Are Unions Having a Positive Effect on Schools?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson, William Howell, and Martin West have an interesting commentary detailing the toplines of a recent survey they conducted on behalf of Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next magazine.

One question, asked by the researchers since 2009, was:
“Some people say that teachers unions are a stumbling block to school reform.  Others say that unions fight for better schools and better teachers.  What do you think?  Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”
On the whole, a fairly balanced question to a very challenging inquiry.  And the response?
Only 22 percent of those surveyed said that unions were having a generally positive impact.  And of those classroom teachers who were surveyed, only 43 percent said unions were having a positive effect on the schools.  
Even more startling, 32 percent of teachers surveyed said the unions were having a generally negative impact on the schools, but from only 17 percent of teachers holding a negative view of their union in 2011.
These numbers come when respondents were given five choices — very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, and very negative.
When given a choice of simply a positive or negative effect, 51 percent of those surveyed said unions were having a net negative impact on the schools.  Forty nine percent gave the unions a positive vote.
Discuss amongst yourselves how this data crosswalks with assertions that the unions are advocating for the interests of their teachers and their students …

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