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Conflicting Missions? Teachers Unions and Educational Reform

reviewed by Sharon D. Kruse - 2002

coverTitle: Conflicting Missions? Teachers Unions and Educational Reform
Author(s): Tom Loveless (ed.)
Publisher: Brookings Institution, Washington D.C.
ISBN: 0815753039, Pages: 288, Year: 2000
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In this well researched volume, editor Tom Loveless has assembled a cogent collection of papers focused on the topic of teachers unions and reform efforts in public schooling. The paucity of literature on unions is well noted. This volume adds immeasurably to our understanding of the role of unions and emergent school reform efforts. The text addresses several interrelated notions concerning the affects of unions on educational productivity, the role of unions as professional organizations, how unions wield influence in political arenas and as institutional actors. In all cases, each chapter returns to the foundational question of the text, "In what ways is student achievement influenced by the role of unions?"

The authors do not seek a simplistic conclusion. Instead, each analysis explores the many dimensions of the union’s role in American education. The volume is divided into nine chapters. In the first chapter, Susan Moore Johnson and Susan M. Kardos explore the historical roots of teachers unions. They argue that union bargaining efforts have evolved from industrial style units, focused on wages and work conditions to, most recently, reform style concerns focused on the improvement of teaching as a profession. Johnson and Kardos conclude suggesting reform style bargaining holds potential to positively impact educational improvement efforts.

Popular wisdom holds that unions have done little more than increase the cost of education. Joe A. Stone examines the evidence addressing the affect of unions on public schools. He concludes that unions have indeed increased costs related to salary and benefits as well as costs related to quality working conditions, class size, and instruction. However, he refutes notions that student achievement has suffered as a result. Instead, Stone offers a convincing analysis urging researchers to delve more deeply into questions of educational productivity and student achievement.

In the third chapter, Dale Ballou and Michael Podgurshy consider the effect of professional boards involvement with teacher licensing efforts. Their conclusions rest squarely on the side of continued state licensing, arguing that shifting control to professional boards such as NCATE would have little impact on the classroom performance of either teachers or students. Ballou and Podgurshy provide a well-developed view of the national affects of large-scale reform efforts.

Providing an expertly documented example of what Johnson and Kardas would label industrial style bargaining, Howard Fuller, George Mitchell, and Michael Hartmann examine the collective bargaining agreements of the Milwaukee Schools from World War II to the 1990’s. Finding scant attention to student achievement or school reform efforts, careful study of these contracts offers the reader insight into one district’s evolution through industrial style bargaining. The chapter stands as compelling evidence of the importance of single case study research’s ability to provide salient example of more generalizable theoretical understandings.

Focusing on the role of internal and external pressures on national unions, James Cibulka asserts that unions are ever changing entities. By following NEA’s positioning on the school voucher dilemma, Cibulka deftly explores interest group politics. In the emotionally charged environment of vouchers and charter schools, this analysis provides the reader insight into how national union policy is framed and reformed in light of ever-changing political realities. In a second analysis of the political aspects of union policy, William Lowe Boyd, David N. Plank, and Gary Sykes consider the failure of teacher unions through the 1990’s in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Each case offers a cautionary tale of the potential large-scale effects of monolithic policy concerning choice and standards.

Maris Vinovskis explores the relationship between unions and the in-house research efforts in which union members have participated since the late 1800s. Finding that research has historically included attention to important developments in the field as well as concern with the conditions in which teachers work, Vinovskis stresses the potential for unions to affect research in education in informative and positive ways.

Bruce Cooper echoes the findings of earlier authors in his analysis of international union activity. Concluding that sources of funding, focus of political control, political affiliation and professional rights and responsibilities influence union’s care activities. Just as the future of collective bargaining is influenced by core assumptions and purposes, Cooper suggests that union’s future work can be influenced by changes in these four arenas.

Finally, Charles Taylor Kerchner and Julia E. Koppich conclude the text with a discussion of the potential of unionization devoted to quality issues. Readers seeking a complex and nuanced examination of unions will find this text informative. Clearly, it sets the stage for an extended and fruitful examination of a long-standing influential force in education, the teacher’s union.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 1, 2002, p. 144-146
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10681, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 7:51:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Sharon Kruse
    University of Akron
    E-mail Author
    A former elementary and middle school teacher, Sharon Kruse is an associate professor of educational administration. She is the co-author (with Jason Earle) of Organizational Literacy for Educators (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998).
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