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Volume 27, Number 3
May/June 2011

Improving Student Learning Through Collective Bargaining


In his last speech to the convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 1997, the legendary AFT president and education statesman Albert Shanker urged that collective bargaining be used to preserve and strengthen public education. Nearly 15 years later, more and more union leaders are heeding his call.

Much of the coverage of current efforts to abridge or end collective bargaining for teachers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and other states has focused only on how bargaining benefits teachers’ interests. The implication is that collective bargaining is a zero-sum game: whatever benefits teachers takes away from students and quality education in general. This one-sided portrayal neglects to take into account the role that collective bargaining has played—and can play—in school reform.

Abridging or ending collective bargaining for teachers would represent a huge setback for the ongoing effort to improve our schools. It would deprive teachers of the principal way that they now have to participate in education policy making, and it would deprive teacher unions of the opportunity to bring the collective wisdom of teachers to the bargaining table.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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