There is a piece from the Washington Post Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss that cites an academic study showing the relationship between unionization and teacher dismissal and how breaking unions leads to lowering of the quality of teachers in a state.
One of the great myths of the times is that it is impossible to fire "bad" unionized teachers. Economist Eunice Han reached a surprising conclusion in her new research paper: " What I found is that the facts are the opposite of what people think: that highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers."
This is directly from the EduShyster interview with Professor Han that Strauss copied:
Han: It's pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them.
Han also found that when governments bust unions they do not improve the quality of their teaching force.
EduShyster: In 2011, four states essentially eliminated collective bargaining for teachers, which gave you an unusual opportunity to test your argument in a real-life laboratory. What did you find?
Han: Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin all changed their laws in 2010-2011, dramatically restricting the collective bargaining power of public-school teachers. After that, I was able to compare what happened in states where teachers' bargaining rights were limited to states where there was no change. If you believe the argument that teachers unions protect bad teachers, we should have seen teacher quality rise in those states after the laws changed. Instead, I found that the opposite happened. The new laws restricting bargaining rights in those four states reduced teacher salaries by about 9 percent. That's a huge number. A 9 percent drop in teachers' salaries is unheard of. Lower salaries mean that districts have less incentive to sort out better teachers, lowering the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, which is what you saw happen in those four states. Lower salaries also encouraged high-quality teachers to leave the teaching sector, which contributed to a decrease of teacher quality.
I am not so sure I concur with how Han determined who was a good or bad teacher but it is clear that if a state busts the union, it does not improve schools. It just lowers costs which is their goal.
Should we be jumping for joy that the myth that you can't fire bad unionized teachers has been shattered or should we be blaming our unions for only protecting teachers in theory and not in reality?
I would argue that here in New York City, the city I know best, there are relatively few so called bad teachers who have a negative impact on the students they are supposed to educate. Often, when teachers are dismissed, or even rated poorly, it is for political (union activism) or other non-performance related reasons (examples: Their supervisor doesn't like them because the they won't change Individualized Education Plans or pass kids who don't deserve to.). Most are not dismissed for their lack of teaching ability.
Why doesn't some smart researcher do a study on the impact of inadequate supervisors in New York City schools? There of course are many excellent administrators in the New York City system who create positive teaching and learning environments but in my view "bad" administrators roam New York City schools with impunity as documented by the press and bloggers repeatedly. It has to have some kind of effect.