NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison

November 7, 2012

For several decades, support has coalesced in favor of broad school reforms in an effort to increase student achievement scores. Recently, reformers have focused on the role that teacher unions play in K-12 education, say Amber M. Winkler, Janie Scull and Dara Zeehandelaar of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Critics argue that teacher unions are too powerful and have too much influence on education politics. Thus, they are able to thwart state efforts in making necessary reforms to education in order to secure their jobs and other interests.

This study evaluates the scope of power of these unions in each state by looking at the different variables across five broad areas:

  • Resources and membership.
  • Involvement in politics.
  • Scope of bargaining.
  • State policies.
  • Perceived influence.

The findings split up states with strong teacher unions and weak teacher unions and find what each have in common. Each state is put in one of five tiers of union strength. Some states in the first tier include:

  • Hawaii.
  • California.
  • Oregon.
  • Washington.
  • New York.
  • Illinois.

Some states in the lowest tier include:

  • Arizona.
  • Texas.
  • Oklahoma.
  • Florida.
  • Louisiana.

In states with strong teacher unions, there exists the ability to amass people and money and maneuver quickly within wide legal rights. Furthermore, in these states there is a strong perception of influence among insiders, which helps people attract more resources from citizens. Finally, there are mixed results when it comes to state policy environments for unions and political activity.

In states with weak teacher unions, there are limited people and resources, particularly because of restricted legal rights. To observers, their inability to amass the necessary resources means that they carry little influence and are unable to defend their position. Like state with strong unions, there is also a mixed state policy environment.

Source: Amber M. Winkler, Janie Scull and Dara Zeehandelaar, "How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison," Thomas B. Fordham Institute, October 29, 2012.


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