Ask people whether teachers unions are good or bad for education and you are likely to receive a wide variety of opinions. A 1998 Gallup Poll asked whether teachers unions helped, hurt, or made no difference in the quality of education in U.S. public schools. Twenty-seven percent responded that unions helped, 26 percent that they hurt, and 37 percent that they made no difference (10 percent of those surveyed said they did not know). Although teachers unions were first organized in the nineteenth century, and collective bargaining has been a fact of life in most communities since the 1960s, the body of literature evaluating the impact of teachers unions on American education is surprisingly small. Conflicting Missions? helps close the knowledge gap by providing a clear, balanced analysis of the role of teachers unions in education reform.The volume emerges from a 1998 conference organized by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. The contributors represent a broad array of disciplinary backgrounds and methodological approaches, including some of the unions’ harshest critics and most loyal supporters. In examining the relationship of teachers unions and educational reform, the authors approach the subject from several directions. They ask whether unions affect educational productivity, most notably in terms of student achievement. They analyze how teachers unions function as professional organizations concerned with the occupation of teaching, as institutional actors defending interests within a bureaucratic system of education, and as political actors wielding influence on legislation and elections. Reflecting a variety of perspectives and opinions, Conflicting Missions? offers a balanced analysis of a controversial topic. It is a useful starting point for readers who want to discover the complexity of teachers unions and their influence—both positive and negative—on the national effort to improve America’s schools.
November 1, 2007
Tom Loveless is director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the annual Brown Center Reports on American Education.