Teachers’ Unions and Test Scores: Any Connection?

The Economist is reporting on an alleged correlation between states that lack collective bargaining for teachers’ unions and low scores on standardized tests, specifically the ACT and SAT. According to this report, if your state doesn’t allow collective bargaining, your child is more likely to do poorly on these tests. Meanwhile, students in Wisconsin, where all the hoopla over collective bargaining is occurring right now, are reported to have the second highest scores in the country.

This is certainly an interesting datum . . . if it’s true. Others have challenged the accuracy of both parts of this claim. So who’s right? If The Economist is wrong on this, it will get some egg on its face, although the claim was reported on the magazine’s blog and not in the magazine itself. The old requirement for journalists to verify their sources holds true even in the digital age.

Both articles point out that even if the correlation is real, it may not tell us anything significant about the social value of collective bargaining for teachers unions.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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3 Responses to Teachers’ Unions and Test Scores: Any Connection?

  1. Sarah says:

    Interesting that you mention this because I received an email yesterday that touted this. It also made sure to mention that the few states that made collective bargaining illegal or at the very bottom of the list (NC, SC, GA, VA). However, notice what those states have in common–theses are the poorer states in our nation with more immigrants and working class, etc. Wisconsin (as well as other New England states) are virtually untouched by this sort of diversity. I’m sure there’s a lot more to this argument, but that was my first impression after reading the email.

    • Dr. J says:

      You make some great points, Sarah. There are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of relevant variables at work in determining distribution of test scores in different states. The language issue alone in states with large immigrant populations seems on its face to be a bigger factor than whether unions have collective bargaining rights.

  2. Kay Pelham says:

    Here’s one I read the other day. It’s hard to know what to believe. Both sides do some cherry-picking and grab the stats that support their cause, while ignoring others. This report points out the low reading scores of Wisconsin 8th graders in spite of their high per student spending — http://cnsnews.com/news/article/two-thirds-wisconsin-public-school-8th-g

    Hazlitt’s “one easy lesson” could be applied here. People find one benefit for one group and say “Look! See!” But what about the rest of the community? What about long-term consequences?

    So much spin. Makes my head spin. Honesty is such a lonely word.

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