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For decades, scholars and education reformers have warned that collective bargaining agreements between teacher unions and school districts make it hard for leaders to run effective schools--and that even in non-collective-bargaining states, school boards adopt policies that tie their hands in dysfunctional ways. (Note that we use the term "labor agreement" throughout this study to refer to collective bargaining agreements and/or formal board policies. For more on this distinction, see page 8.) This concern has reached a fever pitch in the No Child Left Behind era, as school principals complain about being held accountable for raising student achievement without being given the authority to get the job done.
But just how restrictive are the labor agreements of the nation's fifty largest school districts? Are teacher contracts as much of a barrier to good schools as many reformers claim? And are there at least a handful of communities whose labor agreements deserve approbation and possible emulation?
To find out, we tapped (in November 2007) twenty-six indicators from the National Council on Teacher Quality's collective bargaining database, using them to construct twelve components that gauge how restrictive agreements are when it comes to teacher compensation, personnel policies, and work rules. Here's what we learned. . . .
Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI. Coby Loup is a policy analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.