Background/Context: Recent political efforts to minimize the influence of teacher unions have called new attention to collective bargaining in American education. Such attention has only heightened a longstanding controversy within the realms of both research and practice. A renewed scholarly literature has systematically considered the relationship between teacher unionization and educational outcomes. The current paper provides additional context for such work by considering teacher contracts over time.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question: In this study we examine the ways in which the collective bargaining agreements in a large, Midwestern American school district have changed during more than 30 years of policymaking.
Research Design: The paper presents an historical content analysis/case study of every contract in Louisville, Kentucky since 1979. We focus on several areas of current interest to researchers studying teacher quality. These include salary schedules, transfer and assignment policies, teacher evaluation, dismissal, and working conditions. To fix our analysis within a theoretical framework, we consider an interpretation of our evidence suggested by the perspective of New Institutionalism.
Conclusions/Recommendations: We show that these contracts have changed very little in more than three decades, and most key provisions are identical. The time period we examine covers important educational reforms at the state and federal levels, as well as a number of popular movements such as efforts to reduce class size and enhance teacher quality through new evaluation schemes and tenure reform. If confirmed in other districts, our evidence would suggest limited potential for policy change to be reflected in individual bargaining agreements.