Unions are Good for Students…um…a little

Unions are not the problem in education


In fact, it could very well be that unions are an integral, part of the solution…that is, unless we’ve decided to entangle them in a nihilistic political gambit designed to silence a segment of the political discourse. All around the world teacher’s unions and educational systems work hand in hand to provide quality education for all students. This is most notably true in Finland and Ontario, the former representing the best educational system in the world, and the later representing one of the most improved educational systems in the world. In both regions unions are seen as stakeholders in the educational system and are an integral part of improving education for all students.

The United States could learn a lesson, here. But it’s unlikely that such will be the case. Instead, teachers unions are being shut down for their propensity to support one political party over another. The current spin in the United States is that teachers unions make it impossible to fire poorly performing teachers, thus driving down educational attainment. It is because of teachers unions that the United States has, at best, mediocre learning outcomes. This falls along the lines of blame the liberals first then find a market solution…without regard to any of the facts.

So I decided to test this hypothesis that teachers unions drive down educational outcomes. I came upon some interesting results. My data comes from the NCES website and is based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading scores for eighth grade. These databases allowed me access to nationwide data. Using eighth grade results optimized the probability that students will have the most exposure to the public school system, as opposed to the fourth grade results. It also allowed me a large dataset to work from, as the high school results are not as comprehensive with regard to the student population.

You can see the results below. If the above hypothesis is correct, then one should be able to assume that the more powerful the union, the lower the NAEP scores should be for math and reading. I used the percentage of teachers in the state that belong to a union as a proxy for union power. The data I used defined ranges rather than raw percentages, thus explaining the columnar pattern in the graph. Regardless, you can plainly see a positive correlation between the percentage of teachers belonging to a union and outcomes on the math and reading scores. Students did better in the union states overall (though the range at the high end is wider for reading). These results were statistically significant and accounted for 8-10% of the variance.

Next, I wanted to see how collective bargaining related to NAEP scores. After all, population may not indicate union power. Also, collective bargaining has been central to the current debate. Turns out that I got very much the same results. Math and reading scores improved relative to the number of districts within the state that use collective bargaining. Again, these numbers are significant and accounted for around 15% of the variance.

Now, granted, the correlations are weak. Certainly, this is not a definitive study. I did not look into other variables that might be related. For instance, it’s likely that states with higher union ratings also have higher pay ratings. They may be more financially stable, have greater access to social benefits like health care and a better social safety net. I could be the parents in higher union areas possess higher levels of education. All of these variables may contribute to better educational outcomes calling into question a direct link to union power and collective bargaining.

Regardless, the claim cannot be made that unions and collective bargaining are problematic to education. Any attempt to dismantle unions using “improving education” as the premise is a lie. Dismantling unions is a political ploy directed at silencing progressive voices as well as an instrumental step toward dismantling public education itself. Don’t believe the hype.







Math Scores

Reading Scores

Union Membership












Collective Bargaining














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1 Comment

  1. Most people don’t uresndtand that in most trades that it not only takes skill with your hands but your mind as well. Most trades need use math that a paper shuffler could not do. Just estimating a job you need to be able to decipher the legalize jargon in the building codes so you know what to order for that job. And heaven forbid that the engineer actually do their job right and not have the builder have to re-engineer the project to make it right.


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