July 30, 2008

Glaring error in new NCTQ report

This is relatively unimportant in terms of the broader argument of the new National Council on Teacher Quality report, Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining, but my jaw dropped when I read the map on p. 10 that claimed Florida was one of the states with no class size policy. The class-size policy of Florida is embedded in the state constitution. One would think that being in the state constitution would be sufficient to call it official policy.

In terms of the report in general, NCTQ is making a very broad assertion that teachers unions have enormous power in state legislatures, without sufficient evidence. There are several weaknesses in the argument. First, there is variation in the lobbying authority (and relative success) of different teachers unions depending on which party controls the legislature, the question of which national affiliate has a stronger state federation (or whether the state federation is merged), the strength of state federations, and so forth. The NCTQ report makes no mention of that variation.

In addition, the report doesn't look at when various state provisions were enacted. Certification and teacher salary schedules were often subjects of state law long before the postwar rise of collective bargaining in schools or the maturation of teacher union political/lobbying skills, and I expect other matters were, too. A legal provision in many states that is decades old can't be attributed to unions.

Finally, the report fails to consider alternative explanations for why some legal provisions are common across states. Maybe it's the political might of teachers unions, as the report claims. But there is also a "we gotta do what our neighbors are doing" competition in state policy matters. Parsing out which policy provisions are the result of lobbying and which are the result of states following the lead of each other is important and absent from the NCTQ report.

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Posted in Education policy on July 30, 2008 11:00 AM |