Does Unionism Mean Higher Earnings or Higher Taxes?

On several recent occasions union officials have contended that higher levels of unionism benefit workers who are not union members because where unions are stronger wages are higher for both union and nonunion workers.

In the state of Oklahoma they are preparing to vote on a referendum on a Right to Work law, a law that would make it illegal to require a person to belong to or support a union as a condition of employment. One of the arguments union officials have used to try to persuade voters to reject this referendum is that even if they aren't union members, they benefit from strong unions because where unions are strong everyone's wages are higher.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a union argument that it should be allowed to force nonmembers to pay for union organizing expenses. One of the arguments the unions raised in support of their position was that nonmembers benefited from union organizing because where there are more union members wages were higher.

So, the question of whether high levels of unionism results in generally higher wages is worth examining because, in addition to its economic significance, it has both political and legal consequences.

Does unionism mean a higher wage? On the surface it would seem that union members receive higher wages than their nonunion counterparts.

The latest national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show union members earning 17.5 percent more than those who are not members - an average of $17.85 for union members compared to $15.19 for nonmembers.

But that's an incomplete view of the question. The Union Wage Differential, the difference between the average union wage and nonunion wage, is strongly influenced by occupation and geography. 

Some occupations are higher paid than others, whether union or not. In some areas of the country, generally high cost of living areas, earnings are higher, whether union or not. Higher levels of unionism in high paid occupations in high wage areas could create an apparent benefit to unionism that had little, if anything, to do with whether the employees were represented by a union.

The differential is also influenced by the size and type of employer. Larger firms generally pay better than smaller ones. Larger firms are also more likely to be unionized. No data is presently available on the degree to which this impacts the differential, but there is little doubt that some portion of the difference is due to the size of the employer rather than to the fact that its employees are represented by a union.

The high level of unionism in the public sector combined with the fact that average earnings for public employees are significantly higher than those of employees in the private sector also puts upward pressure on the union wage differential. In 2000, 37.5 percent of all public employees were union members compared to only 9.0 percent in the private sector. Average earnings for public employees were $17.23 compared to $15.23 in the private sector, a difference of 13.1 percent. When public employees are excluded from the calculation, the union wage differential drops from 17.5 to 13.7 percent.

This differential remained fairly constant for quite some time, fluctuating between 24 and 26 percent, but in the mid 1990's it began to collapse, falling from 25.8 percent in 1994 to 17.5 percent in 2000.

This is most notable in a highly unionized industry, manufacturing, where, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonunion manufacturing employees earn an average of $16.80 an hour compared to $16.37 for their union counterparts. No, that's not a typographic error; manufacturing workers who are not represented by a union earn more than their unionized counterparts.

So, while it is clear that union members have higher earnings than nonunion employees, the extent to which this difference is a result of occupation, geography and the employer or due to unionism is unclear. But that isn't the underlying claim of advocates for forcing employees to join and support unions and for forcing nonmembers to pay for union organizing expenses.

Does a high level of unionism result in generally higher wages? In other words, is a high level of union membership of benefit to others who are not union members?

On the surface, it would appear so. Table 1 shows average weekly earnings and the extent to which the workforce was unionized in each state in 2000. At this level, even though there are some very obvious exceptions, there seems to be a strong correlation between unionism and higher wages.

Nationally, 13.5 percent of the workforce belongs to labor unions. In 24 states the level of unionism is above average (High Union) and in 26 states it is below average (Low Union). In the High Union States average weekly earnings are $634, while in the Low Union states the average was $574, a difference of $60 or 10.4 percent.

To accurately compare earnings among states, however, differences in the cost of living must be taken into account. After all, if the cost of living is greater in a highly unionized state like New York than it is in a less unionized state like North Carolina an employee making less money might actually have a higher standard of living.

The American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, publishes a state-by-state cost of living comparison that is generally regarded as accurate.

Once adjusted for the cost of living, the difference between average weekly earnings in High Union and Low Union states almost disappears. Average weekly earnings in High Union states are $613, compared to $612 in Low Union states. Table 2

And, as we are all painfully aware, the cost of living isn't everything. In fact, comparative cost of living calculations don't take state and local rates of taxation into account. The Tax Foundation publishes an index of state and local taxes as a percent of income. When the cost of living and the level of state and local taxes are taken into account, average weekly earnings in the High Union states are actually lower than in the Low Union states - an average of $548 in the High Union states compared to $551 in the Low Union states. Table 3

Since the level of state and local taxes destroys even the small earnings advantage that might be attributed to a high level of unionism, it is worth asking whether there is a correlation between high levels of unionism and high levels of taxation.

The rate of state and local taxes as a percent of income ranges from 13.3 to 6.8. Twenty-four states have rates above 10 percent (High Tax), while 26 states have rates of 10 percent or less (Low Tax). The average level of state and local taxes in the High Union states is 10.6 percent, compared to 9.8 percent in the Low Union states. Looking at it another way, the average level of unionism in the High Tax states is 14.6 percent compared to an average level of unionism in the Low Tax states of 10.2 percent. So there is an apparent correlation between a high level of unionism and higher taxes.

But, because the difference between the level of taxation in the lowest High Tax state and the highest Low Tax state is very slight, this may not be an accurate reflection of union influence. Comparing the level of unionism in the top ten High Tax states and the bottom ten Low Tax states gives a clearer indication. In the top ten High Tax states the average level of unionism is 16.2 percent compared to 10.2 percent in the bottom ten Low Tax states.

Average Level of Unionism in Top 10 High Tax and Bottom 10 Low Tax States
New York0.13125.5
South Dakota0.0915.5
Rhode Island0.11518.2
New Hampshire0.08510.4

*Source: Tax Foundation

Yet, another way to examine whether high levels of unionism have an influence on higher levels of taxation is to look at the voting record on taxing and spending of state delegations to Congress. The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) complies the most complete and sophisticated systems for analyzing Congressional voting records on tax and spending issues. It awards letter grades for each member of Congress that can be translated to percentage grades for the purpose of comparing the records of state delegations.


A high grade reflects a voting record generally favoring lower taxes and spending, while a low grade indicates a voting record favoring higher taxes and spending. The available information about levels of unionism doesn't extend to the Congressional District level and in some states levels of unionism differ greatly among Congressional Districts. That makes the scores of the state delegations to the U.S. Senate the most reliable indicator of union influence on these scores.


Average Level of Unionism in Top 10 High NTU Grade and Bottom 10 Low NTU Grade States
West VirginiaF14.3
North DakotaF6.5
New HampshireB+10.4
New YorkF25.5
South DakotaF5.5

*Source: Tax Foundation

The average NTU grade for Senate delegations is a C-. The average NTU grade for U.S. Senators from High Union states is a D compared to an average grade for Senators from Low Union states of C+. So there appears to be a correlation between unionism and a higher propensity to tax and spend


Another way to look at this is to compare the level of unionism in the states with High NTU grades to the level of unionism in states with Low NTU grades. There are 21 states with above average grades (High NTU) and 29 states with below average grades (Low NTU). The average level of unionism in the High NTU states is 10.7 percent, while the average level of unionism in the Low NTU states is 13.5 percent


Since there is only a slight difference between the grade of the lowest High NTU state and grade of the highest Low NTU state, comparing the level of unionism in the highest and lowest ten states in each category gives a better view of the influence on unionism on these grades. In the Top 10 High NTU states the average level of unionism is 8.5 percent compared to 15.5 percent in the Lowest 10 Low NTU states.

Clearly, the level of unionism has a pronounced influence on how members of the U.S. Senate vote on taxing and spending issues and the more unionized a state the more likely they are to vote for higher taxes and spending.


There is a difference between union and nonunion earnings but that difference is collapsing. The union wage differential is influenced by geography, occupation, the size and type of employer and unionism. The extent to which each of these factors influences the difference is unclear but it is clear that union representation has very little to do with it.

There is no apparent relationship between high levels of unionism and generally higher earnings. Once adjusted for the cost of living and taxation, real earnings in states with low levels of unionism are actually higher than in states with high levels. There is a strong relationship between high levels of unionism and higher levels of taxation.

The relationship between high taxes and high levels of unionism is more than likely due to the fact that, despite their decline in membership, unions are a very powerful political influence and they are generally advocates of big government.

Table 1: States Ranked by
Unadjusted Average Weekly Earnings

New Jersey$7333
New York$6769
New Hampshire$64813
Rhode Island$64615
North Carolina$58629
South Carolina$56334
New Mexico$53742
West Virginia$52943
South Dakota$51646
North Dakota$47949

Table 2: States Ranked by Earnings
Adjusted for Cost of Living

North Carolina$64014
New Jersey$63417
South Carolina$62025
New York$61628
New Hampshire$61229
Rhode Island$60032
West Virginia$59735
South Dakota$57441
New Mexico$55744
North Dakota$51248

Table 3: States Ranked by Earnings
Adjusted for Cost of Living and Taxes

North Carolina$57413
New Jersey$56516
South Carolina$56121
New Hampshire$56022
New York$53633
West Virginia$53435
Rhode Island$53136
South Dakota$52237
New Mexico$49743
North Dakota$46348


Using a variety of statistical techniques, we conclude that labor unions have reduced U.S. output by significant amounts - trillions of dollars over time. Additionally, the employment-population ratio and the unemployment rate have been adversely affected by the presence of unions. From the very beginning, unionization materially lowered employment in the auto and steel industries, and union militancy in coal mining has contributed importantly to largely eliminating employment in this once large industry. While some individual workers have profited from unions, the aggregate economic impact is strongly negative.

This study was first published jointly by the NATIONAL LEGAL AND POLICY CENTER of Falls Church, Virginia, and the JOHN M. OLIN INSTITUTE FOR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICE AND POLICY, in the Department of Economics at George Mason University. This study was originally published in the Winter 2002 edition (Vol. 23, No.1), of the Journal of Labor Research, published by the INSTITUTE.

Both authors are Distinguished Professors of Economics at Ohio University. Drs. Gallaway and Vedder have collaborated on a number of important research projects, including Out of Work (1997, New York University Press), a history of the economics of unemployment in the United States.

Richard K. Vedder received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois in 1965, and has served as an economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. He is the author of seven books and monographs, as well as numerous articles and op-eds that have appeared in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor and Investor's Business Daily.

Lowell Gallaway received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1959, and has served as an economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. He is the author of seven books and over 200 published studies, monographs, articles, essays and reviews.

SPECIAL THANKS FROM AUTHORS: We are indebted to Stephen B. Maguire for making possible the original publication of this study.


Workers who join labor unions expect an improvement in their utility, typically manifested in the form of higher wages and benefits. Indeed, there is a substantial literature that suggests that, other things equal, unionized workers do receive higher rates of compensation than their nonunion counterparts (Lewis, 1963, 1985). At the same time, however, it is possible that unions have longer-term detrimental effects on the economy as a whole and, arguably, therefore, unionized workers. Labor unions may promote practices that reduce hours worked or productivity growth (from union rules, reduced capital formation, barriers to resource mobility, etc.). A number of studies observe a negative relationship between the incidence of union membership and economic performance (Vedder and Gallaway, 1986; Pantuosco et al., 2001). On the other hand, proponents of the concept of efficiency wages and others might argue that the positive effect of unionization on worker morale might raise productivity and possibly economic growth (Krueger and Summers, 1988; Katz, 1986; Altenburg and Straub, 1998).

Of course, the impact of unions on the aggregate performance of the economy would depend in part on their relative importance in labor markets and that has changed dramatically over time. To roughly summarize the 20th century experience, during the first one-third of the century, union membership tended to be small (usually 10 percent or less of employment), in the middle third of the century it tended to be much larger (reaching one-third or so of the labor force), and in the last third of the century the "market share" of labor unions in the private sector was falling rather steadily, by century's end approaching the levels of the earlier part of the century. Thus if unions on balance had adverse effects on the rate of economic growth as some have suggested, those impacts would have been growing in mid-century (when unions were at their peak), but diminishing in the latter part of the century.


In the broadest sense, labor markets tend to conform to the economist's perception of institutions that tend to move toward equilibrium outcomes. In an unconstrained labor market, the price of labor (the wage rate) will move toward a level at which the number of workers interested in working at that wage will match the number of workers that employers are interested in hiring. In the aggregate, this is not likely to occur in all markets, but when it is the typical case, what is often called a "full-employment" situation exists.

This does not mean that there is an absence of statistically-measured unemployment. The measured unemployment under these circumstances can be explained through a choice-theoretic, reservation-wage, job-search model. Job-seeking workers approach the labor market with a reservation wage in mind. If an initial search reveals no job opportunities that satisfy their reservation-wage aspirations, they continue to search. As they do this, they will be regarded by the statistical authorities as involuntarily unemployed, that is, actively seeking work but without a job. As the search process continues and time passes, two things will happen: Superior job alternatives will be revealed, and workers will revise their reservation wage expectations downward in response to the previous search disappointments. Eventually, a correspondence between an actual job (and wage) opportunity and the job-seeker's reservation wage will be attained and the market will clear, as shown graphically in Figure 1.


Figure 1

When all job opportunities have been filled, historical experience tells us that there will still be active job seekers in the market. Consequently, statistically measured unemployment will still be observed.1 Expressed as an unemployment rate, this is the "equilibrium" or "natural" rate of unemployment. It differs from the "effective" rate of unemployment, which reflects any mismatch between the quantity demanded of labor and the quantity supplied. At full employment, the effective unemployment rate is zero.2 In the truest sense of the word, any measured unemployment at this point should be viewed as voluntary.

Various factors determine the magnitude of the measured rate of unemployment. Things such as public policies and market imperfections may generate shifts in either the reservation-wage or best-offer loci shown in Figure 1. For example, governmental programs that subsidize job search, such as unemployment compensation and general income-maintenance arrangements, move the reservation-wage locus upward and rightward, increasing the natural rate of unemployment. On the other hand, of particular interest in this essay, is the effect on job search outcomes of the presence of labor unions. At first glance, it might be thought that unions, by raising the wages of their members, would shift the best-offer locus upward. However, in a world in which unions are pervasive, this would not be the case. As unions increase wage rates through the use of their monopoly power, job opportunities in the unionized industries and occupations decrease, increasing the supply of labor in the nonunion sector. This drives wages down in those areas and increases the relative number of lower-wage jobs available to workers engaged in the job-search process. The effect of this is to rotate the best-offer locus to a less steeply sloped position (Figure 2), which, typically, increases the search time necessary to clear the market, thereby increasing the natural rate of unemployment and imposing a deadweight loss of economic output on the economy.


Figure 2

The presence of deadweight losses arising out of labor union activity can be shown in an alternative fashion. Here we borrow from Rees (1953, 1963), who has demonstrated the consequences of union wage-raising initiatives on levels of employment in both the union and nonunion sectors of the labor force. His formulation begins with a negative-sloping aggregate demand curve for labor and a fixed supply of labor,3 as shown in Figure 3 in the respective loci Dt and St (where the subscript t denotes total). In an unhampered competitive labor market, the equilibrium wage rate would be Wc. Consider an initial state in which the labor market is divided into two sectors, both of which are nonunion. In both of them, the competitive wage, Wc, will be the norm. Now, let one of the sectors become unionized, say, the smaller one. Denote its demand for labor by Du and the other's by Dn. Presumably, the union presence in its sector will lead to wages among union members rising above the competitive standard. This will reduce employment in the union sector from L2 to Lu.

Those workers who become unemployed in the union sector will tend to gravitate to the nonunion sector, driving down wage rates for those jobs available. Assuming the same slopes for the demand schedules in both the union and nonunion sectors of the labor market, the dead-weight welfare loss to the overall economy is shown by the shaded rectangle in Figure 3 and is equal to 1/2 (Wnu - Wu)(L2 - Lu).


Figure 3

The Effects of Union Wage Differentials
on Resource Allocation

The Rees formulation can be made operational if union density and wage premiums are known, as well as the general elasticity of demand for labor. The union density establishes the value of Lu, while the wage premium information permits the calculation of Wnu and Wu. The latter is done by setting the wage that would exist in a competitive market equal to 1.0 and writing Wc = LnuWnu + Lu Wnu, where Lnu and Lu are expressed as decimal fractions of total employment. Knowing the wage premium, this expression can be expanded to Wc = Lnu Wnu + Lu (1 + a) Wnu, where a is a decimal fraction representing the union wage premium. With Wc set to 1.0, we can solve for Wnu, viz., Wnu = 1/[(1 + a)] Wu.

This leaves only the calculation of L2 to make Rees's model operational. At this point, an estimate of the aggregate elasticity of demand for labor is needed to estimate the employment effects of the wage premium in the union sector using the expression L2 = Lu/[(Wu - Wc)EDL], where EDLrepresents the aggregate elasticity of demand for labor.

The only remaining question is, "What value should be used for EDL"? Drawing on a framework suggested in some of our other work, we have selected a value of -0.76 for this statistic.4 Using it and other estimates of the necessary data, we have calculated the Rees effect deadweight losses associated with the presence of labor unions in the American economy for selected years between 1947 and 2000. The results, expressed as a percentage of workers' wages, are shown in the second column in Table 1. Consistently, they show a deadweight loss of slightly more than a third of one percent of workers' wage income. Adjusting to take into account the fact that wages are only a fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), albeit a large one, the net loss of GDP is about a quarter of a percent a year. See column two of Table 1.


Table 1

Estimated Deadweight Loss of U.S. National Income
Resulting from the Presence of Trade Unions, Various Years, 1947-2000


FactorLabor Supply
YearsRees EffectAdjustedEffectTotal Effect

There is a shortcoming to the Rees methodology. He assumes a perfectly inelastic aggregate supply of labor. Consequently, any labor supply effects associated with the beating down of wage rates in the nonunion sector of the labor force are ignored. If the aggregate quantity supplied of labor responds positively to changes in wages, there will be an additional amount of output lost as the result of union activity equal to Lnu (Wc - Wnu) ESL, where ESL denotes the aggregate supply of labor.5 Estimates of this loss are shown in column three of Table 1. The values shown there range between one-half and three-quarters of one percent. Thus, the combination of Rees deadweight losses and labor supply effects can impose as much as a one percent annual drag on the American economy's output. The mean value of the three sets of estimates shown in Table 1 is 0.823 percentage points. In a $10-trillion economy (roughly the current level in the U.S.), that amounts to $82.3 billion or over $300 per person.


At the heart of the Rees formulation is the proposition that the adverse employment effects associated with labor unions are reflected by higher levels of employment and lower levels of wage rates in the nonunion sector of the labor market. How valid is this proposition? To answer that question, we explore the historical data concerning employment and wage levels in different parts of the labor force. We begin with the period 1919-1933, a time when labor unions were a relatively small factor in the American economy. This is an interval in which the average compensation per full-time-equivalent employee in the industrial callings that would later become central to the growth in unionism in America is only slightly greater than compensation in industries that would later be regarded as relatively nonunion. Details are shown in Table 2. For fourteen years of data, the average union-nonunion differential amounts to a mere 3.2 percent.6 And, in four years, it is actually negative. In fact, a simple t-test of the null hypothesis that the true differential is equal to zero leads to its acceptance.7 Thus, there is a period which, in a statistical sense, possesses characteristics not unlike those of a competitive labor market.


Table 2

Compensation Per Full-Time-Equivalent Employee* (Column A) 
and Difference in Compensation Per Full-Time-Equivalent Employee
between Union and Nonunion Sectors (Column B), 1919-1960

                                                                (1957-1959 Prices)

YearColumn AColumn B
1919$2,037 $147
19212,098 121
19222,306 -44
19232,319 131
19242,316 150
19252,319 92
19262,383 76
19272,386 158
19282,446 175
19292,624 147
19302,479 96
19312,586 -6
19322,560 -151
19332,466 -18
19342,455 26
19352,467 90
19362,499 201
19372,520 264
19382,556 149
19392,607 269
19402,611 369
19412,641 612
19463,274 484
19473,341 625
19483,192 704
19493,314 711
19503,431 839
19513,348 993
19523,431 1,068
19533,570 1,122
19543,700 1,107
19553,856 1,225
19563,992 1,323
19574,009 1,369
19584,038 1,388
19594,216 1,478
19604,348 1,437

Note: *In order to take account of changes in industrial mix through time, 1954 weights were used throughout to standardize the estimates of compensation per full-time-equivalent employee. Thus, these estimates abstract from shifts in industrial structure.

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957, Series D-685-D-719; and U.S. Department of Commerce, Survey of Current Business, July 1961.

From an historical standpoint, the terminal year in this interval is an important demarcation in the history of American labor unions. In 1933 the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was passed, which contains a section 7(a) that is the precursor of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act). Between 1933 and 1935, there was a transformation of American public policy towards positive federal government encouragement of and support for unions. At the beginning of this period (in 1933), the union-nonunion industry wage differential was negative and less than one percent of the average level of compensation. Under the stimulus of the NIRA, by 1935, this differential had turned positive and risen to 3-4 percent of the average compensation level. After 1935, the union-nonunion wage differential surges, exceeding twenty percent by 1941. The general pattern shown by these data is simple: From 1919 through 1933, there is little, if any, wage differential and no time trend in it.8 After 1933, there is a pronounced upward time trend in this differential through 1941. There is a brief hiatus in the increase in the wage differential during World War II. However, subsequent to the war, the differential resumes its pre-war pattern of growth, reaching about one-third of average compensation per full-time- equivalent employee in 1960. Clearly, the behavior of wage differentials immediately subsequent to the adoption of a public policy that encourages labor unions is quite consistent with the Rees framework.

What about employment patterns, though? Here, we pick up the story in the post-World War II period. In a world where unions have the impacts already suggested, we would expect a systematic shifting of the overall structure of employment away from the union and toward the nonunion sectors of the labor force. Thus, over time, there would be a relative decline in employment in the union sectors and a relative rise in employment among nonunion workers.

As a first step in analyzing the nature of changes in the structure of employment, we have estimated the following regression equation for each of nine broad private nonagricultural industries of employment: EMPi= a + b TOTEMP + c TIME, where EMPi denotes employment in the ith industrial sector; TOTEMP represents total employment in the economy (included to control for intertemporal growth in employment); and TIME is a variable to capture the passage of time. Since our data set covers the fifty-year time period 1950-1999, the TIME variable takes the value one in 1950, two in 1951, etc., through 50 in 1999. The results of these estimations are shown in Table 3. In seven of the nine cases, the coefficient of the time-drift variable is statistically significant at the five-percent level. Four of the significant coefficients are negative and three are positive. Most interesting, the four significant negative time-drift industries (mining, construction, durable goods manufacturing, and transportation and public utilities) have the highest union densities in 1973, 1980, and 1986.9 On the other hand, the three positive time-drift coefficients are in retail trade, finance, insurance and real estate, and service employment, all very low union-density sectors. As to the two nonsignificant coefficients, wholesale trade, a low union-density sector, has a positive sign, and nondurable manufacturing, on the high side in terms of union density, has a negative sign.


Table 3

Regression Analysis of Time Drift in Employment,
by Sector, 1950-1999

Mining-21.752.02 0.0496*
Durable Goods Manufacturing-908.934.330.0001*
Nondurable Goods Manufacturing -423.461.100.2773
Transportation and Public Utilities-65.966.310.0000*
Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate88.446.560.0000*
Wholesale Trade5.83 0.470.6403
Retail Trade113.83 2.360.0000*

Note: *Statistically significant at the five percent level or higher.

The pattern of statistical significance shown in the time-drift coefficients is extremely consistent with the Rees model. High union-density areas experience a significant negative time drift in their employment relative to overall employment. And, low union-density industries show significant positive time drifts. What is suggested is the shifting of displaced union workers to nonunion employments. If the time-drift coefficients are expressed as percentages of average sectoral employment over the interval 1950-1999, the respective rank-order correlation coefficients between the time-drift measure and union density for 1973, 1980, and 1986 are -0.74, -0.62, and -0.61, respectively.


Clearly, the stylized facts of the post National Industrial Recovery Act and National Labor Relations Act of 1935 era are broadly consistent with the argument propounded by Rees. Thus, it seems appropriate to extend the earlier estimation of the deadweight economic losses associated with the existence of labor unions to encompass a more extended time period. This requires the developing of deadweight loss estimates for additional years. Subsequent to 1986, we have made the necessary calculations for 1993 and 2000, while, prior to 1973, we have added estimates for 1947, 1953, 1960, and 1967.10 The results of these calculations, in combination with our earlier estimates, are displayed in Figure 4. The pattern shown by this graphic is intriguing. In the early years following World War II, the deadweight losses associated with union activity are relatively small, although not trivial, amounting to slightly more than one-third of one percent of annual output. However, after 1953, as unions become more solidly entrenched in the economy, the deadweight losses mount, peaking in the 1970s. This is followed by a decline in union impact as both union membership (density)and the union wage premium fall. By the end of the century, the deadweight loss estimates have returned to their early post-World War II levels.


Figure 4

Union-Produced Deadweight Loss
as Percent of Gross Domestic Product

The variability in the economic cost of labor unions over the last half century or so makes it more difficult to arrive at generalizations about their total cumulative cost. To deal with this problem, we have calculated simulated (or counterfactual) levels of GDP for 1947 through 2000 that assume a zero deadweight cost of unions. The year-to-year values of the deadweight losses that are assumed in these calculations are estimated by extrapolating in a linear fashion between the individual years for which actual estimates are provided. The results of this simulation are shown in Figure 5 and provided in Table 4. They are striking. By 2000, our simulations show a shortfall in current real GDP (1992-1994 dollars) of about $3.5 trillion dollars--about forty percent of current GDP.


Figure 5

Real Gross Domestic Product
(1992 Prices)

This may seem to be an astoundingly large number. However, it must be remembered that the deadweight economic losses that are being measured are not mere one-shot impacts on the economy. They recur, every year, relentlessly, cumulating in their impact. What our simulations reveal is the powerful effect of the compounding over more than a half-century of what appears at first glance to be small annual effects. An even more dramatic statement of the economic cost of unions is provided by cumulating the lost income and output over the entire 54-year period under consideration. The result exceeds $50 trillion (1992-1994 prices), a breath-taking total.


Table 4

Comparison of Actual Real U.S. Per-Capita Gross Domestic
Product with Simulated Gross Domestic Product
Assuming an Absence of Deadweight Losses Attributable
to Labor Unions, 1959-1999

Actual Per-CapitaSimulated Gross
YearGross Domestic ProductDomestic Product

An alternative way of expressing the economic impact of unions is to assess the effect on the growth rate in real GDP. We do this by comparing the mean actual growth rate with the mean of the year-to-year percentage changes in our simulated GDP series. The difference is approximately three-quarters of a percentage point a year. Among students of Edward Denison-style national income growth accounting, that is a huge impact, quite consistent with the counterfactual output differences already reported.

One interesting implication of this finding is that it implies that even union members are potentially worse off from the effects of unionization. If unionization has an accumulated long-term impact of lowering GDP by, say, 30-40 percent, and union members earn a 15-20 percent wage differential from unionization, the gains to union members from the wage differential are more than offset by the losses associated with lower wage levels in general arising from a smaller national output.

To summarize the findings of this section of our appraisal of the economic cost of government-sponsored union activity in the U.S., it can be said that it is perhaps a classic case of a doctrine laid down by Frederic Bastiat (1850) a century-and-a-half ago, when he opined, "it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence [of an economic policy] is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous." In this instance, those "later consequences" amount to what can be thought of as a "$50-trillionmisunderstanding."


An alternative approach is to examine how labor unions affect economic performance cross-sectionally (Vedder and Gallaway, 1986; Pantuosco et al., 2001). Unlike previous studies, we decided to examine variations in economic performance over a long time horizon, the 35-year period 1964 to 1999. Our sample is the 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia.

Real per capita income growth (hereinafter, GROWTH) from 1964 to 1999 varied substantially among the states, from lows of under 80 percent in California and Alaska to over 150 percent in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The incidence of unionization (UNION) likewise varied widely. Since union membership as a percent of the labor force declined over time, we took an average of membership as a percent of the labor force at the beginning and end of the period. That average varied from 5.3 percent in North Carolina to 37.1 percent in Michigan.

We introduced five additional independent variables into our analysis:MANUF (the percent of employment in manufacturing early in the period); INCOMETAX, the number of times at four different dates in the period that a state levied an individual income tax on employment-based income; INC64, real per capita income in 1964; POLITICS, the percent of the population voting for Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election; and COLLEGE, the percent of the population over 25 years with a college education or the equivalent as of the 1980 Census. Finally, we introduced 64INCOME as a variable, the level of personal income per capita in 1964, at the beginning of the period examined. If neoclassical income convergence is happening, we would hypothesize a negative relationship between 64INCOME and GROWTH.

Table 5 includes the results using OLS regression analysis. There is a statistically significant (at the one percent level) negative relationship between UNION and GROWTH. For each increase of one percent of the labor force belonging to labor unions, it is estimated that real income growth per capita is lowered by over 1.24 percent-age points. The elasticity of per capita income growth with respect to unionization is about -0.16.11 Of secondary interest, there is a significant positive relationship between COLLEGE and GROWTH and between MANUF and GROWTH. GROWTH is related in a statistically significant negative fashion with the other three independent variables.


Table 5

Explaining Interstate Economic Growth, 1964-1999:
OLS Regression Results


Variable or StatisticEstimated Valuet-Statistic
UNION-1.24 3.349
MANUF 0.9 6.101
-5.73 3.336
64INCOME-0.01 3.885
POLITICS-0.8 3.308
COLLEGE1.95 2.152

From the results in Table 5, it is possible to estimate the impact that unionization has had, not only on the U.S., but on individual states. Turning first to the nation as a whole, the average state had union membership equal to 18.88 percent of its labor force. This compares with 5.3 percent in the state with the least unionization, North Carolina. If all states had the level of unionization of North Carolina, the model predicts that the rate of growth of real per capita income would have been increased by 16.89 percentage points. The mean rate of growth was 112.43 percent, so with North Carolina levels of unionization, growth would have been 129.32 percent.

This suggests that the real annual compounded rate of per capita income growth would have increased from the actual 2.18 percent to 2.40 percent, or by 22 basis points. Using a counterfactual assumption of no unions whatsoever, the mean growth rate over the 35 years is an estimated 135.85 percent, or an annual growth rate of 2.48 percent a year, some 30 basis points more than the actual growth. The estimated 1999 personal income per capita under the assumption of zero unionization is more than 10 percent higher than actually recorded, implying a gross domestic product loss associated with unionization in the year 1999 of about $1 trillion. The present value of the accumulated loss over the 35 years is, of course, measured in many trillions, reasonably consistent with the rather extraordinary estimates using a quite different methodology cited above.

In Table 6, we report the actual personal income per capita by state in the year 1999, as well as a counterfactual estimate of what that income would have been if all states had the level of unionization of the state of North Carolina. High levels of unionization are estimated to have severe adverse effects in Northern industrial states such as Michigan, New York, and Illinois, but the low relative levels of unionization in most southern states suggest that unionization had little impact. In reality, income per capita in Georgia in 1999 was less than four percent higher than in Michigan, but the model estimates that if both states had North Carolina's low level of unionization, Michigan's income per capita would have exceeded Georgia's by over 21 percent. Thus the differential patterns of unionization have had an important role in explaining interstate income differentials and changes in those differentials over time.


Table 6

Actual and Counterfactual Personal Income
Per Capita by State, 1999

Actual 1999Counterfactual% Income
Arizona25,18926,295 4.39
Arkansas22,24423,073 3.73
California29,91033,995 13.66
Colorado31,54633,330 5.65
Connecticut39,30043,020 9.47
Delaware30,77833,633 9.27
District of Columbia39,858 42,781 7.33
Florida27,78028,553 2.67
Georgia27,34028,065 2.65
Hawaii27,54430,946 12.35
Idaho22,83524,096 5.52
Illinois31,14535,800 14.95
Indiana26,14329,752 13.81
Iowa25,61527,700 8.14
Kansas26,82428,318 5.57
Kentucky23,23725,029 7.71
Louisiana22,84723,925 4.67
Maine24,60326,403 7.32
Maryland32,46535,012 7.84
Michigan28,11334,084 21.24
Minnesota30,79334,243 11.20
Mississippi20,68821,152 2.24
Montana 22,019 25,025 13.65
Nebraska 27,049 28,415 5.05
Nevada 31,022 35,448 14.27
New Hampshire 31,114 32,735 5.21
New Jersey 35,551 39,906 12.25
New Mexico 21,853 22,822 4.44
New York 33,890 39,547 16.69
North Carolina 26,003 26,003 0.00
North Dakota 23,313 24,208 3.84
Ohio 27,152 31,071 14.43
Oklahoma 22,953 23,903 4.14
Oregon 27,023 30,382 12.43
Pennsylvania 28,605 32,556 13.81
Rhode Island 29,377 32,511 10.67
South Carolina 23,545 23,562 0.07
South Dakota 25,045 25,385 1.36
Tennessee 25,574 26,592 3.98
Texas 26,858 27,572 2.66
Utah 23,288 24,335 4.49
Vermont 25,889 27,165 4.93
Virginia 29,789 30,685 3.01
Washington 30,392 35,310 16.18
West Virginia 20,966 24,166 15.27
Wisconsin 27,390 30,819 12.51
Wyoming 26,396 27,852 5.52

There is evidence that the presence of significant unionization has been a major factor in the convergence of incomes over time. In 1964, the coefficient of variation on per capita income variations between the states (including the District of Columbia) was .1894. By 1999, that figure had declined to .1593, or about 16 percent. This is a sign of greater geographic income equality, as the poor states gained noticeably on the rich ones. Yet, if the regression coefficient in Table 5 is approximately correct, much of the convergence occurred because of union-related sluggish economic growth in relatively high-income Northern states. The flight of capital to the South to avoid the high wages associated with unions, and of workers to the North to obtain those higher wages, was no doubt critical to convergence.

We calculated the coefficient of variation in 1999 on the counterfactual income per capita numbers in Table 6 to be .1799. Of the 301 basis point decline in the coefficient of variation on per capita income between 1964 and 1999, some 206 points, or over 68 percent, can be attributed to the presence of unionization beyond that found in the state with the least unionization, North Carolina.

Some might read these results as favorable to unionization. After all, the presence of extensive unionization has hastened income convergence, meaning that the poor states of the South are not as poor any more in some relative sense. Yet that ignores the fact that unionization is estimated to have lowered incomes for all, albeit more in the relatively higher income states that on average have higher levels of unionization. If unionization has led to a more even distribution of the income pie, it also has led to a significantly smaller pie, one in which everyone gets smaller slices. Any increase in spatial income equality has come at a very high price.

The findings above are obviously sensitive to the statistical estimates generated. We re-estimated the model represented in Table 5 using alternative variables for control purposes. In every case, we obtained a statistically significant negative relationship between UNION and GROWTH. Moreover, the regression estimate for UNION presented in Table 5 was below the mid-range of estimates generated by sensitivity analysis, increasing our confidence in the proposition that unionization can and does have significant adverse effects on the growth in aggregate economic activity.


As indicated above, if the goal of unions is to raise wages for their members, then, in the absence of productivity gains, one would expect employment opportunities to fall as a consequence of unionization, since, ceteris paribus, the quantity of labor demanded would fall with higher wages. The job creation effects are the result not only of reductions in the quantity demanded of labor in the union sector of the labor market, but also the labor supply impacts of lower wage rates in the nonunion sector.

A cursory glance at data on union density and involvement in the labor force shows that over time the proportion of the working-age population that was employed has steadily increased, while union density has decreased. For example, at mid-century, the percent of nonagricultural workers belonging to unions exceeded 30, while only about 56 percent of civilians over the age of 16 were working. By the end of the century, union density among nonagricultural workers had fallen by over one-half, but the civilian employment-population ratio had risen to above 64 percent (U.S.Bureau of the Census, 1975, p. 178; Economic Report, 2001, p. 316).

Compare the periods 1953-1973 with 1973-1999. The first period is one of relatively high union density, whereas the second one is clearly an era of steady decline in the incidence of unionization. Let us compare what one might call the "marginal employment-population ratio" in both periods. Specifically, let us look at the growth in total civilian employment as a percent of the total growth in the noninstitutional population aged 16 and over.

During the first of these two periods, employment rose by 23,885,000, and the relevant population by 40,040,000, giving a marginal employment-population rate of 59.7 percent. Both 1953 and 1973 are business cycle peaks, so the results are not significantly skewed by cyclical considerations. During the more recent period of lower and declining union density (also involving data for two prosperous years, largely eliminating cyclical factors), employment rose by 48,424,000, while the appropriate population rose by 60,657,000. The marginal employment-population ratio rises by almost precisely one-third, to 79.7 percent. This 20 percentage point increase in this ratio is the equivalent of saying that for each 10 new potential workers, two more were employed in the period of low unionization compared with the era of enhanced union density. If the higher marginal-population ratio had prevailed during the era of high labor union influence, some eight million more jobs would have been created.

This is a rather startling result, but might be criticized because it assumes that the pronounced rise in employment relative to the potential labor force entirely reflected change in unionization. Accordingly, using an alternative data source and methodolgy, we did two more estimations, reported in Table 7. We first examined variations in interstate rates of unemployment (UNEMP). Because unemployment rates vary over time and business cycle effects often are uneven spatially, we used as our measure the median of the unemployment rate for nine years dispersed widely over the period 1964 to 1999.12 As we have indicated elsewhere (Vedder and Gallaway, 1996), interstate variations in unemployment are quite substantial. We observe a range from 2.9 percent in Nebraska to 9.2 percent in Alaska (the high for the contiguous U.S. was 6.8 percent in West Virginia).


Table 7

Impact of Unions on Unemployment and
the Employment-Population Ratio: OLS Regression Results

Variable or StatisticDependent Variable:Dependent Variable:
Constant 11.494 47.768
(7.089) (9.338)
UNION 0.074 -0.255
(3.114) (3.141)
MANUF -0.034
FARM -6.643 12.716
(1.854) (1.157)
COLD -0.000 0.001
(2.700) (4.148)
SUNSHINE -0.049 0.113
(2.767) (1.921)
64INCOME -0.000 0.001
(1.750) (3.511)
OVER65 -0.072 -0.607
(1.109) (2.986)
R2 0.517 0.590

In the second regression, we examined variations in the employment-population ratio, EMPOP. As with unemployment rates, the employment-population ratio varies substantially. In Table 7, we used a mid-range year, 1981, for our estimate of it.13 In each of the OLS regressions, we incorporated a number of other variables into the analysis for control purposes and to reduce the probability of significant omitted-variable bias. Among those variables not used in the earlier regression analysis are FARM, the percent of personal income in a state derived by farming at the beginning of the period (1965), COLD, the number of heating degree days annually, SUNSHINE, the average percentage of days annually the sun shines, and OVER65, the percent of the state ?s population over the age of 65 in 1981.

The results show strong and statistically significant (at the one percent level) negative relationships between our UNION variable and each of the dependent variables. The unemployment results suggest that a state with a 10 percent unionized work force could expect, other things equal, a 0.7 percentage point increase in its unemployment rate. The employment-population ratio results are even more robust. They suggest, other things equal, that for each four additional workers who become unionized, one less person works. Put differently, had union density at the end of the twentieth century remained about what it was near the middle of the century, union membership today would be well over 10 million higher, meaning that the loss of jobs would be measured in the millions. Unions have a profound effect on total employment.

Looking at the two regressions together, the adverse employment effects of unionization largely (about 80 percent) may come from an increase in the proportion of the work age population not in the labor force, and about 20 percent from higher unemployment. The higher wages associated with unionization may cause people to withdraw from the labor force because they are discouraged or because they opt for greater leisure (e.g., union workers may retire at younger ages).

These results do suggest that the rise in the employment-population ratio in modern times reflects more than changing attitudes of women towards work. The decline in the proportion of workers in unions seems to be an important factor in explaining the rising proportion of people working over time. It is true that the rise in the employment-population ratio is entirely the result of rising female employment participation. But it is at least plausible, and perhaps even probable, that the decline in unionization has enhanced the involvement of women in the world of work, just as the reverse may also be to some extent true.

The findings above are reinforced using other data and methodologies. We examined the growth in employment over time by occupation and industry. The approach to the calculation of union density by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics changed in 1983, so for consistency we examined occupational and industry employment for 1983 and 2000. Tables 8 and 9 show the raw data. Starting with occupations (Table 8), there were six categories that were relatively union-intensive, in that the proportion of workers belonging to labor unions exceeded the average for the entire economy in both 1983 and 2000: professional workers, protective service, precision production workers, machine operators, transportation workers, and handlers. Employment in those six classifications grew by 33.3 percent from 1983 to 2000. By contrast, the relatively low union density classifications (executives, technicians, sales, administrative support, services other than protective service, and farming), witnessed employment growth of 39.8 percent, or nearly 20 percent higher. Job growth was meaningfully greater in the relatively nonunion occupations.


Table 8

Growth of Employment by Occupation and Union Density, 

UnionUnionNumber ofNumber of% Growth
OccupationalDensity:Density:Workers: Workers:in
Administrative 8.1% 5.3% 8,546 16,434 92.3%
Professional 24.0 19.3 11,111 18,444 70.5
Technicians 12.1 10.1 3,001 4,279 42.6
Sales 6.7 3.5 9,234 13,677 48.1
Admin. Support 15.0 12.1 15,789 18,167 15.1
Protective Serv. 39.0 39.4 1,674 2,384 42.4
Other Services 11.8 8.1 11,202 14,569 30.1
Operators, etc. 36.9 19.4 7,537 7,043 -6.6
Production, etc. 32.9 21.9 10,546 12,716 20.6
Transportation 38.5 23.1 3,822 5,182 35.6
Handlers, etc. 29.5 17.3 4,058 5,417 33.5
Farming, etc. 5.5 4.5 1,775 1,974 11.2
ALL JOBS 20.1 13.5 88,290 120,786 36.8

Note: a Numbers in Thousands.
Source: U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics and authors' calculations.

That approach, however, probably understates the adverse effects of unionization on employment growth. Two of the occupational classifications, professional and protective service, include disproportionately large numbers of government workers (e.g., teachers and police officers). Theory expects the wage-enhancing goals of unions will reduce employment in the private market economy where firms try to maximize profits by producing where marginal costs equal marginal revenues. That is not necessarily the case in the governmental sector. Excluding the two government-intensive occupational sectors, employment grew only 16.8 percent in the remaining four union-intensive categories, substantially less than one-half the growth rate for the relatively nonunion sectors. If those four occupational categories had grown at the average of the six relatively nonunion-intensive occupational classifications, job growth would have been about six million greater.

The results are perhaps even starker when one turns to the industrial classifications of employment data (Table 9). There are six categories of employment where union density exceeded the average for the entire labor force in both 1983 and 2000: construction, durable goods manufacture, nondurable goods manufacture, transportation, communications and public utilities, and government. There were five categories that had below-average union density in both years: agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, finance, and services. The 12th category, mining, is ambiguous, with above average union density in 1983 and below average in 2000.


Table 9

Employment Growth, 1983-2000, by Industrial Classification

UnionUnionNumber ofNumber of% Growth
OccupationalDensity:Density:Workers: Workers:in
Administrative 8.1% 5.3% 8,546 16,434 92.3%
Professional 24.0 19.3 11,111 18,444 70.5
Technicians 12.1 10.1 3,001 4,279 42.6
Sales 6.7 3.5 9,234 13,677 48.1
Admin. Support 15.0 12.1 15,789 18,167 15.1
Protective Serv. 39.0 39.4 1,674 2,384 42.4
Other Services 11.8 8.1 11,202 14,569 30.1
Operators, etc. 36.9 19.4 7,537 7,043 -6.6
Production, etc. 32.9 21.9 10,546 12,716 20.6
Transportation 38.5 23.1 3,822 5,182 35.6
Handlers, etc. 29.5 17.3 4,058 5,417 33.5
Farming, etc. 5.5 4.5 1,775 1,974 11.2
ALL JOBS 20.1 13.5 88,290 120,786 36.8

Note: a Numbers in thousands. 
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and authors' calculations.

Employment growth in the six union-intensive categories was 24.4 percent from 1983-2000, compared with 55.2 percent in the five classifications with relatively low union density. If the percentage employment growth in the relatively high density industries had equaled that in the relatively low density industries, about 10 million more jobs would have been created. Had employment growth equaled that of the economy as a whole (36.8 percent), there would have been four million more jobs created. Thus the job deficiency associated with high union density may well be somewhere between four and ten million jobs, consistent with earlier estimates.14

The industry data stress the growing relative importance of public employment in American unionization. Looking at the total labor force, union density declined from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 13.5 percent in 2000, a decline in the proportion of the labor force in unions of slightly less than 33 percent. Looking at the private sector alone, however, density fell from 16.5 to 9.0 percent, a decline of over 45 percent. The decline in unionization in the market economy is in marked contrast to that in the public sector, where membership has grown significantly in an absolute sense, and even slightly as a percent of the work force. The discipline that the market imposes has made unionization less attractive. Governmental activity largely lacks that market discipline and is characterized by considerable rent-seeking--an environment in which unions flourish.


The Birth of Unions and Job Destruction: The Case of Steel. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was enacted. By greatly expanding the move towards a pro-union/high-wage political environment that had begun four years earlier with the Davis-Bacon Act, the Wagner Act within a few years led to massive increases in union density in the U.S. In 1934, the year before the passage of the Wagner Act, union density among nonagricultural workers was less than 12 percent, while a decade after the legislation's enactment the density had tripled to over 35 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1975, p. 178). In the two years 1936 to 1938, union membership doubled. It was precisely in that period that recovery from the Great Depression stalled. Unemployment rates fell from over 21 percent as late as October 1935 to under 13 percent by May 1937 (Vedder and Gallaway, 1997, p. 77). The Wagner Act only began to be effective in the Spring of 1937, in large part because employers largely ignored it, believing, wrongly, that it would be found unconstitutional. In the spring of 1937 the great union organizing drives successfully occurred in several major industries, leading to huge wage increases in late 1937 that reversed the promising 1935-1937 recovery and led to rising unemployment: the unemployment rate surpassed 20 percent again by the spring of 1938.

Nowhere was the fight to unionize more contentious yet ultimately successful than the steel industry. While the U.S. Steel Corporation negotiated a collective bargaining agreement at the end of March 1938, and the Jones and Laughlin Company after a short strike in May, a bitter and bloody battle erupted with the "Little Steel" companies. When it all subsided by September, 18 had been killed and 168 injured (Taft, 1964, pp. 515-22).

The upshot of the unionization was a dramatic increase in the wages of workers and an equally dramatic decline in employment. From the last quarter of 1936 (the last quarter before U.S. Steel signed a collective bargain agreement) to the second quarter of 1938 (about eight months after the end of the Little Steel strikes), money wages per hour rose more than 21 percent (amidst double-digit national unemployment!), and manhours worked in steel mills fell by more than 51 percent, reversing employment gains that had occurred during 1936 when money wages were relatively stable and real unit labor costs were actually falling because of rising productivity (Vedder and Gallaway, 1997, p. 136).

After the initial trauma of unionization, markets did adjust to the new environment. From the second quarter of 1938 to the fourth quarter of 1940, money wages rose very little, but robust productivity gains, no doubt in part induced by labor-saving technological change resulting from the new high wages, led to a significant decline in the real wage adjusted for productivity change. As a consequence, employment again rose sharply. Nonetheless, even in the fourth quarter of 1940, when the nation was moving rapidly to war mobilization, employees in the steel industry worked fewer hours than four years earlier, before unionization had begun.

Long-Term Unionization and Job Destruction: Coal Mining. The quintessential militant labor union leader during the golden age of American labor unions was John L. Lewis (1880-1969), head of the United Mine Workers. Not only was he an extremely aggressive and powerful leader of his union, he was by most accounts the founder of twentieth century industrial unionization as practiced by the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). Yet a strong union tradition in mining predates Lewis, who became UMW president in 1920. From the late nineteenth-century on, America's miners had showed a significant interest in unionization, and "in 1897, the United Mining Workers of America became the largest union in the United States, a position it retained for almost three decades" (Taft, 1964, p. 166). Nonetheless, many miners remained nonunion until membership grew sharply after the improvement in the political-legal environment for collective bargaining beginning in the early 1930s.

From 1909 through 1927, the number of production workers in bituminous coal mining in the United States oscillated around 500,000 or 600,000 (U.S. Department of Labor, 1968, pp. 19-20). While employment declined in the Great Depression, it never recovered. During World War II, Lewis incurred the wrath of the War Labor Board and the American public by repeatedly violating labor's no-strike pledge, followed by long and bitter strikes in the immediate post-war era. This strategy did lead to higher wages, with weekly wages well over tripling from 1933 to 1944 (U.S. Department of Labor, 1968, p. 20). Employment, which had been 471,000 in depression year 1937, had fallen to 351,000 by relatively prosperous 1950. When Lewis gave up the UMW presidency in 1960, employment had fallen below 150,000, a decline of about 400,000 during the four decades of his leadership.

Output had fallen by more than one-fourth, as consumers switched to other fuels. Railroads started using oil-consuming diesel locomotives; homes switched to gas, oil, and even electric heat. At the retail level, coal prices more than doubled from 1935 to 1950, while natural gas retail prices rose at best 10 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1975, p. 214). Aside from being dirty and relatively labor intensive, home heating with coal was losing its price advantage over alternative fuels, in part because of the high cost of mining it.

While coal mining had a brief revival in the 1970s and 1980s propelled by the explosion in oil prices, booming electricity demand, and other factors, by 1999, only 70,000 production workers were left in coal mining in the U.S., barely one-tenth the number when Lewis assumed the UMW presidency 80 years earlier. Coal miners remained among the best paid industrial workers, earning nearly 50 percent more than the average for private sector workers (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000, p. 428). While environmental, occupational safety, and other factors no doubt played a role, several decades of union militancy exacted a heavy toll on employment in the coal mining industry. Ironically, the United Mine Workers by 2000 were a shadow of their former self, as high wages reduced industry employment and led also to a growth in nonunion mining activity.


Because utility is essentially unmeasurable with precision, we cannot state precisely what the impact of unions is on happiness or, broadly speaking, "the quality of life." There is one act of revealed preference, however, that is probably a reasonable proxy measure for the general level of satisfaction with a geographic locale, namely the amount of net spatial migration. If people, net, are moving into an area, that suggests that the area is perceived as being relatively attractive, for a variety of economic and noneconomic reasons. Likewise, net out-migration would be a sign that an area is relatively unattractive, leading people to vote with their feet by moving elsewhere.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census (2000) has estimated net domestic migration for the 50 states and the District of Columbia for 1990 to 1999. The sum of migration is zero--each interstate act of migration is recorded as a negative (out-migration) for the state of origin, and as a positive (in-migration) for the state of destination. We took the 10 states with the highest rates of in-migration in the 1990s and observed their end-period union density.15 We compared that figure with the union density in the 10 states with the greatest out-migration.16 Note that in the states with the highest out-migration (a total of 6,468,945), the median union density in 1999 was 17.7 percent, well above the national average of 13.5 percent, and more than twice the median density in the 10 states with the greatest in-migration (that received a total of 5,200,608 migrants).

While that evidence is rather strong, we decided to classify the data an alternative way, namely by union density. We took the 11 states with the highest density and compared them with the 11 states with the lowest density.17 The results show that the lowest density states had net in-migration of 3,530,108 which is more than one thousand persons a day, every day, for nine years. Ten of the 11 states had net in-migration, the single exception, South Dakota, having a very small (less than 3,000) out-migration. By contrast, the 11 states with the highest union densities had a net out-migration of 2,984,007 persons, with eight of 11 reporting net out-movement of people. While no doubt other factors are also relevant in explaining these population movements, the evidence suggests unions are not perceived positively by individuals making migration decisions.


While there are no doubt many individual members of labor unions who feel that they have benefitted from collective bargaining, the overall evidence is overwhelming that labor unions in contemporary America have had harmful aggregate effects on the economy. Unions are associated with lower rates of growth in income and jobs. On balance, people move away from union-intensive areas to areas with relatively low rates of union density. Occupations and industries with high rates of union density have had less vibrant job growth in recent decades. Widespread unionization of an industry is often associated with initial sharp declines in employment, as the steel industry demonstrates. The more strident and intense union involvement in industry, the bigger that industry's decline, as the experience of coal mining shows. Also, high levels of unionization are associated with out-migration of native born Americans, while low levels are associated with in-migration. The decline in union density in the private sector in the past generation has been sharp, and that decline has added to the vitality of the economy at the beginning of the new century. The increasing weakness of unions in the market economy has contributed to economic growth and a rising proportion of the working age population that actually works.


1 The classic case of this occurred during World War II. In the face of an overwhelming demand for workers, the lowest level reached by the official statistically-measured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent in 1944.

2 See Hutt (1977) for a fuller discussion of this issue.

3 We relax this assumption later in this essay.

4 This is derived from regression coefficients in Vedder and Gallaway (1997), Appendix B.

5 In an earlier paper (Gallaway et al., 1991), we estimate an aggregate labor supply elasticity of 0.14. This is broadly consistent with the general literature on overall labor supply.

6 See U.S. Bureau of the Census (1975), Series D-685-D-719. In order to take account of changes in industrial mix through time, 1954 weights were used throughout to standardize the estimates of compensation per full-time-equivalent employee.

7 The t-statistic for the test is 0.61.

8 The time trend in the wage differential between 1919 and 1933 is actually weakly negative.

9 See Linneman et al. (1990) for details.

10 See Lewis (1963) and Parsley (1980).

11 A loglinear version of the model provides very similar results.

12 The years were 1966, 1970, 1974, 1979, 1983, 1988, 1991, 1994, and 1999.

13 Data are not available for this measure on a strictly comparable basis for all years in the period.

14 Of course, the differential employment growth may be at least partially explainable by nonunion factors.

15 The states are Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

16 The states are California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

17 The reason 11 states were used instead of ten was because the 10th highest ranking was a tie between two states. The eleven high-density states are: Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Washington, Wisconsin, Alaska, and Hawaii. The 11 lowest density states are: Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.


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Reforming Teacher Training and Recruitment

By: Dale Ballou, Ph.D. and Michael Podgursky, Ph.D.

A Critical Appraisal of the Recommendations  
of the National Commission on  
Teaching and America’s Future 

I. Introduction

At the start of the 1996-97 school year, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (the Commission or the NCTAF) released a report entitled What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future. NCTAF is a "blue-ribbon" 26-member commission chaired by North Carolina governor James Hunt. An accompanying press release described the report as a "scathing indictment" of the current system for training and recruiting teachers. The Commission argued that public schools employ large numbers of "unqualified" teachers and proposed an extensive set of recommendations to "put qualified teachers in every classroom."

 * Dale Ballou is a Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts (address should include: Thompson Hall, Amherst, MA 01003). E-mail:

Michael Podgursky is Professor of Economics and Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri (address should include: 118 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65203). E-mail:


What is the NCTAF? Its name notwithstanding, the NCTAF holds no "commission" from any elected official. It is a private organization, funded by the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations. Although the NCTAF claims that its report is not the work of education insiders, the largest block of members come from schools of education that train teachers and from national education organizations, including the following: 

  • the two major teacher unions (the National Education Association [NEA] and the American Federation of Teachers [AFT]); 
  • the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE); and 
  • the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (the National Board). 

The NCATE and the National Board figure prominently in the Commission's recommendations, and have a direct financial stake in their adoption.

 The Commission's report comes thirteen years into a prolonged debate about education quality in the United States, ignited by the publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk. The work of the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE), a panel of educators appointed by Secretary of Education Terence Bell, A Nation at Risk also called attention to problems with teacher quality. Too many teachers had poor academic records and received low scores on tests of cognitive ability. Teacher education programs were graduating large numbers of marginal students who did not know enough about the subjects they were teaching. On college board exams, education students were below nearly all other majors, and had been declining through the 1970's (Weaver, 1983). According to the NCEE, the profession needed to attract more academically accomplished individuals, a conclusion reached by several other task forces and commissions whose reports came out soon afterward. For example, the 1986 Carnegie Forum for Education and the Economy concluded: 

Teachers should have a good grasp of the ways in which all kinds of physical and social systems work: a feeling for what data are and the uses to which they can be put, an ability to help students see patterns of meaning where others see only confusion ... They must be able to learn all the time, as the knowledge required to do their work twists and turns with new challenges and the progress of science and technology ... We are describing people of substantial intellectual accomplishment (p. 25). 

Now, more than a decade later, the Commission has issued another "scathing indictment" of teacher quality. But the message has changed. The Commission makes only passing reference to the need to recruit smarter teachers. (Indeed, this is no longer regarded as a major problem.) Instead, the Commission sees the problem as primarily one of training: teachers are not properly prepared to enter the classroom. Under the heading "Unenforced Standards," the Commission blames State education departments and some teacher education schools for this state of affairs.

Because most states do not require schools of education to be accredited, only about 500 of the nation’s 1200 education schools have met common professional standards. States, meanwhile, routinely approve all of their teacher education programs, including those that lack qualified faculty and are out of touch with new knowledge about teaching (p. 28).

The Commission does find problems in other areas. Low pay and poor working conditions discourage teachers, raise attrition rates, and deter talented individuals from entering the profession. Master teachers receive inadequate recognition for their accomplishments. Nonetheless, the Commission's preoccupation with teacher preparation is evident in the way it characterized other problems. For example, the Commission describes teacher recruitment as "slipshod." The basis for this claim? Districts hire too many teachers who lack the appropriate credentials for the subjects they are assigned to teach. Unlicensed instructors, who have not completed pre-service courses in pedagogy (i.e., teaching methods), are allowed to enter the classroom on "emergency certificates." The Commission also criticizes teacher education programs for admitting too many students who never reach the classroom, either because they drop out of these programs before graduating, or because they opt for other careers upon finishing. But this too is primarily a result of their training: if teacher education were more effective, these students would experience less of the frustration responsible for the high rates of attrition.

In short, while earlier commissions and task forces spoke clearly of the need to attract more capable individuals into the teaching profession, this concern is all but forgotten by the NCTAF. Instead, we are now told that the main problem is inadequate teacher training. The distinction has important implications, particularly for schools of education. If the nation needs to attract more talented, capable people into the teaching profession, policies need to be shaped with that end in mind. Raising standards for admission to teacher education would be a step in that direction, but only a beginning, since screening out weak candidates would do nothing in itself to attract bright, talented people into teaching. It is likely that the nation will need to cast a wider net for teachers, making greater use of alternative certification programs and other routes by which capable individuals can enter the profession. It may be that public schools, like private schools, should be permitted to hire teachers who have not completed formal training programs when these individuals show promise in other respects.

If the problem with the teacher work force is inadequate training, however, the policy response will differ. If teachers need to be better trained, it is to the schools, departments, and colleges of education that the nation will turn, pouring in resources, strengthening requirements, and ensuring that state-of-the-art practices are disseminated throughout the community of teacher educators. True, some teacher training programs may be closed down, if they fail to upgrade programs. But this would represent a transfer of resources within teacher education to the better programs, not a flow out of the professional education community. Schools of education would play a larger role, not a smaller one, in shaping the teaching work force.

Given the Commission's composition and its diagnosis of the problem, it is not surprising that it writes approvingly of a wide variety of initiatives designed to strengthen teacher education programs, such as: 

  • additions to the curriculum that would make an undergraduate education degree a five-year rather than a four-year program;
  • professional practice schools that offer teacher education students clinical experience in schools run jointly by local education authorities and universities; 
  • internships in which beginning teachers are closely supervised by mentors and share their experiences with peers and more experienced instructors; 
  • requirements that secondary school teachers have a major in the subject they are to teach, as well as in education; and 
  • licensing examinations for new teachers and certificates of advanced professional standing based on videotapes and portfolios of student work for experienced "master" teachers.

To carry out these reforms, the NCTAF promotes a sweeping plan to "professionalize" teaching, shifting control of accreditation and certification from local school boards and State education agencies to private education organizations. The Commission’s recommendations do not specify the curriculum of teacher training programs or the content of licensing examinations. Rather, their reform agenda is essentially one of empowering education professionals to set standards for how teachers will be trained, tested, hired and promoted. It will be up to these professional organizations to determine curriculum and other reforms needed to upgrade the teacher work force. Here are several of the Commission’s specific proposals.

1. "All teacher education programs must meet professional standards, or they will be closed" (p. 63 of the Commission's report). By "meeting professional standards," the Commission means obtaining accreditation from the accrediting body, the NCATE, a private organization funded and governed by various education organizations. While all education schools must currently meet the standards required for accreditation by their State departments of education, most do not meet or seek to secure the approval of NCATE (though in a small but growing number of States, teacher training programs are required to secure NCATE accreditation).

2. "Establish professional boards in every State" (p. 69). In most States, teacher licensing (certification) requirements are set by State education departments. By contrast, in law and medicine these standards are set by professional boards composed of practitioners at the highest ranks of the profession. The Commission proposes similar boards for teachers in order to set higher standards for teaching and to "... create a firewall between the political system and standards-setting process ..." (p. 70). 

3. "Set goals and incentives for National Board Certification in every State and district. Aim to certify 105,000 teachers in this decade, one for every school in the United States" (p. 100).

4. "Develop a career continuum for teaching linked to assessments and compensation systems that reward knowledge and skill" (p. 94).

National Board certification seems particularly popular. President Clinton mentioned it in his 1997 State of the Union Message and many States seem to be moving ahead in this area. The objective is to secure certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for the very best teachers—and pay them more. For example, in North Carolina, the salaries of National Board certified teachers are increased by four percent. Governor Hunt has proposed raising this premium to fifteen percent in coming years. 

Teachers demonstrate that their teaching is "state-of-the-art" by submitting portfolios to the National Board (located just outside Detroit). These portfolios include videotapes of their teaching, lesson plans, and samples of student work. These materials are reviewed by "experts"—moonlighting teachers who are trained by the National Board. Teachers are also required to take a test at a regional site. Input from supervisors or parents is not solicited.

Remarkably, there has been very little public discussion of the merits of these recommendations. While the Commission's report received wide coverage in the media when released in the summer of 1996, most of the publicity focused on its claims that public schools were employing large numbers of poorly trained and poorly qualified teachers. Given this, their proposals to strengthen teacher training and licensing seemed uncontroversial, if not irresistible. Thus they succeeded almost at once in setting the terms of public debate about the way the nation will recruit and train new teachers. The Commission remains active, vigorously promoting its proposals. Among other efforts, they have issued a State-by-State report card grading States on their efforts to professionalize their teaching work forces. According to a Commission press release, eleven States have formed "partnerships" with the NCTAF " create programs and policies advancing [their—the Commission's] recommendations...."

It is time for a closer look at the Commission's report and agenda. In section II, we consider the way the NCTAF has characterized the problem. Is the NCTAF correct to focus on the inadequacy of teacher training? In section III, we examine the evidence for NCTAF’s policy recommendations. Does the research literature indicate that the changes which the Commission envisions will substantially improve schools? Finally, in sections IV & V, we explain how their policy prescriptions could impede educational reform, doing more harm than good. 

II. Teacher Preparation — How Bad Is It?

The NCTAF claims that public schools are hiring large numbers of poorly trained and poorly qualified teachers. To support its case, the Commission offers what appear to be factual statements about the work force. Let us consider the evidence on two phenomena that concern the Commission most: teachers who do not have the training in teaching methods required for a standard license, and instructors who do not have adequate knowledge of the subjects they teach.

Substandard Licenses

The Commission claims that schools are hiring many teachers who are not fully certified: 

In recent years, more than 50,000 people who lack the training required for their jobs have entered teaching annually on emergency or substandard licenses ... Twelve percent of all newly hired teachers have no training [in teaching methods], another fourteen percent enter without having fully met state standards.

Although the Commission is vague about the source for these numbers, by all indications they are based on the 1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), the most comprehensive source of nationally representative information on the make-up of the teaching work force. However, in our own tabulations of these data we were unable to reproduce the statistics cited by the Commission. First, only 4.6%—not 12 percent—of newly hired public school teachers indicated they had taken no courses in teaching methods. The Commission's claim that districts have been hiring 50,000 new teachers each year with emergency or substandard certificates is even more of an overstatement. In fact, only 16,000 new public school teachers held "temporary, provisional, or emergency certificates" in 1993-94.

Yet this figure is still too high. In many States, regular teacher certification proceeds through two or more stages. The first stage license is known as a "provisional" certificate. Teachers advance beyond the provisional level in various ways, depending on the regulations in force in their State—either by completing additional college courses or professional development programs, or by obtaining a master’s degree, or by teaching for a specified period of time. Thus, it is likely that many teachers who responded that they held "provisional" certificates were simply in the first stage of the normal certification process. Fortunately, the next administration of the SASS, conducted in 1993-94, distinguished teachers with a "temporary certificate" (which "requires some additional college coursework and/or student teaching before regular certification can be obtained") from those holding an "emergency certificate or waiver" (which is "issued to persons with insufficient teacher preparation who must complete a regular certification program in order to continue teaching"). Our tallies of these data show that of public school teachers who started work in 1993 or 1994, only 7.6% had a temporary certificate and only 2.5% an emergency license.

In exaggerating the problem, the NCTAF has also overlooked an important matter: how long it takes new instructors to correct deficiencies in their preparation. After a year or two many of those teachers who enter with substandard licenses may be indistinguishable from their colleagues. In fact, of the teachers first hired in 1992-93, only 1.7% were still teaching on emergency licenses in February, 1994, during their second year of service; and only 5.6% had temporary certificates. Both figures are smaller than the corresponding proportions among 1993 new hires, suggesting that with the passage of time, unqualified teachers are either dismissed or correct their deficiencies. As a result, "unprepared" teachers constitute a negligible proportion of the entire work force. In 1993-94, fewer than one-half of one percent of all public school teachers held emergency certificates. Slightly more than one percent had temporary certificates.

Finally, there remains the possibility that teachers hired on emergency or temporary licenses may have something extra to offer, explaining why they are hired in preference to fully licensed candidates. This possibility does not appear to have occurred to the Commission, which acknowledges that some of these hires may be in response to teacher shortages. Otherwise, they attribute it to administrative incompetence or misplaced priorities.

In many states, standards are simply waived whenever school districts want to hire teachers who cannot make the grade. Sometimes this is a function of genuine shortages in fields of short supply. Often, however, it occurs due to short-sighted hiring procedures, administrative convenience, efforts to save on teacher costs in favor of more ‘important’ areas, and plain old-fashioned patronage (p. 15). 

The Commission does not explain how its proposals, which would close some schools of education and make it more difficult to obtain a license, would relieve shortages. More to the point, there is no recognition that districts might have good reasons for making offers to unlicensed applicants. 

Consider the qualifications of new science teachers hired by school districts on substandard licenses. Of the eighteen biology teachers in the 1993-94 SASS who were hired on temporary or emergency licenses, two-thirds held degrees in biology. Three others held degrees in another science. Altogether, of the thirty-nine science teachers hired with substandard licenses, twenty-seven had majored in one of the sciences (though not necessarily the subject they were first assigned to teach). This ratio exceeds that for science teachers overall and strongly suggests that districts exploit loopholes in certification requirements to offer employment to individuals whose subject matter preparation is superior to conventional candidates. Are these the instructors the Commission has in mind when it writes of teachers who "cannot make the grade"?

Teaching Out of Field

According to the Commission's report, many teachers are assigned courses they are not qualified to teach: 

Fifty-six percent of high school students taking physical science are taught by out of field teachers, as are 27 percent of those taking mathematics and 21 percent of those taking English (p. 15-16). 

These statistics are based on tabulations from the Schools and Staffing Survey of 1990-91. They have been widely cited in the media as evidence that America's teachers lack adequate subject matter preparation. 

We share this underlying concern. However, the NCTAF distorts the evidence on this point, exaggerating the problem. By so doing, the Commission reinforces its claim that the problem with the workforce can be solved through additional training. 

For example, the passage quoted is misleading in two respects. First, the term "out of field" is employed in an idiosyncratic sense. In conventional usage, an "out of field" teacher is one who lacks certification in the subject he or she teaches. The NCTAF uses this term to refer to teachers who lack either a major or a minor in their subject. The problem with this definition is that many college students do not declare minors even though they may have taken several courses in a field and completed the requirements (or nearly so) for a formal minor. By setting an arbitrary standard that most teachers are not currently asked to meet, the Commission is able to inflate the conventional estimates of the number of out of field instructors. The difference is considerable. For example, only 14 percent of high school students taking physical science have instructors who lack a certificate as well as a degree or a minor in one of the physical sciences—far below the Commission’s figure of 56 percent. 

The NCTAF obtained these statistics from a study that investigated the preparation of secondary school teachers (Ingersoll and Gruber, 1996). The Commission substituted the words "high school," a subtle but important change, since secondary school includes the seventh and eighth grades. The preparation of secondary school teachers tends to be stronger the higher the grade level. As one would expect (and hope), upper-level courses that demand stronger subject matter knowledge are more likely to be staffed by faculty who have that background. By effacing this distinction, the Commission has exaggerated the problem. For example, among high school English students, the proportion taught by instructors lacking a major or a minor in English or a related field (e.g., communications) is 14 percent—less than the Commission’s statistic by a third. 

There are other important distinctions the Commission overlooks. For example, high school English covers a wide range of courses. If we consider only literature courses, the proportion of students taught by "out of field" instructors falls to just nine percent. (The proportion whose teachers are not certified in English—the conventional meaning of "out of field"—is a trivial three percent.) Other subjects that fall under the broad heading of "English" are composition (11 percent out of field, using the Commission’s definition), reading (27 percent) and "other" (16 percent). Whether one needs a minor in English or a related field to teach these subjects is debatable. The largest share of out of field teachers is in reading. Yet reading at the high school level is apt to be a remedial subject or a program for students with limited English proficiency, calling for teachers whose credentials are in English as a second language or special education.

Mathematics offers another case in point. The Commission claims that 30 percent of high school mathematics teachers do not hold "even a minor" in their field. This is correct. However, it is important to recognize that teachers with weaker backgrounds in mathematics are more likely to teach math as a secondary assignment. They are not responsible for most of the math instruction conducted in secondary schools. Furthermore, they are concentrated in low-level courses.

This is brought out in Table 1, which displays the percentage of students in various math courses by the preparation of their instructors. Students enrolled in general math or business math are, indeed, likely to have a teacher with less than a minor in mathematics (though even here, most instructors have more than three college courses in the subject). However, as soon as we look above this level to the next course—elementary algebra—we see a sharp shift in the numbers. At this level, only 23 percent of students are taught by an instructor who has less than a college minor in the subject. Ninety percent have teachers who are certified in math. From this point on the qualifications of teachers rise. Among calculus students, for example, more than 90 percent have teachers with a major or minor in mathematics or mathematics education. 

Table 1

Percentage of Students Taking Mathematics  
By Course and Teacher Qualifications

Course Taught by Teacher
Teacher Preparation
General Math
Business Math
Elementary Algebra
Teacher has:

Mathematics degree

14.1 23.0 31.3 51.4
Mathematics education degree 21.6 14.1 35.3 37.2
Mathematics minor 9.6 5.1 10.8 3.3
Less than a minor 54.7 57.8 22.6 8.1
Totals: 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Teacher has taken:

More than 3 undergraduate Math courses

59.3 44.7 79.7 82.4
1-3 undergraduate Math courses 26.8 34.5 11.0 6.6
No undergraduate Math courses 14.0 20.8 9.3 11.0
Totals: 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Teacher has Mathematics Certification 72.5 43.3 90.0 96.0

 Source: 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey

In short, the Commission's figures gloss over important distinctions. Instructors with less formal training in mathematics tend to be assigned general math and business math courses. The content of these courses is far below the level of college mathematics. This is not to say that students in these courses do not deserve good teachers. But it is not evident that a college math background is needed. In higher level courses, the great majority of instructors are qualified even by the Commission’s idiosyncratic criteria.

Academic Ability

Many studies have pointed to the low academic ability of education majors, whose SAT, ACT, and GRE scores are significantly below the average for college graduates. Many States have found it necessary to institute tests of basic academic competency for new and veteran teachers. The failure rates on these tests are disconcerting and are further evidence of the low academic standards in many education programs. One would think that these facts would receive some attention in a document concerned with teacher qualifications. Yet the NCTAF report is silent on this issue except for the following rather remarkable assertion:

Furthermore, talented recruits are entering schools of education in record numbers. Due to recent reforms, both standards and interest have been steadily rising. By 1991, graduates of teacher education programs had higher levels of academic achievement than most college graduates, reversing the trends of the early 1980's (p.52).

A reader encountering this statement would probably assume that it referred to scores on the ACT, the SAT, or other standardized achievement tests. In fact, the Commission’s evidence for this proposition consists solely of self-reported college grade point averages, obtained from a series of U.S. Department of Education surveys of recent college graduates. Because the average GPA of education majors is higher than engineers, the Commission concludes that education majors have "higher levels of academic achievement." 

This is preposterous. The Commission’s claim ignores differences in grading criteria familiar to virtually everyone in higher education. Data gathered by the Department of Education from 1992-93 graduates speak to this point. The average grade awarded in education courses was 3.41 on a four-point scale. By contrast, the average in the social science courses was 2.96. In science and engineering it fell to 2.67. Yet science and engineering majors have significantly higher college board scores than education majors (Henke et al., 1996). 

This is not the only dubious claim in this short passage. The Commission indicates that education majors have recently overtaken others, "reversing the trends of the early 1980's." In fact, there has been no such reversal. Department of Education surveys have consistently found that the GPA’s of education majors have exceeded other majors as far back as the data have been collected (1976). The Commission’s statement leaves the impression that while concerns with academic ability may once have been warranted, that problem has since been solved. In this manner it clears the field for the promotion of its self-serving agenda. 

Teacher Preparation: Summary

To conclude, while we do not dispute that the preparation of American teachers could be improved, the NCTAF’s handling of evidence on this point exhibits a clear bias. The Commission makes idiosyncratic use of common terms, thereby inflating estimates of the number of poorly prepared teachers—yet without acknowledging that it has done so. The Commission fails to draw appropriate distinctions between courses that require advanced subject matter knowledge and those that do not. Some of the statistics presented without attribution, such as the percentage of new teachers who have had no training in teaching methods, cannot be verified by independent tabulations of the data. Moreover, virtually every one of these errors and distortions has the same effect: to bolster the Commission's contention that the problem of teacher quality can be remedied by having teachers take more courses.

By contrast, the Commission all but ignores one of the principal concerns raised by earlier task forces and commissions, namely, the low level of academic ability and weak cognitive skills of many teachers. In its effort to dismiss this concern, the Commission cites evidence that cannot begin to support its claim. Once again, this can hardly be an accident, given the focus on teacher training in the Commission’s program for reform. In the Commission's agenda there is no place for the notion that the profession needs to attract brighter people and that it might even be a good idea to relax some traditional licensing requirements in order to get them.

III. The NCTAF Recommendations: 

How Strong is the Evidence?

 While there is a problem with teacher quality in American schools, it is not clear that the NCTAF has identified the principal factors responsible. At this point, however, let us suppose that the Commission’s diagnosis is correct. How should the nation improve the way it recruits and trains new teachers?

As noted, the Commission offers few specifics in its recommendations, leaving the details to the councils and professional organizations it would entrust with the accreditation of teacher education schools and the licensing of instructors. Nonetheless, the discussion throughout the Commission’s report leaves little doubt that it anticipates that prospective teachers will be required to take additional courses before they can enter the classroom. The Commission writes approvingly of five-year programs (as opposed to the conventional four-year undergraduate degree), and applauds States that require teachers to obtain a master’s degree. It disparages reforms that reduce the amount of pre-service training in order to streamline entry into the profession (as in many alternative certification programs). According to the Commission, the formal training teachers receive ought to reflect "state-of-the-art practices," "incorporating new knowledge" and an evolving "knowledge base for teaching" that makes clearer than ever before just what teachers should be doing in the classroom. 

The NCTAF report contains numerous citations to education research literature. The sheer number of these citations is apt to create the impression that the recommendations of the Commission are supported by a vast body of scientific findings. Readers are led to believe that there is a growing consensus about what teachers ought to know and do, resting firmly on research, and that the chief remaining obstacle is a lack of political will to insist that teachers meet these standards. For the following reasons we would caution readers against this conclusion.

1. The research cited by the NCTAF was not conducted by disinterested parties. Virtually all of the research cited in the NCTAF report was carried out by faculty in schools or departments of education. It appeared in journals published by these schools or in anthologies edited by faculty from these programs. Much of it was presented at conferences for education professionals dominated by education school faculty. Some of it was based on dissertations written under the supervision of these professors. In short, the research evaluating teacher education is carried out by people who work in departments and schools that train teachers. In many instances the same persons perform both tasks. It is hardly surprising under these circumstances to find that much of this research concludes that the right kind of pre-service training significantly improves teacher performance.

Remarkably, the conflict of interest here appears to have passed unnoticed in public debate over education policy, which routinely defers to "experts" from education schools even when the advice these experts offer is self-serving. This is not to say that education school faculty intentionally deceive the public. But it would be naive to suppose that those conducting research in these circumstances are immune from professional pressures and biases that color their findings. Regrettable as it may be, the prior beliefs of researchers in the social sciences frequently have a profound influence on what the research finds. It is only natural for the faculty of schools of education to believe that their work (and the work of their colleagues) in preparing teachers is socially beneficial and that there is something amiss with research that fails to support this conclusion. Moreover, journal editors are more likely to publish research that contains positive results. This publication bias reinforces the aforementioned "professional bias," making it all the more likely that "acceptable research" will indicate that schools of education make a positive contribution to teacher performance.

2. Much of the research on the relationship of teacher training to teacher performance is of questionable quality. One might reasonably question whether two economists are competent to make such a sweeping judgment of research in a field that is not their own. However, it is not necessary to take our word for it. Authorities cited by the Commission itself are as negative as we.

[A]lthough the number of studies relating to teacher education is large, the research is often of dubious scientific merit and frequently fails to address the types of issues about which policy makers are most concerned. ... The investigations on teacher education effects do not represent a strong body of research. ... [M]ost studies comparing teachers prepared through education courses and those not formally trained do not seek to control for possible differences in the intelligence or general academic competence of the teachers. ... Other background or context variables that might account for differences in teacher effectiveness are infrequently accounted for in selecting samples or analyzing data (Evertson, Hawley, and Zlotnik, 1985). 

It is difficult to draw any conclusions about the role of academic preparation on student achievement from the studies that have been conducted. They are fraught with methodological weaknesses that limit the likelihood of finding significant relationships (Ashton and Crocker, 1987). 

3. The research cited by the Commission frequently fails to support the Commission’s recommendations. One of the most surprising things about the research cited in the NCTAF report is how little support it provides for the Commission’s recommendations. On many key points the evidence contained in the research literature turns out to be considerably weaker than one would have imagined, given the Commission’s claims. We describe a few such instances.

(i.) The Commission strongly disapproves of nontraditional "alternative" certification programs that weaken licensing requirements. The NCTAF report states:

Studies of such efforts consistently reveal severe shortcomings: Recruits are dissatisfied with their training; they have greater difficulties planning curriculum, teaching, managing the classroom, and diagnosing students’ learning needs. Principals and other teachers typically rate them lower on key teaching skills ... Most important, their students learn less, especially in areas like reading and writing, which are critical to later school success (p. 53, emphasis added).

A footnote directs the reader to an article by the Commission’s executive director for a review of this literature (Darling-Hammond, 1992). Someone turning to this source for evidence that students learn less in classes taught by alternative recruits would probably be surprised to find that none is offered. Indeed, in the reviewer’s own words:

Current literature provides very little data concerning the question of adequacy of program preparation. ... Though studies sometimes note similarities and differences between the design of AC [alternative certification] programs and traditional teacher education, they generally do not describe how these differences affect recruits’ capacities or experiences in the classroom (Darling-Hammond, p. 137). 

The article goes on to describe how the preparation of alternative-route teachers differs from that of traditionally-trained instructors. Not surprisingly, the former are less well prepared by the traditional criteria. This is virtually axiomatic, since alternative certification routes were designed to bypass traditional training. On the issue described as "most important" by the Commission—whether students learn less from alternative-route teachers—the literature cited fails to support the claim in the NCTAF report. As one of the Commission’s own authorities notes: 

[M]any that training makes a difference in producing specific desired behaviors. The big question that remains is whether the behaviors are valid (Greenberg, 1983).

There is no indication in the NCTAF report that this central question remains unresolved. 

(ii.) The Commission recommends that all beginning teachers participate in an induction program, working under the supervision of an experienced teacher and participating in a variety of in-service training programs. Yet the background paper commissioned by the NCTAF on teacher recruitment, selection, and induction contains these sobering remarks about such programs:

There are innumerable claims that formal mentoring programs produce dramatic changes in new teachers: retention goes up, attitudes improve, feelings of efficacy and control increase, and a wider range of instructional strategies is demonstrated. ... However, there is little empirical evidence as to the effects of different mentoring programs—on both new teachers and their students. ... [T]he current landscape provides no clear answers to such questions as: the degree to which induction should focus on assistance or assessment; the efficiency of induction-related internships as an alternative to university-based teacher education; and what standards (if any) should apply to the role, selection, and preparation of mentors (as well as the organizational time necessary for effective mentor/mentee relationships) (Berry and Haselkorn, 1996). 

(iii.) It is a commonplace that the mere presence of a statistical association does not establish a causal relationship. Yet the Commission assumes precisely this in endorsing policies whose effectiveness has not been proven.

For example, the Commission supports extended pre-service training that adds an extra year to the traditional four-year undergraduate degree. The Commission argues that graduates of five-year programs are better prepared and experience less of the difficulty and frustration that lead to high rates of attrition among new teachers. By way of proof, the NCTAF cites research comparing graduates of four- and five-year programs which found that the latter entered teaching at significantly higher rates and remained in teaching longer (Andrew and Schwab, 1995).

Yet one would expect differences of this kind even if the extra year of training per se had no effect. Individuals who enroll in a five-year degree program are more likely to be committed to teaching from the start than those who enter four-year programs, since the former will have lost an extra year if teaching turns out to be the wrong career decision. Moreover, the investment of an extra year may make them more willing to persevere if their initial experience in the classroom is unsatisfactory. In short, while the NCTAF claims that the greater "success" of five-year graduates demonstrates the superiority of the training they received, there is every reason to think that these groups differed before they ever enrolled in teacher education.

This phenomenon—where the mere fact of self-selection into the five-year program creates a difference between the two sets of graduates apart from any difference due to the programs—is well-known among researchers in the social sciences. Indeed, there is much literature that addresses the effect of self-selection on statistical analysis and procedures for dealing with it. Yet neither the NCTAF nor the researchers they have cited acknowledge this problem.

(iv.) A striking example of the disjunction between the research the Commission cites and the spin the Commission puts on it arises in a discussion of teacher training and the skills effective teachers must possess. It is worth quoting the passage at length.

Students will not be able to achieve higher standards of learning unless teachers are prepared to teach in new ways and schools are prepared to support high-quality teaching. ... Teaching in ways that help diverse learners master challenging content is much more complex than teaching for rote recall or low-level basic skills. Enabling students to write and speak effectively, to solve novel problems, and to design and conduct independent research requires paying attention to learning, not just to ‘covering the curriculum.’ It means engaging students in activities that help them become writers, scientists, mathematicians, and historians, in addition to learning about these topics. It means figuring out how children are learning and what they actually understand and can do in order to plan what to try next. It means understanding how children develop and knowing many different strategies for helping them learn.

Teachers who know how to do these things make a substantial difference in what children learn. Furthermore, a large body of evidence shows that the preparation teachers receive influences their ability to teach in these ways. However, many teachers do not receive the kind of preparation they need... (p. 27, emphasis added).

This passage is quite vague about the things teachers must do to achieve such wonderful results. But clearly the Commission is claiming that effective programs of teacher education equip their graduates with specific teaching strategies and techniques that result in higher levels of student achievement. Indeed, the passage quoted above appears in a section of the report in which the Commission deplores the fact that programs of teacher education are not held to a single high standard—a standard that reflects state-of-the-art knowledge about teaching methods. One would expect, then, that the "large body of evidence" (mentioned in the second paragraph quoted) would not only identify what these strategies and techniques are, but would document the superiority of these state-of-the-art methods.

The first citation to the literature that accompanies this passage is to Evertson, Hawley, and Zlotnik (1985), which contains the following assessment of the research literature:

Because the research reviewed examined a broad range of teacher behaviors, and because measures of effectiveness are not specifically tied, in most cases, to those behaviors, the available evidence does not allow identification of how differences in teachers’ capabilities that might be related to their pre-service preparation accounted for differences in their performance. Quite clearly, teachers learn to do some things through their education courses that might reasonably be expected to improve student achievement.

To paraphrase but slightly, prospective teachers learn to do something in their education courses that helps them later, but we aren’t sure just what it is. The researchers cited here expressly disavow the notion that the literature identifies state-of-the-art pedagogical practices that all training programs should teach. They are saying precisely the opposite of what the Commission claims the research literature shows. Nor is this the only cited study to reach this conclusion. Reviewing research on the relationship of a teacher’s professional education and subject matter coursework to the subsequent performance of that teacher’s students, Ashton and Crocker (1987) conclude:

[W]holesale adoption of a single approach to reform is unwarranted in view of the weak empirical evidence that can be mustered in support of a given position.

To summarize, the research literature provides far less support for the Commission’s recommendations than the NCTAF claims. The quality of the research is suspect, and the possibility of bias, induced by professional conflicts of interest, is considerable. On close examination the literature is frequently found to contain statements at variance with the conclusions drawn by the Commission.

Fortunately, the research literature is not the only source of evidence on the merits of the Commission's proposals. Many of the reforms advocated by the NCTAF have been implemented in various States. What does the track record show?

States’ Progress on Teacher Professionalization

The Commission has issued a scorecard indicating how much each State has done to professionalize teaching according to its recommendations. Points were awarded for such factors as: 

  • establishing an independent professional board, 
  • employing a high proportion of teachers trained in NCATE-accredited programs, and 
  • obtaining national board certification for experienced teachers. 

 Several States received scores of zero, while the top score on the ten-point scale went to Minnesota—a seven.

We find no evidence of a statistically significant positive relationship between these scores and available State-level indicators of student performance. In Table 2 we present the correlation between the NCTAF’s "professionalization" scores and State-level scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), for 8th grade math (1990 and 1992) and 4th grade reading (1992). Although the point estimate of the correlation between the NAEP scores and NCTAF scores is on the order of .2, the standard error is so large that the true correlation may be zero—a hypothesis we cannot reject. In Table 2, we also present the estimated correlation between NCTAF scores and State-level SAT scores for States in which more than 40 percent of graduating seniors took the test. In this case, the estimated correlation was negative but also statistically insignificant. We also computed the correlation between changes in SAT and NAEP scores and NCTAF scores. In both cases the estimated correlation, while positive, was statistically insignificant. 

Table 2

Correlation Between Measures of NCTAF Teacher Quality  
and Student Test Scores

State mean

(sample size)

Correlation with NCTAF State Grades 


NAEP Reading, 4th Grade






NAEP Math, 8th Grade






NAEP Math, 8th Grade






NAEP Math, 8th Grade 3.3




SAT 1993-94 887.8




SAT 1990-91 885.1




SAT 1990-91
to 93-94





Sources: State Teacher Professionalization Scores were taken from What Matters Most, Appendix F, pp. 146-147; NAEP and SAT scores from Digest of Education Statistics, 1995. SAT calculations were restricted to States in which more than 40 percent of graduating seniors take the SAT.

Professional Boards

The medical and legal professions are largely self-regulated by professional boards. The NCTAF argues that similar boards of educators would set higher standards for teacher training and licensing and notes with approval the fact that twelve States currently have such boards. However, no attempt is made to assess whether boards have raised student performance. The cross-sectional data provide no support for this proposition. By the Commission’s ownteacher quality measures,  there are no significant differences between the twelve States with professional boards and those without such boards. (See Table 3 below.) 

Table 3

Professional Boards for Teaching and Educational Outcomes:  
State Comparisons

  States with Professional Board

(standard error)

States withoutProfessional board

(standard error)


(1) - (2)

NAEP Reading, 4th Grade






NAEP Math, 8th Grade






NAEP Math, 8th Grade






NAEP Math, 8th Grade 3.4




SAT 1993-94 884.6




SAT 1990-91 878.6




SAT 1990-91 to 93-94 6.0





Sources: Professional boards were taken from What Matters Most, Appendix F, pp. 146-147; NAEP and SAT scores from Digest of Education Statistics, 1995. SAT calculations were restricted to States in which more than 40 percent of graduating seniors take the SAT.

 A consideration of the track record in States that have such boards does not inspire much confidence. California, for example, has had an independent professional board since 1970. Yet in 1983, public concern over the presence in the classroom of incompetent teachers led legislators to mandate that new teachers, as well as incumbents seeking administrative positions, pass a very basic test of reading, writing and numeracy skills. Nearly one in five teachers failed the exam, including a substantial number seeking administrative positions (Hill, 1996). 

NCATE Accreditation

The Commission recommended that all teacher training programs be required to obtain accreditation from the National Council on Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE approval, it is believed, would do much to ensure that teachers are carefully selected and receive instruction in state-of-the-art pedagogical methods. According to the Commission, graduates of NCATE-accredited programs will be better prepared for the challenges of the classroom, and, as a result, their rate of attrition will be lower. They will exhibit a higher degree of professionalism in their relations with students and colleagues. 

The Commission report contains no data to support the claim that NCATE-trained teachers are superior, nor does it cite any research studies on this issue. Fortunately, two surveys conducted by the Department of Education allow us to compare recently trained NCATE to non-NCATE teachers on a number of dimensions. By most measures there is little difference between the two groups. Table 4 compares responses to questions on the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey that deal with teacher professionalism and commitment. More than half of both groups intended to spend their entire careers as teachers. A substantial majority (80% in both cases) would still elect to become teachers, had they the choice to make over again. Fewer than a fourth (and more NCATE than non-NCATE) indicated that they sometimes felt it was a waste of time to do their best in the classroom. During the week preceding the survey, NCATE teachers spent somewhat more time on instruction-related activities (preparing lessons, grading papers, etc.) outside school than did non-NCATE teachers. However, the difference between the two groups was not significant at conventional levels. A slightly larger proportion of NCATE teachers moonlighted during the school year, but again, the difference was not statistically significant. 

Table 4

Attitudes and Behaviors of  
New NCATE and Non-NCATE Teachers

Committed to Teaching Profession (%) 1 58.6 58.4
Would Become a Teacher Again (%) 2 80.2 79.7
Good Job a Waste of Time (%) 3 24.4 18.9
After School Time: preparation, grading, parent conferences (hours/wk) 4 10.4 9.7
Non-Teaching School Year Moonlighting (%) 5 13.2 12

1. "How long do you plan to remain in teaching?" Percent of teachers responding "As long as I am able"; or "Until I am eligible for retirement."

2. "If you could go back to your college days and start over again, would you become a teacher or not?" Percent of teachers responding: "Certainly would become a teacher"; or "Probably would become a teacher."

 3. Percent of teachers who "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" with the statement: "I sometimes feel it is a waste of time to try to do my best as a teacher."

 4. "During the most recent full week, how many hours did you spend AFTER school, BEFORE school, and ON THE WEEKEND on each of the following types of activities?" ... "Other school-related activities? (e.g., preparation, grading papers, parent conferences, attending meetings)."

 5. Percent of teachers who report that they earn additional compensation during the current school year from a job outside the school system and unrelated to teaching.

 Source: 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey. Sample restricted to persons who earned their bachelor’s degrees in 1990 or later and who started teaching no earlier than 1992. Values denoted by "*" indicate that the difference between NCATE and non-NCATE means are statistically significant at 5%.

 Findings were similar in a comparison of NCATE and non-NCATE teachers who responded to the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Survey conducted in 1993-94. (See Table 5 below.) Virtually identical percentages applied for teaching jobs after graduating and expected to be teaching long-term. Few teachers in either group felt they had been assigned to teach a subject for which they were unprepared.  


Table 5

Labor Market Experiences of Recent College Graduates 
Who Hold Teaching Certificates

Expect to be teaching in two years 78% 79%
Expect to be teaching long term  67 68
If respondent taught since graduating:    
Would teach if choosing a career over again 82 87
Felt unprepared to teach a field you were assigned 9 8
Applied for a teaching job?  92 90
Received an offer, conditional on having applied  82 84
Mean teaching salary  $19,843 $20,076

Source: Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study, First Follow-Up, 1993-94. Values denoted by "*" indicate that the difference between NCATE and non-NCATE means are statistically significant at 5%.

In short, there is little evidence here that teachers trained in NCATE-accredited schools are more professional, more likely to continue teaching, and more satisfied with their career choice. Perhaps more revealing, there is no evidence that those hiring new teachers think so either. The percentage of non-NCATE applicants who found a teaching job was as high as NCATE applicants who found teaching jobs. (See Table 5 above.) And the jobs they received paid as well. 

NCATE and non-NCATE teachers do differ significantly with respect to ethnicity and race. Although non-NCATE schools supply only 41 percent of all teachers, they supply 52 percent of minority teachers and 65 percent of Hispanic teachers. (See Table 6 below.) Their graduates are significantly more likely to work in inner cities and to teach in schools with large shares of minority students. Non-NCATE teachers are also more likely to have Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in their classrooms and to be trained to deal with such students. Shutting down programs that are unable to obtain NCATE accreditation is therefore likely to increase recruitment problems for schools which already confront some of the most difficult teaching challenges. 

Table 6

 Race, Ethnicity, and Employment of New NCATE and Non-NCATE Teachers

Percent of all Teachers 59.5 40.5
Racial Minority (%) 8.1* 13.7*
Black (%) 6.6 7.7
Hispanic (%) 5.3* 14.6*
Teaching in Central City (%) 24.9* 36.5*
Minority Enrollment at Teacher’s School (%) 29.2* 42.6*
Teaching Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students 32.7* 49.0*

Source: 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey. New teachers who began their first teaching job during the 1993-94 school year. Values denoted by "*" indicate that the difference between NCATE and non-NCATE means are statistically significant at 5%.

Many schools and departments of education have shown by their decision to forgo NCATE accreditation that they do not believe this stamp of approval is of great value. Small liberal arts colleges and the more selective universities are among the institutions least likely to have sought NCATE approval. Indeed, the offices of the Commission and its executive director are at Columbia Teachers’ College, an institution whose teacher education program is not accredited by NCATE.

It might be argued that the better colleges and universities have not sought accreditation because they do not need it—everyone recognizes the quality of their programs. Left unexplained is why NCATE has accredited teacher education programs in some of the least selective institutions of higher education in the country. As shown in Table 7 below, 30 percent of the teachers who graduated from NCATE approved programs attended colleges that were rated less than competitive in Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges. Since the "competitive" category is not in fact very selective (between 75% and 85% of applicants are accepted; and median SAT scores were between 450 and 525 on the old scale), one thing seems clear: whatever the other requirements for NCATE accreditation, it is not necessary to be a particularly good college.  

Table 7

NCATE Accreditation and College Selectivity: New Teachers

Selectivity of College or University NCATE NON-NCATE
Most or Highly Competitive 2.3* 14.1*
Very Competitive 17.1* 19.3*
Competitive 50.0* 48.7*
Less Competitive 17.4* 12.5*
Non-Competitive 13.3* 4.8*
Total: 100.0 100.0

Test of identical distribution of NCATE and non-NCATE teachers rejected at 1%.

Sources: 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey. Selectivity classifications from Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, 18th edition (1991).

A substantial body of research has found a positive relationship between student achievement and the quality of the colleges teachers attended or the scores of those teachers on tests of verbal ability (with which college quality is correlated). Yet the academic ability of students graduating from a teacher education program plays virtually no role in determining whether the program will be accredited. While NCATE requires that a program use a test to screen applicants for admission, it does not specify the test to be used or the passing score. Criteria for successful completion are even more vague. NCATE stipulates,

a candidate’s mastery of a program’s stated exit criteria or outcomes [be] assessed through the use of multiple sources of data such as a culminating experience, portfolios, interviews, videotaped and observed performance in schools, standardized tests, and course grades (NCATE, 1997).

This is a requirement that program administrators use various means of assessment, not that graduates be held to any particular standard, which NCATE leaves unspecified.

The list of NCATE-accredited colleges suggests that politics are at least as important as educational quality in determining whether a school is accredited. Where governors have led, colleges have sought and obtained accreditation. Thus, every college in North Carolina offering a teacher education program has obtained NCATE accreditation. In Arkansas, all but two have it. By contrast, New York has 103 State-accredited programs, but only three accredited by NCATE (Canisius College, Fordham, and Hofstra). Massachusetts has 61 State-accredited institutions of which only eight hold NCATE accreditation. All are non-selective institutions (e.g., Bridgewater State College). The State’s selective private schools (e.g., Harvard, BU, Brandeis, Smith, and Mt. Holyoke) are not NCATE-accredited (NASTEC, 1996).

IV. Are Stricter Licensing and Accreditation Standards Helpful?

As the foregoing discussion shows, there is good reason to doubt that the reforms endorsed by the Commission would significantly raise the standards for teacher licensing and for the accreditation of programs of teacher education, let alone measures of student achievement. Still, why not proceed in the hope that something good will come? What harm can it do to try?

Analysis of this question turns on the fact that licensing and accreditation erect barriers to market entry. These barriers function as disincentives that can leave education consumers worse off.


Mandating NCATE accreditation could make it more difficult for talented students to become teachers, should the cost of acquiring accreditation drive small liberal arts colleges from the market. Programs that serve only a few students a year would be particularly vulnerable, leaving the supply of teachers to be dominated by large diploma mills. Is it better for these programs to shut down than for school districts to have their present choice of NCATE and non-NCATE graduates? Even if NCATE teachers were better on average (contrary to the evidence cited in the last section), the range of individual ability is great, ensuring much overlap between the groups. It follows that many non-NCATE graduates would be better than many NCATE trainees. Why prohibit public schools from hiring the former? 


The Commission endorses reforms that would require prospective teachers to take more courses and devote more time to pre-service training in the form of induction programs and internships. This would raise significantly the time and money that prospective teachers would be asked to invest in their careers before obtaining regular employment.

Obviously, such a policy will tend to deter some from teaching careers. This might be of little importance if those affected should not have become teachers in the first place. But there is no reason to expect such a happy outcome. On the contrary, protracted pre-service training will deter those who place the greatest value on their time. This includes individuals already in the work force who are contemplating career changes. The practical experience and maturity of many of these individuals make them attractive candidates for teaching. Precisely for these reasons many States have adopted alternative certification routes that waive many of the standard requirements for certification, facilitating the entry of such persons into the profession. Yet the Commission, while nominally endorsing the concept of alternative certification, is opposed to programs that would reduce pre-service training. The model of alternative certification that the Commission supports would have career-changers spend a year in a master’s program before they begin to teach.

Career changers are not the only prospective teachers likely to put a higher-than-average value on their time. This category also includes undergraduates majoring in rigorous disciplines (e.g., the sciences) who will find it difficult to fit additional education courses into demanding course schedules. More generally, raising the requirements for teacher education will deter students who are wavering between teaching and other careers that require specific course work. Any increase in the requirements for a teaching license will have an obvious opportunity cost—less time for the courses that make them more marketable should they pursue other options. Enacting the Commission's proposals would therefore tend to screen out (by their own choice) prospective teachers with the interest and ability to pursue other careers, leaving the applicant pool to those who never thought of themselves as anything but teachers. This would have precisely the opposite effect of other policies that are intended to improve the quality of the teaching pool (e.g., raising salaries). Those who advocate higher pay for teachers do so with the express hope of attracting individuals who are now choosing more attractive careers in other professions. It is the very purpose of such policies to draw into education persons who are wavering between two careers. By contrast, raising entry barriers discourages those who have attractive options and leaves teaching to those who won’t or can’t do anything else that pays as well. 

Higher entry barriers are also more costly for individuals who want to try teaching before making a lifelong commitment to it, or who enter in the expectation that after several years they will be ready to move on. Since attrition from teaching rises with academic ability, higher entry barriers are likely to reduce the quality of the work force. More capable students can anticipate having fewer years in which to amortize their investment in a credential that has no value outside the teaching profession. The result is to turn away promising students. 

In a society with abundant opportunities for talented college graduates and a tradition of labor market mobility, it will never be possible to persuade two million of them to teach their whole lives. Public rhetoric that implies personal failure when a teacher leaves the classroom after successfully teaching for a number of years may deter many of them from ever setting foot in a classroom (Murnane et al., 1991).

Teaching and Other Professions

The Commission report frequently draws comparisons between teaching and the medical profession, whose members spend far more years in study and internships than would teachers under the Commission's proposed reforms. Yet high entry requirements do not deter interested and qualified persons from pursuing careers in medicine. Why should we fear it in education?

The foregoing discussion has brought out some of the important differences. Attrition from teaching (unlike medicine) is high, and is highest among those who were the most capable in college and who are likely to have the most attractive options outside education. The testimony of countless beginning teachers reminds us that teaching is what economists call an "experience good"—it is hard to know whether one will like it without trying it. It is not, in short, the kind of career where it makes a great deal of sense to erect high entry barriers before entrants have a chance to find out whether teaching is for them.

This might not be a telling objection if there were strong evidence that prolonged pre-service training is essential to teaching performance (as with medicine). But the evidence, as we have indicated elsewhere, is not strong. 

[S]ignificant additions to what teacher candidates should know and be able to do before embarking on a career in education not only [have] large economic costs, but there is reason to question whether students can learn and effectively transfer to practice all or even much of the pedagogical knowledge and skills that would be taught in extended programs. Considerable evidence exists that experienced teachers think differently about their work than do novices. ... Teachers may learn some things best, such as cooperative learning strategies, once they have an experiential base upon which to build (Evertson, Hawley and Zlotnik, p. 7).

The greater the relative importance of on-the-job learning, the weaker is the case for high entry barriers. These barriers deter promising candidates who would have learned on the job most of what they need to know, merely to ensure that no one is hired who has not completed pre-service training of comparatively modest value.

In addition, the study of medicine (or to take another example, law) is of considerable intrinsic interest, apart from its indispensable role in professional preparation. These disciplines attract individuals who seek and appreciate the intellectual content of their programs of study. By contrast, academically talented students are apt to find education methods courses intellectually unsatisfying, or at a minimum to anticipate an unsatisfactory experience, given the low regard in which such courses are held. Adding more professional education onto existing teacher licensing requirements strengthens this deterrent.

Thirty-five years ago, a widely-cited study of teacher training by the president of the Council on Basic Education concluded that the subject matter taught at education schools exhibited "intellectual impoverishment" and was filled with jargon that "masks a lack of thought, supports a specious scientism ... and repels any educated mind that happens upon it" (Koerner, 1963). A more recent study does not inspire confidence that there has been much improvement in the interim (Kramer, 1991). Boston University President John Silber has written: "The willingness to endure four years in a typical school of education often constitutes a negative intelligence test" (Finn, 1991). The rhetoric is extreme, but whether Silber is right is not the issue. The point is that no one would think of saying such a thing about the study of medicine or law. Deserved or not, the reputation of education courses puts off the kinds of students who are attracted to the study of medicine and law in part because of the intellectual satisfaction these disciplines offer. 

In short, the argument that entry requirements for teaching should be raised because such requirements are higher still in medicine and law is based on a superficial analogy between these professions. That doctors are held to high licensing standards does not mean that requiring more pre-service training will improve the teaching profession. Circumstances in the two professions are different; the argument for teaching must be assessed on its own merits. 

Market-Based Reforms

The NCTAF report has arrived at a watershed in American educational policy. Major experiments are underway to deregulate public schools while increasing their accountability for performance. The rapidly expanding charter school experiment is a case in point, though States are experimenting with other incentive and accountability systems as well. Such experiments require that local administrators have the authority to make critical personnel decisions; otherwise, they cannot realistically be held accountable for results. By restricting access to the teacher labor market and tying decisions about pay and promotion to credentials and external assessments, the "professionalization" plan proposed by the Commission would reduce the authority and accountability of local administrators. 

The movement to deregulate public schools while holding them accountable for outcomes is inspired by the comparative success of the private school sector. In this sector, competition and consumer choice—not regulation—are the principal means by which schools are held accountable for student achievement. It is a market in which relatively well-informed parents shop for educational services, and in which school administrators are under considerable pressure to deliver value for parents' tuition dollars. Although many of these parents are shopping for services that public schools do not provide, notably religious instruction, a large segment of the market is made up of non-religious schools. Moreover, many religious schools also serve the college prep market. 

To find out whether the NCTAF’s recommendations would complement reforms predicated on deregulation and enhanced accountability at the local level, it is useful to examine practices in the private sector. If the reforms advocated by the Commission are sound, there would presumably be some indication of this in the behavior of private school administrators, who would recognize for themselves the value of the credentials promoted by the Commission.

Our research on personnel policy in private schools has turned up no evidence that such credentials as National Board certification or NCATE accreditation are valued in the private sector. Indeed, private schools, particularly non-religious schools, often bypass the certification system entirely to hire large numbers of non-certified teachers. During the 1987-88 school year, for example, only 55 percent of all teachers in non-religious private schools held State certification in their primary teaching area. This percentage dropped to just 35 percent in secondary schools. Private schools use this flexibility to tap the very large pool of liberal arts majors for capable, knowledgeable instructors.

Interest in National Board certification seems to be almost entirely a public sector phenomenon. While national figures are unavailable, it seems that very few private school teachers have sought National Board certification. Nor have private school administrators shown much interest. For example, only one of 118 National Board certified teachers in North Carolina is employed at a private school, and this teacher acquired it in a pilot program in which the $2,000 fee was waived. It seems clear that very few private school teachers or schools attach enough value to this certificate to make it worth the investment of a teacher’s time and money. 

The behavior of private school administrators clearly indicates that when schools are accountable to the public through consumer choice, little or no value attaches to the kinds of credentials the Commission promotes. Indeed, these schools hire many instructors who have had no formal training in pedagogical methods. The burden of proof is on the Commission to show why public schools must be compelled to submit to regulations that do not apply to private schools—regulations that would impair the efforts of the latter to supply the educational services demanded by the parents who support them. That burden has not been met.

V. Conclusion: Who Will Control Teacher Training, Licensing and Recruitment?

The NCTAF envisions a wide range of reforms to "professionalize" teaching. However, its report falls far short of demonstrating that these proposals will significantly improve educational performance, let alone that the proposed improvements will be achieved in a cost-effective manner. However, this is a question rarely asked in the education research literature—a field where it is usually taken for granted that any activity which furthers teacher professionalization is desirable. Since most research on education and teachers is conducted by faculty in schools of education, this is hardly surprising. Yet many in the general public and the business community also find appealing the notion of "getting serious about standards" and have endorsed the Commission's call for greater professionalization. Who, after all, wants an "unprofessional" teacher?

Economists have long had a different understanding of the matter. From Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, economists have taken a skeptical view of occupational licensing and similar restraints on trade. These policies exploit the power of the government to restrict access to an occupation, thereby raising earnings. By their very nature, professional regulatory boards are controlled by incumbents in the profession (as well as approved suppliers of licenses), who stand to gain by restricting supply or otherwise restraining competition. Sometimes this type of producer control serves the public interest; usually it does not.

Enacting the Commission's agenda would strengthen the position of education providers vis-a-vis consumers in a sector where producer interests already carry enormous weight with policy-makers. Both the Commission and NCATE have close links with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Of the current thirty-one member NCATE executive board, seven are NEA- or AFT-appointed, and include the following: the president, vice-president and secretary-treasurer of the NEA; and the president and vice-president of the AFT. All examining teams sent to a college include at least one teacher. That teacher is drawn from a pool of examiners selected by the NEA and AFT. The NEA’s 1997-98 budget contains $366,600 for NCATE. The same budget contains $306,550 to support certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and $213,765 to support efforts "to make licensure ... a process controlled by the profession." 

Is it any surprise, then, that in a 151-page report devoted to a discussion of teacher quality the NCTAF has not one harsh word for teacher unions? Indeed, in a section entitled "Fatal Distractions," the Commission discounts a number of "myths," among them the notion that teacher tenure and teacher unions have been impediments to reform. On the contrary, unions are praised for having embraced "teacher professionalization." 

For all the discussion of higher standards and improved training contained in the NCTAF’s report, it is important to remember that at base the Commission's recommendations are about control. The Commission would turn over the accreditation of teacher preparation programs to NCATE. Licensing examinations would be prepared by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), another private professional organization. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would decide who qualifies as a master teacher. Overseeing and guiding all of this activity would be independent professional boards whose members would be drawn, not from the public’s elected representatives, but from organizations of professional educators—who are in large measure from schools of education and teacher unions. 

It is naive to think that the impact of these changes would be limited to improving the training teachers receive (if it would even accomplish that). These organizations have a vested interest in opposing charter schools and other forms of school choice, and in opposing alternative certification programs that bypass traditional teacher training. The prospects for such reforms will be much bleaker if power is shifted away from parents and their elected representatives who will promote changes of this kind, and given to the groups of education professionals aligned with the NCTAF. 


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 Ballou, Dale and Podgursky, Michael. Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality. Kalamazoo: W.E. Upjohn Institute, 1997.

 Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges. 18th Edition. New York: Barron’s Educational Services, 1991.

Berry, Barnett and Haselkorn, David. Transforming Teacher Recruitment, Selection, and Induction: Capturing Both the Frame and the Picture for Reform and Professionalism. New York: National Commission for Teaching and American’s Future, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1996. 

Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. Task Force on Teaching as a Profession. A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century. New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1986.

Darling-Hammond, Linda. "Teaching and Knowledge: Policy Issues Posed by Alternate Certification for Teachers." Peabody Journal of Education 67 (Spring, 1992):123-154.

Evertson, Carolyn M.; Hawley, Willis D.; and Zlotnik, Marilyn. "Making a Difference in Educational Quality Through Teacher Education." Journal of Teacher Education 36 (May- June, 1985):2-12.

Finn, Chester E., Jr. We Must Take Charge: Our Schools and Our Future. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Greenberg, James D. "The Case for Teacher Education: Open and Shut." Journal of Teacher Education 34 (July-August, 1983):2-5.

Henke, Robin R. et al. Out of the Lecture Hall and Into the Classroom: 1992-93 College Graduates and Elementary/Secondary School Teaching. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1996.

Hill, David. "Taking on the Test." Education Week (May 8, 1996).

Ingersoll, Richard M. and Gruber, Kerry. Out-of-Field Teaching and Educational Quality. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1996. 

Johnson, Robert C. "Low Ranking Texas Eyes Teaching Reforms." Education Week (November 20, 1996).

Koerner, James D. The Miseducation of American Teachers. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1963.

Kramer, Rita. Ed School Follies. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

Ladd, Helen F. Holding Schools Accountable: Performance-Based Reform in Education. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1996.

Murnane, Richard J. et al. Who Will Teach? Policies that Matter. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASTEC). Manual on Certification and Preparation of Educational Personnel in the United States and Canada. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1996.

National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE). A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1983.

National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, 1996. 

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Standards Procedures & Policies for the Accreditation of Professional Education Units. Washington D.C., 1997.

________. Teacher Preparation: A Guide to Colleges and Universities. Washington, D.C., 1996. 

National Education Association. Strategic Focus Plan and Budget, Fiscal Year 1997-98 (July, 1997).

Ponessa, Jeanne. "Despite Rocky Road, Education School Accreditation Effort Is on a Roll." Education Week (June 18, 1997):8.

Silver, Lee M. "My Lesson in School Politics." New York Times (September 10, 1997):29.

United States Department of Education. Digest of Education Statistics, 1995. Washington, D.C., 1996.

Weaver, W. Timothy. America’s Teacher Quality Problem: Alternatives for Reform. New York: Praeger, 1983. 

Appendix A

National Commission onTeaching and America's Future 


 James B. Hunt Jr. 
NCTAF Chairman 
Governor, State of North Carolina

Anthony J. Alvarado 
Superintendent, Community School District Two, New York, NY

David L. Boren 
President, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Ivy Chan 
Special Education Teacher, Garfield Elementary School, Olympia, WA

James P. Comer, MD 
Director, The School Development Program, and Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry, Yale University of Child Study Center, New Haven, CT

Ernesto Cortes Jr. 
Southwest Regional Director, Industrial Areas Foundation, Austin, TX

William G. Demmert Jr. 
Visiting Professor, Woodring College of Education, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA

Jim Edgar 
Governor, State of Illinois

Dolores A. Escobar 
Dean, College of Education, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA

Norman C. Francis 
President, Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA

Keith Geiger 
Former President, National Education Association (NEA), Washington, D.C.

Christine (Cris) Gutierrez 
Teacher and Assistant Coordinator, Thomas Jefferson High School Humanitas Program, Los Angeles, CA

James Kelly 
President and Chief Executive Officer, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Birmingham, MI

Juanita Millender-McDonald 
Member of Congress, State of California

Lynne Miller 
Professor of Education Administration and Leadership, University of Southern Maine, Gorham, ME

Damon P. Moore 
Teacher, Dennis Middle School, Richmond, IN

Annette N. Morgan 
Former Representative, District 39, Missouri House of Representatives, Kansas City, MO

J. Richard Munro 
Chairman, Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, Time Warner Inc., New York, NY

Hugh B. Price 
President and Chief Executive Officer, National Urban League, Inc., New York, NY

David Rockefeller Jr. 
Chairman, Rockefeller Financial Services, New York, NY

Ted Sanders 
President, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL

Albert Shanker 
President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Washington, D.C.

Lynn F. Stuart 
Principal, Cambridgeport School, Cambridge, MA

Robert Wehling 
Senior Vice President, The Procter and Gamble Company, Cincinnati, OH

Arthur E. Wise 
President, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Washington, D.C.

Richard Wisniewski 
Director, Institute for Educational Innovation, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

Appendix B

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education


 The following table lists the current members of the NCATE Executive Board, highlighting those appointed by NEA or AFT. In addition, Robert Chase, President of the NEA, chairs the four-member Finance, Personnel, and Membership Subcommittee of the Executive Board. Note that the NEA and AFT have seven members on the Board, while the National School Board Association has just one.

Wilmer S. Cody 
NCATE Executive Board Chairman  
Commissioner of Education, Kentucky Department of Education

Gordon M. Ambach 
Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers

Dale Andersen 
Provost’s Special Advisor on Education, College of Education, University of Nevada-Las Vegas

Roseann Bentley 
Missouri State Senate (At-Large 98)

Pauletta Bracy 
School of Library and Information Sciences, North Carolina Central University

Linda Bunnell-Shade 
Chancellor, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Ruth Cage 
Resource Teacher, Robertson County School System (NEA)

Dennis Cartwright 
Director of Teacher Education, Northwest Nazarene College

Robert Chase 
President, National Education Association (NEA)

Antonia Cortese 
Vice President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Dr. Josue Cruz 
Professor, University of South Florida

Sandra Feldman 
President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Allen Glenn 
Dean, School of Education, University of Washington

Betty Greathouse 
Dean, School of Education, California State University-Bakersfield

David G. Imig 
Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

William B. Ingram 
President, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

James Kelly 
President, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Steve Kortie 
Classroom Teacher (NEA)

Thomas McCracken 
Professor, English Department, Youngstown State University

Charles "Chuck" Myers 
Professor, Vanderbilt University

Barbara S. Nielsen 
State Superintendent of Education, South Carolina

Dennis Van Roekel 
Secretary-Treasurer, National Education Association (NEA)

Ted Sanders 
President, Southern Illinois University

Marilyn Scannell 
Executive Director, Indiana Professional Standards Board

Anthony Schwaller 
Professor, Industrial Studies, and Institutional Assessment Director, St. Cloud State University

Joseph A. Spagnolo, Jr. 
Superintendent of Education, Illinois, and State Partnership Board Chairman

Lajeane Thomas 
Professor, Louisiana Tech University

Judith Wain 
Executive Secretary, Minnesota Board of Teaching

Allen R. Warner 
Dean, College of Education, University of Houston

Reg Weaver 
Vice President, National Education Association (NEA 99)

Brenda Welburn 
Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education


Appendix C

 National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future  

"Partner States"








 North Carolina





Conrolling Teacher Militancy Will Recent Empowerment Efforts Have Any Impact? By: Dr. Randy Dunn, Ph.D.

Tremendous emphasis has been given to teacher empowerment in the educational reform movement. A general assumption within this trend is that teacher empowerment will reduce teacher militancy. But is this so? While the conventional wisdom suggests that greater teacher autonomy, authority, and participation in decision-making should lessen militancy across all issues, such may not be the case. Following the introduction, I will seek to explore this paradox. First I will briefly review research identifying the determinants of teacher militancy. Then I'll analyze approaches to empowerment currently seen in schools in relationship to what the research has said regarding the causes of teacher militancy. Finally, I will offer some conclusions about the potential for continued militant behavior among teachers within an empowered environment, and will recommend further research in this area. 

* Dr. Dunn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Dr. Dunn thanks Brenda Armstrong for her research assistance on this paper. 


In a classic work, Hirschman* posited that organizational actors [e.g., administrators, teachers] rely upon two alternative approaches, exit and voice, when they encounter working conditions which they object to. The concept of "exit" in the organizational literature has usually referred to job turnover (Mayes & Ganster, 1988); and the concept of "voice" (first applied by Bacharach and Bamberger, 1990), refers to the formation of contentious attitudes or the taking of political action (e.g., strike) to improve organizational conditions.

The growth of public sector unionism and the attendant militant actions by these unions over the past four decades have been grist for the mill for researchers. Their studies have been notable for providing numerous models of militancy and profiles of militant employees. Within the field of educational labor relations in particular, potential determinants of teacher militancy have been suggested by scholars since the 1970s (Alutto & Belasco, 1974; Corwin, 1970; Fox & Wince, 1976; Tomkiewicz, 1979).

Though some may assume that teachers become militant solely because of economic concerns, as these educational employees press for higher wages and more extensive benefits, yet it has been shown that such is not always the case (Bacharach, Bamberger & Conley, 1990; Jessup, 1978, 1985). In the present labor relations environment, teachers' concerns for their professional rights and responsibilities in the workplace are on a par with the importance attached to the economic battles of the past. Though McDonnell and Pascal (1988) concede that the attainment of key provisions regulating salary and basic working conditions is necessary to secure contract provisions increasing professionalism, one cannot escape a "distinctive pressure" (Shedd, 1988, p.405) relating to the significance of professional issues in the teacher unionism literature. 

* The Reference list at the end of this article contains the full citation for each study referred to in the text. 

Interestingly, and probably not coincidentally, at the same time such concerns were gaining ground within teacher unions, a second wave of the education reform movement began calling for major changes in the organization of the teaching profession. Indeed, a separate and distinct sub-literature within the larger inquiry into teacher professionalism started to emerge which specifically identified the "empowerment" of the classroom teacher as a key component of educational reform (Maeroff, 1988; Mertens & Yarger, 1988; Sickler, 1988).

This empowerment sub-literature generally indicated that teachers were just as concerned about working conditions that affect their ability to perform their jobs as they are about higher salaries. A definition of teacher empowerment grew from this early literature which implies that teaching conditions must be established which allow greater teacher autonomy, authority, decision-making and control. In the typical world of the teacher, then, these changes would seemingly demand new structures to overcome a lack of input into decision-making on matters such as:

  • teaching and learning,
  • restrictive bureaucratic controls, and
  • incomplete administrative supports for teaching.

In one sense, it is not incorrect to view the arguments in support of teacher empowerment as actually bringing the earliest interpretations of teacher militancy full circle. Corwin (1970), whose book on the "professional militancy" of teachers predated essentially all writing on teacher empowerment by nearly a generation, detailed the modern history of educational administration as an outmoded, hierarchical, bureaucratic system. Corwin argued that as the education bureaucracy controls and standardizes the work setting it constrains the authority of employees over the policies that govern their work. Hence, teacher empowerment can be construed as a militant process, that is, as competing ideas of organization clash in school systems across the nation.

I. Determinants of Teacher Militancy

The literature on teacher militancy to date implies two broad categories of militancy determinants:

  • characteristics of the individual, and
  • characteristics of the workplace (Bacharach et al., 1990).

Characteristics of the individual that have been shown to contribute to increased militancy include the following variables:

  • age (Alutto & Belasco, 1974),
  • gender (Lane & Thompson, 1981),
  • race (Williams & Leonard, 1989),
  • self-image (Smith, Ball & Liontos, 1990), and
  • attitudes toward the union (McClendon & Klass, 1993).

However, while these demographic and attitudinal characteristics have a clear impact in contributing to teacher militancy, most empowerment strategies instead serve to alter the characteristics of the workplace in some way. Thus, in this section of the article I will focus on three dimensions of the workplace that impact teacher militancy:

A. Organizational Decision-making

B. Fair Treatment

C. Job Feedback

A. Organizational Decision-Making

One of the crucial factors in looking at the characteristics of organizational work for teachers is that they view themselves as professionals. As a result, teachers expect to maintain a high level of work autonomy and to be significantly involved in decision making thereby providing overall control gains. By incorporating teachers into decision-making, the administrator places value on their professional judgment and rewards their expertise. In a bureaucracy, the tendency exists for organizational leaders to specify and formalize rules that could result in too great a control over teachers' activities. The feeling that teachers lack authority over decisions, or have less influence over decisions than they should have, may result in a sense of powerlessness and dissatisfaction that leads to militant actions (Conley, Bacharach & Bauer, 1989). On the other hand, Steers and Black (1995) assert that involvement in decision-making enlarges the degree of control that employees perceive over their own behavior in the workplace.

B. Fair Treatment

The notion of fair treatment as a workplace dimension has received attention as teachers have become more sensitive to being treated fairly in regard to such issues as promotion opportunities, job enrichment opportunities, and job transfers. Johnson (1984) discovered that teachers both resented favoritism and admired evenhandedness with respect to employee treatment by principals. Johnson further reported that teachers' judgments to join forces with union members, oppose administrative decisions, and resolve problems through formal grievance channels (all militant actions) were highly dependent upon their perception of fair treatment by the principal.

Bacharach, Mitchell and Malanowski (1983) found limited support for the hypothesis that low certainty about promotion opportunity and low rationality of the promotion process will lead to high militancy. However, high rationality of the promotion process emerged as significant in the expected direction in all cases. Since a high certainty of promotion opportunity failed to emerge as a significant variable in their model (and maybe this should not be surprising given the limited career advancement opportunities available to teachers), fairness of the promotion process appears more important than the certainty of the opportunity for promotion in reducing teacher militancy.

C. Job Feedback

Lastly, research suggests that individuals who receive more job feedback have a less stressful and more positive relationship with the organization. A teacher is less likely to express militant attitudes when there is greater feedback and less stress in the instructional situation (Bacharach et al., 1983).

Because individual characteristics such as age, gender, and race cannot be modified, and the individual implications of self-image and attitude toward the union seem especially resistant to change, systemic influences to reduce teacher militancy will continue to focus upon altering characteristics of the school as a workplace. It is necessary in the upcoming section to examine how contemporary practices for heightening empowerment within schools are being utilized to transform the nature of teachers' work. This review, however, will be approached from a critical perspective as the various approaches to empowerment are analyzed according to the degree to which they refashion workplace characteristics to reduce teacher militancy.

II. A Critical Review of Empowerment

Empowerment has become the latest rallying cry in a variety of organizational settings and, as such, there seems to be no dearth of practices which purport to lead to enhanced levels of teacher empowerment (as commonly defined). For instance, the practitioner literature in educational administration cites numerous examples of practices that principals and superintendents are exhorted to follow to increase empowerment:

  • school improvement teams and
  • school governance councils; lead teachers;
  • peer observation, coaching and evaluation;
  • professional staff development and support programs; and
  • faculty review teams.

Short (1992), in her attempt to advance the discussion of teacher empowerment beyond the stage of a laundry list of strategies, identified six empirically derived dimensions underlying the construct of teacher empowerment; and they are:

  1. participation of teachers in critical decisions that directly affect their work; 
  2. teacher impact as an indicator of influencing school life; 
  3. teacher status concerning professional respect from colleagues; 
  4. autonomy, or teachers' beliefs that they can control certain aspects of their work life; 
  5. professional development opportunities to enhance continuous learning and expand one's skills; and 
  6. self-efficacy?perception of having the skills and ability to help students learn. 

Unfortunately, what has not been easily found are conceptual frameworks or compelling theoretical positions for thinking about teacher empowerment. Lawler (1986) forwarded the idea that teacher

empowerment relates to greater organizational effectiveness as teachers recognize they have the prerogative to help make changes that can correct perceived organizational problems.

Prawat's (1991) framework for examining teacher empowerment considered first the personal context within which the empowerment process occurs (described as conversations with self) before contemplating an external perspective for thinking about empowerment (or conversations with others). This first approach to empowerment is essentially an epistemological one as individual teachers develop the knowledge of how to deal with (what Prawat referred to as) social and political oppression. How? By overcoming "the inclination to uncritically accept (or reject) knowledge claims advanced by so-called experts in the field" (p. 739). The key to empowerment under the second perspective, though, appears to demand more of an organizational or strategic response as teachers must "be open to new and more effective ways of constructing the classroom and workplace environment" (p. 739).

Gamoran, Fowler, Levin and Walberg (1994) reflected on the prior research and their own experience to present three theoretical views of empowerment that differ significantly in their assumptions about the school and classroom domains and the impact of changes in these domains upon teacher empowerment. Their "teacher professionalism" view sees increasing teacher autonomy as leading to improved instruction and academic achievement. The "bureaucratic centralization" view holds that a strong, centralized structure will foster empowerment as teachers reach collective decisions regarding effective curricular content and organization, which must then be applied by a teaching professional in a variety of classroom contexts. Finally, the "loose coupling" view asserts that since teachers already have a high degree of control over and autonomy within their own classrooms, increased empowerment (at the classroom level at least) is irrelevant to teaching and learning. But Gamoran et al. readily acknowledge that a review of the research proffers little evidence to support or disprove any of the three views they posit.

This short review of some of the different ways of looking at teacher empowerment would seem to suggest that access to, and involvement in decision-making is central to any notion of empowerment reform. It is almost intuitive to imply that teachers, if given the opportunity to participate in the overall educational decision-making process, will be more effective and productive, as well as more favorably predisposed toward change efforts. Further, conventional wisdom holds that teachers who perceive a greater feeling of empowerment should be less militant; that is, as they concomitantly sense their professional rights being upheld, and the ability and support to master their responsibilities within the workplace. But for a variety of reasons (that are explained below), I am hesitant to believe that such will necessarily be the case.

A. Implications Related to Organizational Decision-Making

As they conceptualized their image of empowerment, Gamoran et al. (1994) distinguished between two domains of empowerment: classroom and school. Given their importance with respect to many issues of school coordination and control across the nation, one could reasonably assert a third, and possibly a fourth, domain that affect teacher empowerment; namely, the influence of district and state governance structures. Obviously, teachers' influence over decision-making is lessened as these domains conflict with one another.

In schools where empowerment strategies are liberally employed, teachers may have a strong impact on school decisions. Yet, these may not be well aligned with district or state mandates. For example, if a district-level policy requires a textbook for every course of study or curricular area and teacher evaluation is tied to text coverage, but an individual school desires to move away from the textbook-driven curriculum, teachers' wishes will likely take a back seat to district mandates, that is, unless a viable waiver provision exists.

(What these policy makers assume about teachers' lack of competency and firm grounding in matters of curricular content and pacing is not unique, but such discussion is not the focus of this article.)

Even when teachers have outright control over school issues, each school must make a determination of the degree to which collective decisions will be allowed to influence classroom practices. It is not beyond the pale to think that if a centralized, authoritarian decision-making structure is merely replaced by a professional one that is unclear, diffuse and obscure, that the same sense of confusion, powerlessness and dissatisfaction which has been shown to lead to teacher militancy would again prevail.

When teachers, through the vehicle of professional empowerment, are provided the opportunity for increased autonomy and greater involvement in (and control over) a school's mission, objectives and direction, the potential exists for similarly magnified levels of conflict within the organization. If meaningful organizational change is to occur, communication will likely become more complex, which can result in increased conflicts.

At least one study conducted in schools undergoing restructuring efforts to create greater teacher empowerment discovered that when teachers' involvement in decision-making increases, the opportunities for conflict increase due to the disclosure of various ideologies and perceptions (Short, Greer & Michael, 1991). Especially if teachers lack particular skills necessary to address organizational problems or group processes, the teachers may view additional levels of conflict as thwarting their organizational decision-making power, thus leading to more militant behavior. The fact that Short et al. also discovered that empowerment was negatively correlated to school climate (so that as empowerment increased, teachers perceived a less positive climate in their schools) would tend to corroborate this view.

Zeichner (1991) pointed out the problems that ensue when teacher empowerment becomes so strong as to strain the connections between schools and their communities. As teachers gain control of a school's decision-making process, parents and communities might well distance themselves from school affairs as their concerns take a back seat to those of the education professionals. In examining this tension between schools and parents/communities, Zeichner felt that "plans that have given more power to local schools and to teachers within those schools have not necessarily created the means for authentic partnerships between communities and schools" (p. 367).

To illustrate, governance of each of the Chicago Public Schools (under the Chicago School Reform Act) is now mandated by a local school council comprised of parents, community members and teachers. But recent reports from Chicago indicate only mixed success in altering influence relationships between parents and teachers. In some schools, teachers and the principal (whose appointment is determined by each council) can regulate the council through skillful agenda setting, selective information sharing, issues management, and other control mechanisms, these same teachers essentially control key decision-making outcomes as well. Indeed, the seeds of teacher militancy are sown as parents are circumvented from addressing salient policy issues and, as Zeichner sees it, are forced to "approach their involvement in these policy-making bodies as a way to acquire information about the school and provide service to the school, not to make school policy" (p. 368).

Previous research has solidly and credibly demonstrated the role of positive school-community relationships in contributing to student academic achievement, not just for those students typically seen as being at-risk, but for most students in urban settings. Yet as parents and other community members become disengaged from the schools, believing their bona fide interests are not being legitimated, opportunities for the growth of teacher militancy are nurtured. Moreover, as parents act upon their frustration against the professional authority of the school, certain things will presumably happen. Parents will,

  • quit working as volunteer teacher aides;
  • stop coordinating school events;
  • cease supporting teachers' efforts by checking homework, buying additional supplies, and the like; and
  • no longer serve as sympathetic members on boards of education and local school councils.

In their attempt to both counter this treatment as well as recoup some very tangible benefits which accrue from high levels of parental involvement, the temptation will exist for teachers to turn to militant behavior to retrieve these lost resources through normal organizational channels.

B. Implications for Fair Treatment

If it is assumed that autonomy, control, and access to decision-making are central to the existence of teacher empowerment, it must also be remembered that this broad authority granted to school staff to run their schools, if it has ever existed, is frequently compromised. Societal problems dealing with such issues as racial segregation, the provision of services to disabled children, and gender discrimination cannot be addressed on a school-by-school basis in any equitable fashion. Beyond the reach of federal and state mandates in these areas, certain other decisions are necessarily made at the district level, and not by individual schools. Walker and Roder (1993) illustrated just such a circumstance:

For instance, students in a school with a sizable number of African-American students could claim that aggressive enforcement of a disciplinary policy in their school was discriminatory or constituted a denial of 'equal protection" under federal or state constitutions because another school within the same school district with a largely white student population has a more relaxed disciplinary policy.

Indeed, the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education has taken the position generally that all students should receive the same discipline for the same offense. District-wide FF0 monitoring could ameliorate this problem (p. 169).

When teachers' participation in and control over decision-making is compromised by an array of legal constraints, they may correspondingly sense they are being treated less fairly. If so, militancy will increase.

While on the topic of fair treatment, it is worth mentioning that current research evidence suggests even the most vigorous empowerment strategies cannot overcome organizational antecedents which limit teachers' willingness to participate in school decision-making. Smylie (1992) found that across all decision-making areas, the principal-teacher relationship is the single strongest influence on teachers' willingness to participate in decision-making; this was especially the case in the area of personnel decision-making. To the extent that the causes of militancy within a particular school are r6oted in the principal-teacher relationship, militant behavior will likely continue to flourish. In addition, Smylie also said that "promoting teacher participation in decision-making is a problem of individual and organizational change that cannot be solved effectively through legislation or regulation alone" (p.50).

C. Implications Related to Job Feedback

A review of prior research on teacher empowerment does not necessarily reveal a channel through which empowerment designs might contribute to teacher militancy along the workplace dimension of job feedback. Instead, in this arena, the relationship may actually run in the opposite direction, so that as teachers' perceptions of empowerment decrease, teacher militancy increases.

Short and Rinehart (1992) indicated that teachers who perceive a greater sense of empowerment believe they may significantly impact the work of the organization. It is reasonable to expect that teachers who have "the power to identify problems, facilitate change, and ultimately be responsible for organizational outcomes" (p. 11) must have access to feedback information from multiple sources to gauge the relative success of their efforts. If empowerment is thus correlated with some degree, of organizational efficacy (which is dependent upon receiving job and organizational feedback), not only will teachers' sense of empowerment decrease, but teacher militancy will increase in the absence of feedback.

III. Significance for Policy, Pracitce and Research

Clear implications for policy, practice and future research are somewhat difficult to glean from this work. While it seems intuitive to believe that increased empowerment leads teachers to take on a more professional orientation, thereby leading to less militant behavior, it has been argued here that this may not be so. In fact, some research is now emerging that appears to bear this out.

DiPaola and Hoy (1994) asserted that militancy develops as a natural outgrowth of a professional, as opposed to a bureaucratic, orientation in the school workplace. Indeed, they cite the demand of teachers for "independence, self-determination, and colleagueship" (p. 83) as being at the heart of the professional-bureaucratic conflict. Yet, DiPaola and Hoy made clear that the conflict associated with teacher militancy does not disrupt harmony in the schools. As such, perhaps militancy is better viewed in a somewhat less negative light and more as a resistance to a "blind faith in bureaucracy" (p. 88).

But for those who would ignore these arguments and still desire to respond to an expansion of teacher militancy through some sort of empowerment policy intervention, reform proposals that simply enhance the decision-making power and organizational status of teachers in the name of empowerment are probably not sufficient. To illustrate, most teaching and learning reforms demand new resources in the form of staff development, personnel, and materials for support. Teachers who are "empowered," yet who do not discern an environment of trust and confidence within their schools (demonstrated by the provision of additional needed resources), will continue to take individual and collective action to address difficult professional problems they face every day. This action may take forms that are commonly viewed as militant (e.g., work actions, informational pickets), but need not be seen as anti-professional.

Certainly, all of this is not to then say that school administrators should revert to bureaucratic authority structures to control teachers so that militancy is kept to a minimum. Rather, administrators should carefully analyze the impact and implications of their organizational and administrative strategies. They should not promote educational reforms designed only to stall the advance of militancy; instead, they should diligently seek to recognize problems inherent in the present school organization, and then promote reforms that will correct those problems.

Teachers have fundamental concerns that if left unresolved bring a collective, almost automatic response, known as "first-level" militancy. Teachers' concerns include:

  • class size,
  • teaching assignment,
  • teacher evaluation, and
  • length of school day and year.

These concerns, when categorized as follows, are typical of the traditional concerns that blue collar and other professional employee unions seek to resolve:

  • compensation,
  • job security, and
  • workplace organizational conditions.

When fundamental concerns of teachers remain unresolved, teachers almost always look to the counter power of the union to resolve these problems in the school organization. "First-level" militancy pertains to the above concerns and occurs when the union gets involved.

"Second-level" militancy displays more concern for the following issues within the school:

  • professional decision-making,
  • autonomy, and
  • control.

However, most unions have not yet developed a system for resolving such issues (Kipnis & Schmidt, 1983). Only what Kerchner and Mitchell (1988) call third-generation, "professional" teacher unions are likely to exhibit this second-level militancy, and those do not yet exist (Urban, 1991). Even if they did exist, such professional unions may not be able to lessen first-level teacher militancy or reduce conflict between the union and management.

Streshly and DeMitchell (1994) properly emphasized that the "first business of a union is to secure the material benefits of the members' employment" (p. 66), while Bascia (1994) asserted that teachers fully expect their unions to be receptive to the issues as the teachers interpret them. Evidence that this attitude is shared within professional unionism as well can be seen in Kerchner's (1993) case study of the Pittsburgh teacher union. Though the union made professionalism a significant part of its agenda, and major reforms were accomplished in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the union continued to do what unions do, namely, increase the number of grievances:

Grievances are filed, and the union represents teachers who receive unsatisfactory performance ratings. The number of grievances going to arbitration has actually increased because the union is some what more willing to take 'judgment call" grievances to arbitration to show that it is still fulfilling its duty to provide procedural due process for members (p. 58).

It must be acknowledged that distinctions between examples of first- and second-level militancy are sometimes difficult to define and may be artificial at best. However, such a notion can be implied from McDonnell and Pascal's (1988) developmental conceptualization of teacher unions that (a) initially bargain to obtain increases in salary and fringe benefits, and (b) later confront the administration on matters of working conditions and job security, and (c) finally address issues of educational policy and professional practice.

While certain characteristics of the individual associated with militancy (e.g., age, gender and race) cannot be altered, the organization by tactical behavior can influence the degree to which teachers resort to first-level militancy. For instance, educational reform is generally associated with increased work demands for teachers. Bacharach et al. (1983) demonstrated that teachers are likely to turn to militant behavior when confronted with high levels of work demands. Thus it is appropriate for administrators to respond to teachers' perceptions relating to the level of work demands. Administrators may need to reallocate clerical or technical support to buttress teachers' reform efforts, or pay them a small stipend via a mini-grant program. Furthermore, administrators can give symbolic rewards to heighten the intrinsic satisfaction and identification that teachers receive from high job involvement, thereby reducing militancy (Bacharach et al., 1983).

Future research should include exploratory investigation into the nature and degree of second-level militancy, especially in those schools that provide comprehensive, systemic opportunities for teachers' full participation in decision-making and policy development (related to teaching and learning). Largely unexplored is the question of whether militant attitudes are influenced more by school-level or district-level actions and practices. Also highly valuable would be longitudinal case studies which expand our understanding of the various facets of first- and second-level militant behavior, while forwarding models of teacher empowerment in diverse school and district organizational contexts.


Given their crucial role in the teaching and learning process, teachers will continue to be key players in determining the success and effectiveness of schools. For educational reform and change to thrive, meaningful teacher participation and involvement is essential. The challenge for schools will be to create conditions that encourage teachers to help develop and implement reforms that improve teaching and learning, while at the same time avoid fostering an over-reliance on strident unionism that encourages negative first-level teacher militancy.

If teachers view educational reforms (with their rigorous prescriptiveness, increased time demands and workloads, and heightened accountability) as disruptive of or contradictory to traditional union interests (e.g., salary and basic working conditions), then first-level teacher militancy will likely expand with each new reform initiative. In addition, I have posited the existence of a different, second-level militancy centering upon issues of professional empowerment. However, this new-fashioned brand of militancy (assuming it exists at all) will emerge to the extent that teacher unions (fomenting militancy in order to develop and maintain the loyalty of their dues paying members) seek to re-establish their legitimacy by addressing problems of empowerment, not just economic growth and job protection. In the end, those of us engaged in the study of educational labor relations can only hope that this new version of teacher militancy is better than the old one. 


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Bacharach, S. B., & Bamberger, P. "Exit and Voice: Intenfions in Elementary and Secondary Schools." Educational Administrafion Quarterly. (1990) 26:316-344.

Bacharach, S. B.; Bamberger, P.; & Conley, S. "Professionals and Workplace Control: Organizational and Demographic Models of Teacher Militancy." Industrial and Labor Relafions Review. (1990) 43:570-586.

Bacharach, S. B.; Mitchell, S. M.; & Malanowski, R. Strategic Choice and Collective Action: Organizafional Determinants of Teachers Militancy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, 1983. 

Bascia, N. Unions in Teachers' Professional Lives: Social, Intellectual and Practical Concerns. New York: Teachers College Press, 1994.

Conley, S.; Bacharach, S. B.; & Bauer, S. "The School Work Environment and Teacher Career Dissatisfacfion." Educational Administration Quarterly (1989) 25:58-77.

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Gamoran, A.; Fowler, W. J.; Levin, B.; & Walberg, H. I. Teacher empowerment: A Policy in Search of Theory and Evidence. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, 1994.

Hirschman, A. Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

Jessup, D. K. "Teacher Unionization: A Reassessment of Rank and File Motivations." Sociology of Education, (1978) 51:44-55.

Jessup, D. K. Teachers, Unions, and Change: A Comparative Study. New York: Praeger, 1985.

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Kerchner, C. T. "Pittsburgh: Reform in a Well-managed Public Bureaucracy." In A Union of Professionals: Labor Relations and Educational Reform pp. 43-60. Edited by C. T. Kerchner & J.E. Koppich. New York: Teachers College Press, 1993.

Kerchner, C. T., & Mitchell, D. E. The Chancing Idea of a Teachers' Union. London: Falmer, 1988.

Kipnis, D., & Schmidt, S. M. "An Influence Perspective on Bargaining Within Organizations." In Negotiating in Organizations pp.303-319. Edited by M. H. Bazerman & R. I. Lewicki. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1983.

Lane, R., & Thompson, B. "Factors that Predict Teacher Militance." Phi Delta Kappa. (1981) 63:287.

Lawler, E. E. High Involvement Management: Participative Strategies for Improving Organizational Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986.

Maeroff, G. I. "A Blueprint for Empowering Teachers." Phi Delta Kappa, (1988) 69:472-477.

Mayes, B., & Ganster, D. "Exit and Voice: A Test of Hypotheses Based on Fight/Flight Responses to Job Stress." Journal of Organizational Behavior (1988) 9:199-216.

McClendon, J. A., & KIass, B. "Determinants of Strike-Related Militancy:

An Analysis of a University Faculty Strike. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, (1993) 46:560-573.

McDonnell, L., & Pascal, A. Teacher Unions and Educational Reform. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation, 1988.

Mertens, S., & Yarger, S. J. "Teaching as a Profession: Leadership, Empowerment, & Involvement Journal of Teacher Education (1988) 39:32-37.

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Short, P. M.; Creer, J. T.; & Michael, R. "Restructuring Schools Through Empowerment: Facilitating the Process." Journal of School Leadership, (1991) I (2):5-25.

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Smylie, M. A. "Teacher Participation in School Decision Making: Assessing Willingness to Participate." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, (1992)14:53-67.

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Streshly, W., & DeMitchell, T. Teacher Unions and TQE: Building Quality Labor Relations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 1994.

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Lenhert v. Ferris Faculty Association: The US Supreme Court Hands Out Another Stone Instead of a Fish. Vieira, Edwin J

In 1991, the United States Supreme Court followed up on its precendent setting Hudson and Beck decisions with a third ruling that limited the agency fees that public sector unions can extract from nonmembers to those expenses directly related to the collective bargaining process. Once again, Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., presented the argument for workers' First and Fifth Amendment rights before the Court and here presents his critique of the Justices' decision in Lenhert v. Ferris Faculty Association: The U.S. Supreme Court Hands Out Another Stone Instead of a Fish.

Teacher Unions, Educational Quality, and a Free Market Remedy Baird, Charles W.

Dr. Baird looks at the process of educational decline and proposes a free market system with tax vouchers for parents who choose to enroll their children in private schools as the best means of remedying the situation. It is the author's opinion that the lion's share of the responsibility for the deteriorating quality must rest with the teacher unions, which he further perceives as being the major impediments to reform, particularly the National Education Association (NEA).  

A Symposium: The Impact of Teacher Unions on Education Applegate, et al.

Education reform is unlikely, if not impossible, because of collective bargaining, participants at a symposium, "The Impact of Teacher Unions on Education," were told in Washington. The two day symposium was conducted January 12-13, 1984, by the Public Service Research Foundation (PSRF) and attracted 50 school superintendents, school negotiators, faculty union representatives, education faculty members, Congressional staff members and officials from the U.S. Department of Education. This edition of theReview takes a look at when collective bargaining first came to education, the impact of collective bargaining, and finishes with an evaluation of the impact.

Cause and Effect of Public Sector Unionism: An Economic Analysis. - Reynolds, Morgan.

Unions are largely government creations-products of special privileges and government compulsion. Take away their special privileges, treat them like everyone else, and most unions-public and private-would shrivel and die.

That's how Dr. Morgan Reynolds sees it in "Cause and Effect on Public Sector Unionism: An Economic Analysis." He's associate professor of economics, Texas A & M University. And he recommends abolishing all special union privileges, putting them under the same laws that govern all other individuals and groups. "In other words," he says, "treat individual workers, worker organizations and union officials as responsible adults rather than as children who deserve exemption from the ordinary rules of peaceful conduct."

Reynolds' proposal appears in this issue of the Government Union Review. He also discusses economic and political sources of union power, especially public sector union power, and how to get the militant union movement under control.

Unions keep pushing for more and more special legal privileges, says Reynolds. Such privileges should not be given to any union, especially government employee unions, he says.

"Government has created strong unions, and now it can't control them. The remedy is not to repress them, but to go to the source of the problem-abolish their special privileges. What the state has granted to labor unions, it can take away," he says.

Public Sector Unionism: An Economic Perspective.

John Burton of the University of Birmingham in Britain explains that while in both, the United States and Britain, public sector unions have enjoyed spectacular growth in membership and have emerged as new giants in their respective trade union movements, standard contemporary economic texts seldom mention, let alone seek to analyze, the nature and activity of public sector unionism.

Polish Solidarity vs American Unionism

Dr. Charles Baird compares the strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) with the Polish trade union Solidarity. He concludes: "To support the goals and actions of Polish Solidarity is merely to support the goals and actions of the American Founding Fathers. To support the goals and actions of PATCO, on the other hand, is to support a retreat from the values of the American Founders. Supporting Solidarity and opposing PATCO is not only logically consistent, it is what anyone who is dedicated to the principles of democracy and limited government must do." 

The Impact of Mandatory Collective Bargaining Laws on a School Boards' Ability to Govern

Based on a survey of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin school board members to determine whether their perceived ability to perform legislatively prescribed duties is impacted by the type of collective bargaining legislation enacted within their state.
According to the results of the study, state laws governing collective bargaining significantly influence the perceived ability of school board members to carry out legislatively prescribed duties. Board members from states with mandatory bargaining felt a greater impact on their ability to govern than individuals representing boards from a non-mandatory state.

The Case Against Collective Bargaining in Public Education

Discusses the reason for Kentucky School Boards Association's opposition to collective bargaining legislation for teachers. Dr. Scott maintains that the KSBA has consistently opposed bargaining for school employees because: the public is opposed to it, it is expensive, it diminishes local control of education, and, in the final analysis, it is detrimental to the educaitonal process. 

Public Sector Bargaining: An Assessment

Dr. Sylvester Petro's study, " Sovereignty and Compulsory Public Sector Bargaining," published in 1974 in the Wake Forest Law Review, was perhaps the first definitive work on public sector collective bargaining. Now, 18 years later, he has updated his thoughts on the subject with another article, Public-Sector Bargaining: An Assessment. He writes:

"This survey of developments during the last fifteen years in public sector collective bargaining suggests two conclusions:

  1. Bad as our labor policies have proven to be in the private sector, where they originated, they may be producing even worse results in the public sector, where they have been transferred on the basis of a misleading analogy.
  2. The states and localities which have adopted public-sector collective bargaining (psb), despite its incompatibility with both effective government and the ideal of faction-free representative government which animated the founding of this country, find themselves in conditions less satisfactory than those which prevail in the states which have rejected collective bargaining in the public sector."

Constitutional Limitations on the Assessment of Agency Fees in Public Sector Employment.

In "Constitutional Limitations on the Assessment of Agency Fees in Public Sector Employment," Dr. Edwin Vieira explores one of the most controversial issues in contemporary public sector labor relations: the extent to which a union selected as the exclusive representative of public employees should have authority to charge non-members "agency shop" fees for activities in contract negotiations and administration. For those who question the premise of "agency shop" arrangements, Dr. Vieira's article is enlightening and will be of interest to public sector labor relations academics and experts.

The Right to Strike: Some Basic, but Neglected Questions.

As public sector unionism has left behind its baby shoes, come into the limelight, and, in fact, become the only growth area in organized labor, so has the verbiage mushroomed and "rights, privileges, and prerogatives" have been used and abused both verbally as well as in action. When the Review was launched into publication over a year ago, one of its primary purposes was to serve as a reminder that, whatever form labor relations would take in the public sector and no matter how obscured the area became, there was a fundamental difference between the private and public sectors. The direct application of labor relations terminology to the public service, has too often resulted in the obliteration of some basic and very important distinctions between our economic system and our representative form of government. Obviously, the two systems operate on compatible (more or less), but certainly not the same, principles.

The strike by the air traffic controllers has served as a potent, if bitter, pill to stimulate public interest and awareness in this controversial field. In publishing the article by John C. Armor on the "right" to strike, our objective admittedly is not to settle any of the issues, but simply to raise them and to force some second thoughts on subjects and theories which have by virtue of repetition almost been set in concrete.