rights expand achievement gap?

Much of the current debate over the bargaining rights of public employees has focused on money and power, Tom Jacobs writes in Miller-McCune. When it comes to one group of employees–teachers–a new study examines the impact of collective bargaining rights on students, and reaches a troubling conclusion, Jacobs says.

The study just published in the Yale Law Journal, which looks at recent experience in New Mexico, concludes that mandatory collective bargaining laws for public-school teachers lead to an increase in SAT scores – and a decline in graduation rates.

Between 1993 and 1999, New Mexico required school districts to bargain with teacher unions. The authorizing legislation expired in 1999, and was not reinstated until 2003. That gave the study’s author, Benjamin Lindy, a real-life window into the effect of collective bargaining on student performance.

Why would collective bargaining rights for teachers affect performance? Lindy theorizes that under union contracts that give teachers the right to transfer among schools, the most experienced teachers choose more affluent schools, with fewer disciplinary and other problems, leaving less experienced teachers to face bigger challenges. Without contracts, districts can assign the best teachers to schools with the greatest needs, regardless of seniority.