NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 27, 2006

Unions and collective bargaining hurt schools with cumbersome contracts by introducing practices into the education system that are counterproductive and create conflict between teachers and administrators, say Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools, and George Mitchell, a Milwaukee-based researcher.

The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) entered the collective bargaining era in 1964.  An 18-page school-board resolution defined the initial relationship between the MPS and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. And following a pattern seen in most urban districts, this has evolved during subsequent decades into a 232-page contract with more than 2,000 additional supporting documents, including grievance-arbitration rulings, memoranda of understanding and state declaratory rulings

The result? An endless debate about what is and is not allowed in the daily governance of the school system and the creation of an environment where the interests of students are routinely subordinated to those of adult teachers.

Fuller and Mitchell recommend:

  • Introducing choice in schools.  This is patterned on America's system of higher education, where colleges and universities provide a wide array of choices that help students determine which college or university they may attend.
  • Promoting greater awareness of collective bargaining.  Bargaining sessions should be public.  The specifics of union contracts are one of the least reported, yet most important, aspects of American education. With the general public largely shut out, the result is an uneven playing field.

Increased public awareness could change the situation dramatically.  The news media need to push aggressively for greater public access to the bargaining process.  This would go hand-in-hand with expanding education options for parents.  In the final analysis, more parental freedom to choose and a more open collective bargaining process surely would produce better results.  Without such change, the unacceptable education outcomes that characterize the era of collective bargaining will continue, especially in urban districts, say Fuller and Mitchell.

Source: Howard Fuller and George A. Mitchell, "A Culture of Complaint," Education Next, Hoover Institution, p. 18-22, summer 06.


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