Against teacher collective bargaining

Our estimates suggest that teacher collective bargaining worsens the future labor market outcomes of students: living in a state that has a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 grade-school years reduces earnings by $800 (or 2%) per year and decreases hours worked by 0.50 hours per week. The earnings estimate indicates that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation, as well as reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which workers sort. The effects are driven by men and nonwhites, who experience larger relative declines in long-run outcomes.

That is from a new paper by Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen, via Noah Smith.


Note the caveats:
"However, there are a couple of caveats to
generalizing these findings to current students. First, the cohorts we analyze were exposed to an
educational environment very different from the one that exists today. For example school choice
as well as teacher, school and student accountability policies that are currently rather ubiquitous
were virtually nonexistent during the 1960s-1980s. Some of the effects of teacher collective
bargaining we estimate could be driven by how teachers’ unions interacted with specific aspects
of the educational system that no longer are relevant. Second, the current collective bargaining
law changes in many states alter aspects of collective bargaining, not the legality of collective
bargaining itself. Examination of these policy changes will lend much insight into whether one
can change collective bargaining laws to reduce the negative impacts on students we find while
still providing teachers with the bargaining benefits they clearly value. We view this as an
important set of questions for future research."

Great satire.

Google quickly returns:

"Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators, effectively banning teachers unions. Those states and their SAT/ACT rankings are as follows:

South Carolina – 50th

North Carolina – 49th

Georgia – 48th

Texas – 47th

Virginia – 44th"

The home grown workers in those States do not stand out for having higher incomes than national income ranges.

All those States have big State industrial policies of promoting immigration of educated workers from States and nations with strong (teacher) unions.

If teacher unions produce such poor workers, why do GOP States try to get all the bad workers California teacher unions produce?

You are comparing apples to oranges. You are comparing people with more toes than teeth in South Carolina with educated people's children in California. The right question is, wouldn't California's schools be better without collective bargaining?!

Your comment is a great example of why libertarianism has been a complete and miserable failure. And in actuality South Carolina outperforms California in its NAEP score:

Except that I am not a Libertarian even if I can agree with them sometimes.

So you are just a bigot.

That stat is not reliable:

"As Greely pointed out, the stat is clearly biased against those states which take a mix of the SAT and the ACT rather than being dominated by one or the other. In states where only a few of the most elite students take the SAT such as number 1 ranked Iowa or number 4 ranked Kansas, the SAT numbers count for half of the score even as they only account for a fraction of the students, which can be seen when comparing their high SAT scores to their ACT scores, which are above average but not top ten. A true measure would have to weight the combined scores by the percentage taking each test, feasible I'm sure, though it should be pointed out that the NAEP already measures 12th graders on the same test and state rankings are of course available."

Which stat is it that you say is not reliable?

Presumably this one:

Virginia ranks 11th in the nation in 2016 for per capita personal income: $53,723 (average in 2016 dollars)

Illegal Mexican aliens in Texas make far more than their peers in collective bargaining teacher Mexico.

please list a citation. here's what i found:

...which shows your #50 (South Carolina) definitely not at the bottom, in fact outperforming California.

Listen up:

Nothing is more obvious than this --- the Teachers Union is about nothing other than enriching teachers, and forcing those teachers to contribute money to the Democrats party whether they want to or not.

These are blindingly obvious facts.

Did you want to say any of this is for "For the children"? ---- Fuck you.


Sure, but I'm skeptical of what could be done if they are eliminated. The big loads of steaming bullsh*t look to me like they're emanating from the administration rather than the teachers or unions. Teacher compensation isn't what's driving the massive increase in costs.

what’s driving the massive, ever increasing costs ... is the long established cartelization of public/government schools, enforced by hi school taxes and compulsory attendance laws.
Teachers naturally want a big piece of that cash extorted from taxpayers, as do all the administrators, staff and government bureaucrats in the school system.

90% of Americans attend public schools. Everybody pays schools taxes, even if you go to private schools or have no children. There is almost no market competition in our school system-- and people here just can't ever figure out what the basic problem is.

Are you counting the pensions? Like if they were funded properly?

"the Teachers Union is about nothing other than enriching teachers"

In the same way the corporation is all about enriching shareholders and top management, that stuff about corporate social responsibility? B.S. I'm very opposed to the political activities of the teacher unions, but there's nothing wrong with middle class people having a group representing their interests. I wish us private sector workers would do the same.

+1 but why do you think the political activities so naturally follow from the collective bargaining? Why do teacher's unions protect their senior members at the expense of new teachers or junior members? Nothing is wrong with middle class people having a group representing their interests, but everything seems to be wrong with middle class people half-choosing agents to represent "their" interests.

There is a difference between a corporation looking to enrich itself by engaging in free trade with other willing parties and a collection of people colluding to enrich themselves using the power of the state. In the latter case people have to pay their taxes whether or not they are getting value for money or not for their taxes. If schools were all private and funded via vouchers perhaps your point would be valid.

If teachers were paid more there would be better quality teachers, right? That's Econ 101. So what's wrong exactly with a mechanism for supporting those incomes? The fact that teachers still don't make much money might even suggest we need MORE teacher union power...

If we don't want unions we gotta pay people enough to not need them.

"If teachers were paid more there would be better quality teachers, right? " - no that is not how it works. Of course you will get more people wanting to become teachers but the selection method and the ability to remove bad teachers is the most important thing.

There is also the point that teachers actually don't need to be great, just good enough to keep order in the class room. The stuff that is taught at high school is not difficult to master for any 100+ IQ person so teachers don't need to be some kind of genius. And for those with romantic notions about inspiring children to learn from such movies of Dead Poets society, get real. Most high school teachers get to see hundreds of kids per year, if it were that easy to change human personalities then we would have a really different world to what we have.

Well I dunno, I pretty much want my kids educated by the smartest people that can be incentivized to teach them, but maybe that's just me.

Well of course you do if you can get someone else to pay for it. That's why I support vouchers. If you really feel like paying teachers a whole lot more will make your kid a genius, I am not going to stop you. It's when you want to force me to pay for your whims that I object.

The median public school teacher in the US makes $54,525.

The median household income in the US is $59,000.

Call it 10 months of work and the median public school teacher is doing quite well.

Note that the median household often includes two workers and the median public school teacher is doing quite well (adding a minimum wage job places teachers well up the household income ladder).

The national average wage appears to be around $27,000, but I suspect that may have some noise in the data. Nonetheless teachers do quite well.

Look at the pensions and deferred compensation and the median public school teacher is doing quite well.

Some places do pay their teachers poorly, these places tend to have trouble hiring anyone. Most places do not and I have never seen a real shortage of teachers wherever their compensation is not significantly below national average.

Maybe we should pay teachers significantly more to get better results, but if we going for that sort of pay for performance I do not see how you can keep the current bargaining structure. We want to reward effective teachers, not effective networkers or rules-lawyers.

"still don’t make much money"

For 8 months work? They sure do.

"The median public school teacher in the US makes $54,525. The median household income in the US is $59,000."

What's the median income for someone with a 4 year degree? Teachers have those. How does the comparison change over different points in one's career? For instance, how does the salary of a teacher who's been at it for 40 years compare to the income of non-teachers of the same age and education level who've been continuously employed for 40 years?

"Call it 10 months of work and the median public school teacher is doing quite well."

You get the summer, but it's not exactly a nine-to-five job during the school year. Also, you could argue it's high-stress / high-frustration relative to other white-collar jobs.

I work at a software company. We have project managers who are non-technical and manage the implementation of our project for a given set of customers. These individuals usually have a business or liberal arts degree from a 4-year institution but no graduate work. The only skills required for the job are friendliness, native English speaker, organization and time management. Seriously. I only know the salary of one of them, but she's in her late 20s and makes around $90k. Comparing her skill set and the demands of her position, that seems patently unfair compared to what teacher's do and earn.

@ChrisA: "There is also the point that teachers actually don’t need to be great, just good enough to keep order in the class room."

That's the case for most jobs. You don't have to be great; you just have to not suck relative to your peers.

You think teachers should be paid as much as software engineers? Presumably your software engineers get graded, and ranked, and the ones that can't cut it get pushed out and also if your customers don't like your products you go out of business (plus I bet your retirement and medical benefits are worse too). If you applied all this to teachers then I would be happy to pay them as much as software engineers.

Oh and on your comment that most jobs are like teachers in that competence is all that is required, sure this is true of low paid jobs like janitors, cleaners, fast food and assembly line works. The jobs that pay well though scale, that is the better you are the more impact you can have the bottom line, indefinitely. A great software engineer is worth a lot more than the average. A great teacher unfortunately isn't, the science is pretty clear, genetics and peer groups are vastly more important in student performance than any teaching method. And everyone teaches the same curriculum so it isn't like a great teacher can add more knowledge to their students.

@ChrisA: "You think teachers should be paid as much as software engineers?"

Absolutely not. But these people I'm talking about aren't software engineers. They're non-technical. The engineers think they're morons. In some (not all) cases I would agree.

@ChrisA: "on your comment that most jobs are like teachers in that competence is all that is required, sure this is true of low paid jobs like janitors, cleaners, fast food and assembly line works. The jobs that pay well though scale, that is the better you are the more impact you can have the bottom line, indefinitely. A great software engineer is worth a lot more than the average."

All I can say is that, in my experience, there are some very mediocre (to be charitable) software engineers who nevertheless remain near constantly employed and who earn industry average or only marginally less. My employer may be uniquely shitty in this regard (though I doubt it), but we hardly ever fire engineers for poor performance. You may write shit code and take longer than most people to write it, but as long as you keep a good attitude, show up on time and meet your deadlines, you will not be let go. There is a shocking lack of awareness on the part of management as to the actual quality of different engineers' output.

So you are saying teachers should get paid $90k per year because some other office job pays $90k per year according to your anecdotal evidence and you don't find the people employed in that job to be particularly skilled? Do you really think that is valid logic? Do you know how much money that would cost? How much would taxes have to go up?

Also wouldn't you just be paying the same people much more, by and large, for a long time?

@Anonymous: "So you are saying teachers should get paid $90k per year because..."

No, I'm arguing against the idea that teachers are uniquely overpaid for their skill sets and work performed.

@Anonymous: "Do you know how much money that would cost? How much would taxes have to go up?"

It would cost more, sure. Taxes would go up. If it resulted in better outcomes for students, crime would eventually go down, along with needs-based social services. Productivity would go up. But you're arguing against a straw man since I'm not (necessarily) advocating teachers be paid $90k. Maybe we could get a better set of teachers by paying them a mere $5k more, or $10k.

@Anonymous: "Also wouldn’t you just be paying the same people much more, by and large, for a long time?"

No, I wouldn't, because I wouldn't support higher pay without the coincident addition of more performance-based turnover.


Googling isn't that hard. The average salary for holders of a Bachelor's degree is 48,127. Teacher's get paid more than even people with the same credential (and please do not compare post-graduate teaching degrees, those are totally different in research load and hour counts). And again, they work fewer weeks a year.

From my own experience, I have found that the teachers unions do not care at all about capabilities. For instance, you would think that a local MD volunteering to teach an anatomy elective would be well received. After all, where are you going to find a teacher who has eight years of post-graduate training specializing in medicine? Instead the local union grieved the administration because it might reduce the number of dues paying members.

Here is the real way you tell if teacher's are over or under paid - how many applications come in for vacancies. Sure, math and science are often short applications and it would make sense to pay them more, but too many unions refuse to allow the harder to fill slots more cash. Which again shows that that unions are not about maximizing teacher quality.

@Sure: "Here is the real way you tell if teacher’s are over or under paid – how many applications come in for vacancies."

More applications => more likelihood they're overpaid. However, # of applications is also affected by how tough it is to get an offer. Lower standards => more applications.

If pay is to raise, I would raise it conjunction with standards. That means more people applying for teaching positions and getting rejected. More people getting an offer, then getting laid off a few years later for substandard performance. Etc.

Corporations (and governments), with their monopolistic and monopsonistic powers are just as "free trade" as a collection of people colluding so that they aren't taken advantage of by said monopsony.

I'm sure some union activities are to the detriment of the taxpayers, but simple collective bargaining is not one of them. There's nothing about negotiating the price of something regardless of whether its an individual, union, company, government etc that does the negotiating that makes it anti "free trade".

Hear hear. Nothing anti-libertarian about individuals joining together to advocate for themselves.

Nothing anti-libertarian about it unless the people are required to be in the union, or the company is required to negotiate with only the union.

You are just asserting that corporations have monopolistic and monopsonistic powers?

The problem is public sector unions where there is only one side to the negotiations. Unions negotiate with representatives they bought with union dues to enrich themselves at the expense of third parties (tax payers)

"... there’s nothing wrong with middle class people having a group representing their interests" ... as long labor union membership and/or union due$ are VOLUNTARY -- which they are not in many teachers unions.

also, private corporations can NOT compel everyone to buy their services/products -- but public schools & their teachers proudly do so every day.

seems most Americans just can't fathom the concept of personal liberty in daily life

"private corporations can NOT compel everyone to buy their services/products".. I'm not so sure about that. See healthcare industry and telecom/internet conglomerates.

In some places their are choices, in scarringly many, there are not

Obamacare (government) forced people to buy healthcare -- and you think private corporations were holding the gun ?? Lack of competition in ISP's is a DIRECT result of government enforced cartels.

100% a result of government regulations

"the Teachers Union is about nothing other than enriching teachers"

That's a feature, not a bug. And I'm not sure anyone, including Teachers' Unions, has claimed otherwise. That's the whole point: to ensure teachers are compensated fairly, with "fairly" defined as "as much they can get using the power of collective bargaining." The amount they can demand in the absence of collective bargaining is, obviously, going to be less. Who's to say the latter is "fair" and the former not?

Then there is the pension issue.

Yeah, I see no reason for teachers to have a special retirement system. I'd be happy to see that go. If it's a big loss, monetarily, then raise salaries by some amount to compensate for the loss of a dedicated retirement system.

"with “fairly” defined as “as much they can get "

....with public schools/teachers able to collect hi school taxes at gunpoint -- “as much they can get" is a very high # ... with nothing "fair" about it

also, average U.S. degreed chemist also makes about $54K salary. Benefits for public school teachers are much higher than private sector; plus, those teachers work significantly fewer hours per year for their salaries. Government teachers are way over-paid.

@toben: "with public schools/teachers able to collect hi school taxes at gunpoint — “as much they can get” is a very high # … with nothing “fair” about it"

Typically they need to pass bonds. So, voters would have to approve. If their demands were too crazy, public sector employers could just hire scabs instead. So, again, not limitless. Why is the amount teachers can demand via collective bargaining "unfairly high" but the amount they can demand in the absence of unions "just right"?

@toben: "average U.S. degreed chemist also makes about $54K salary."

That's hard to believe. Not saying it's wrong, but hard to believe. Starting salary for a C.S. degree holder with zero experience, i.e. fresh out of college, is higher than that. By a long shot. I found this:

...that claims the median starting salary (in 2015) for a chemist with a bachelor's degree straight out of college was $40k. This report from the BLS puts the mean for all chemists at ~$81k and median at ~$74k:

"Typically they need to pass bonds."


I don't know about the rest of the country, but in California, bond money can't be and isn't used for teacher salaries.

$54 K is not average salary for chemists.
It is much closer to the starting salary of a newly graduated chemists.

Note chemists get the highest starting salary for a BS while teachers get about the lowest.

In high school, at least, you're expected to have a degree in your subject area, not a generic education degree.

So, white supremacist feminists should love teacher's unions?

Gotta love the libertarian, anti-union, anti-government POV from the state employee with the lifetime employment guarantee, working for that cushy tax-supported retirement. NB that libertarians *never* move to Waziristan to lift the crushing yoke of government oppression from their necks.

What an original comment, how long did it take for you to come up with it? I mean replacing Somalia with Waziristan, that's genius.

It really is shocking in this day and age that any scientist could come up with research results that are contra to their own personal interest. Is that allowed?

Why would anyone move from the richest country on earth to a third world nation?

A very lazy put down. [can't call it an argument]

If the study is USA, then the asnwer is California, the major public sector union state, and 15% of the economy.

LA dominates what California does in education. LA is mainly about housing a hundred thousand homeless migrants from Illinois and New York. They won't be on the curb in LA getting educated for long, Texas eventually takes the best, and leaves the rest.

What these studies endup looking it is the GINI coefficient shooting way up in California, as a result of the whole complex interactions. Not all of it is California's fault, but we are union run and organized out here.

That isn't the reason, I skimmed the paper and it's not that crude: it exploits people moving between states.

Teachers the world over organize for better working conditions. Collective bargaining among teachers is not a problem. What I'm worried about is law enforcement collective bargaining.

Will no one not think of the children?

To be honest, no.

Or should I have used a triple negative instead?

Honest is a negative for you?

One cannot distinguish correlation from causation without holding correlations up to the light to examine closely. Stross's historical correlations come to mind. One might observe that micro is dedicated to the proposition that all correlations should be examined closely. Just in case. Micro motto: no correlation shall go unexamined.

Without reading the paper, at first glance, this topic seems hugely susceptible to correlation/causation issues. That is, the labor markets in states that lack collective bargaining for teachers may be different than the labor markets in states that do, with both things being caused by a third outside force. "Political demeanor" if you will.

The thing that has always bothered me about certain public employee groups is that they have so many paths to reward. I am talking about the "popular" jobs like police, fire, and teaching. Basically they are popular with politicians, who love photo ops with them, and they are popular with voters who pass bond issues for them *and* they have strong unions to press things harder.

That isn't a balance of power, that's running the board.

No private employee has anything like that. Neither do public employees in more invisible jobs (maintenance, transit, utilities).

But I don't see an easy way out, unless we get a lucky break and a court overturns tenure.

""the Teachers Union is about nothing other than enriching teachers"

More accurately, it's about enriching older teachers, sometimes at the expense of younger ones.

Teacher-union wage formulas invariably seem to include a years-of-service increment that continues indefinately. Ignoring the question of whether a teacher with 20 years of service is likely to outperform one with ten years' service (and if so whether that performance justifies the difference in pay), the consequence is that teacher compensation is heavily back-loaded: teachers with 20 years or more service may be very well compensated. Even before one looks at 30-and-out retirement provisions (with medical benefits for those under Medicare age).

Yet union scale for starting teachers is often shockingly low, even as "last hired- first fired" seniority protections ensure that even the best low-seniority teachers will be fired before any low-performing high-seniority teachers are let go.

This back-loading presumably reflects the dominance of high-seniority teachers in their unions, even as low starting salaries may reduce the pressure for school districts to find ways to rid themselves of those costly, high-seniority teachers.

Differences between union and non-union teacher workforces will therefore include not just aggregate teacher compensation but also the differences in compensation and job protection with seniority. Plus any provisions for receiving lifetime tenure after a few years of satisfactory service and any other job protections provided by union contracts, of course.

Yes, my dad continued teaching in the Santa Clara Unified School District into his late 70's, until the cancer advanced to the point he couldn't continue into the next year. Even before his cancer, he called this "the other side of tenure". My mother just turned 90, and she has great health coverage at a price I wouldn't be able to obtain. She also has a pension that will continue for the rest of her life.

In my (retired) wife's school district, retiree medical no longer exists.

Isn't tenure the biggest teacher's union of all?

And ps - as a adjunct professor I make less than a 7-11 employee. Luckily I have other jobs, but a lot of my peers don't.
I guess that's just the way the ball bounces, but it means the people who actually teach kids in many schools are paid almost nothing. Somebody's getting all the kid's cash. I guess Tyler would say that, like Hegel, this is the best system because it's the one that exists.

Sorry, gonna call BS on that one. As an adjunct professor you get paid over $100/hour. That's a minimum rate for someone who has no PhD and is teaching at a university. Rates can go a lot higher for ABD and for PhD holders. You get paid less than a 7-11 employee because you only work 3 hours a week at that job. If you want to get paid more, teach more classes.

Second, the people who teach kids don't get paid almost nothing. They get paid average salaries for people with 4-year degrees, have considerably more job security and considerably more vacation time. And on average, they are the dumbest of the dumbest 4-year grads of any school: education majors are generally the lowest SAT scorers. This is a job which requires you to know 4-th grade math. Anyone can do that job. So give me a break that they don't get paid enough.

They get paid way too much for what they actually do and for how they actually perform. The new crop of teachers we are producing are literally the dumbest graduates from any school. And it shows.

Oh, thou numbnuts. The school where I teach employs actual working members of a very small and difficult to enter vocation, and we must earn a living in this vocation in order to teach at this school. It's considered an 'honor' to teach at the school where I teach (it's baloney but it sells because the school is so prestigious) and perhaps you could teach there (you have a high opinion of yourself) but I really doubt it. And I make about 700 a month for teaching, as you say, 12 hours a month. That's less than 100 dollars an hour. By contrast, what these students are charged is about ten times that. Where does all that tuition money go? Possibly to someone like you. Congrats.

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