Race to the Bottom?

February 23, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Scott Lemieux passes along this information from his friend Ken Sherrill:
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
  • South Carolina – 50th
  • North Carolina – 49th
  • Georgia – 48th
  • Texas – 47th
  • Virginia – 44th
If you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country. Let’s keep it that way.
A convincing study of the effects of unionization on student performance would have to take into account a host of variables – demographic, budgetary, etc. – and their interactions. It should also have more sensitive measures of union strength and perhaps of outcome variables as well. But this is a start.

The message seems to be that if you are going to argue that the absence of teachers’ unions brings educational benefits to schoolchildren, you’re starting out down by about five runs in the first inning.

A complete list of the states is here. (And what’s up with South Carolina? It seems to be intent on making itself the punch line to a variety of jokes. See this previous post, for example.)


Anonymous said...

The problem with the stats? As PolitiFact discovered, the data came from 1999, not 2010. Moreover, a variety of factors account for test score results.

While the most recent data on SAT/ACT scores shows outcomes not altogether out of line with the 1999 figures -- with South Carolina scoring 49th on the 2010 SAT and 46th on the 2009 ACT, while Wisconsin ranked third and 13th, respectively -- the point remains that judgment is better withheld on what the scores say in regard to collective bargaining. Here's how PolitiFact put it:

A review using current data finds that Wisconsin does perform better on test scores than the non-union states, but not as dramatically as suggested in the Facebook post. And there is at best limited evidence that unionization played a causal role in shaping differences in test scores.

Jay Livingston said...

Anon. Thanks for the info. I should have checked Politifact, but I assumed that they checked mostly statements by politicians, not bloggers or journalists. As I said, there are large methodological problems in making these comparisons. But I also think that what I said still holds: the data we have on states doesn’t offer much of a prima facie case for the benefits of union busitng.
Politifact links to a blogger who has looked much more carefully at the available data. He is the source of the Politifact text you quote. He did a subsequent post, and here is what he says:

"Yes, Wisconsin has great schools, with great outcomes. Yes, states without teachers’ unions lag behind. Yes, that lag persists even when you control for demographic variables. Yes, that difference seems to rest less on the quantifiable resources that unions fight to bring to the classroom than on the professionalism, positive working environment, and effective school administration that unions foster.

"And yes, Virginia, (and Texas, Georgia, and North and South Carolina) unions do work."