My colleagues in Washington D.C. recently published a state-by-state analysis of teacher union strength in U.S. Their report is trenchant, timely, and relevant. Why? Because it shows the ongoing influence that teacher unions have on our schools--despite the fact that labor unions, overall, have declined in the U.S. (We ranked Ohio 12 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in teacher union strength.)

Digging in at a more local level, let’s consider the story of the City of Springfield, population 60,000, located an hour outside of Columbus. Springfield is a city in decline: Since 1960, Springfield has lost 25 percent of its population and its median household income is $34,000 per year, below the state average. The city is mostly White (75 percent). Springfield has 3 charter schools and 1 traditional school district.

Now, let’s consider three of Springfield’s schools: Springfield Academy of Excellence (SAE), a Fordham-sponsored charter school, Fulton Elementary School, and Perrin Woods Elementary School. Springfield City School District (a traditional public school) operates Fulton and Perrin Woods. I’ve selected these schools because of their similar demographics and academic performance (table 1).

Table 1: Demographic and academic performance data for selected Springfield school buildings, 2011-12.

Source: Ohio Department of Education, 2011-12 Preliminary Data

Pretty similar: SAE, Fulton, and Perrin Woods all have a majority Black and Hispanic students in their school. (These represent 3 of the 4 elementary schools in Springfield that have a majority minority population.) In addition, table 1 indicates that they had nearly indistinguishable academic results for the 2011-12 school year. All received an “Academic Watch” rating from the state and they all had performance index scores—a weighted proficiency rate—between 77 and 80 (the state goal is 100).

Where the big difference lies—and where teacher unions come in—is with teacher salaries. SAE has non-unionized teachers, while Fulton and Perrin Woods have unionized teachers. The Springfield Education Association represents district teachers for collective bargaining purposes.[1]

Consider figure 1, which shows the salaries of all teachers in SAE, Fulton, and Perrin Woods as vertical columns. SAE’s teacher salaries are shown in blue, Fulton’s in red, and Perrin Woods’ in black. I also indicate the median income of Springfield ($34,000) with a red line.

Figure 1: Annual teacher salaries in three similar Springfield schools (Clark County, OH), 2010-11

Source: Ohio Treasurer’s Office, Treasurer’s Transparency Project, U.S. Census Bureau, The average salaries for these three schools are: SAE (non-union) = $32,010; Fulton (union) = $49,750; Perrin Woods (union) = $60,094.

The chart itself is striking in two ways, and combined with the achievement data in figure 1, is remarkable in a third way.

First, I’m struck by the considerably higher salaries of Fulton and Perrin Woods’ teachers compared to SAE salaries. Notice how Fulton and Perrin Woods’ teacher salaries completely dominate the right-hand side of the chart, where the higher salaried teachers reside. In terms of averages, the Fulton teacher makes 55 percent more, on average, than the SAE teacher; the Perrin Woods teacher makes, on average, 88 percent more than the non-unionized SAE teacher. This is the wage premium that unionized labor extracts from employers—a wage premium that for Fulton and Perrin Woods’ teachers far exceeds the national norm.[2]

Second, I’m struck by the considerably higher salaries of Fulton and Perrin Woods’ teachers relative the local median income. 22 out of 24 of Perrin Woods’ teachers make more than 1.5 times the local median; and 13 out of 23 of Fulton’s teachers make more than 1.5 times the local median. Zero of SAE’s teachers make that much. So, while SAE teacher salaries remain pitifully low relative their unionized peers, their salaries are actually more comparable to, and in some cases above, the local median income.

Finally, I’m struck by the lack of impact that the unionized teacher forces in Fulton and Perrin Woods have on student achievement, given the similar demographics of the three schools. As mentioned above and shown in table 1, all three schools have the same academic rating and have nearly identical performance index scores. A unionized teacher force could be justified if it were to produce better student results, yet there’s no evidence among these Springfield schools to prove they do. (And there’s little evidence on a larger scale to suggest that unionized teachers help overall student achievement; cf. Randall Eberts’ review in Princeton University-The Brookings Institution’s The Future of Children journal.)

Yes, this is only one example of how teacher unions affect salaries and student achievement. But it’s a particularly striking one at that, one that shows the gaping salary gap between unionized and non-unionized teachers, and between unionized teachers and those who live in their community. This wage premium is nice for unionized teachers, but not so nice for the district they work in—or for the students they (purportedly) educate. In the case examined here, Springfield’s unionized labor has produced neither higher academic performance nor fiscal stability. In fact, it’s no surprise that Springfield City Schools, which is just crawling out from four years in “Fiscal Emergency” (i.e., bankruptcy from 2005 to 2009), forecasts a $10 million operating loss by 2016.

With the facts from Springfield fresh in mind, we can thank teachers unions for creating wealth for your members, benefitting students in no discernible way, and creating fiscal emergencies in our school districts.

[1] Springfield City School District, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report For the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2011, pg. viii. Accessed through the Ohio Auditor of State,

[2] The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that unionized workers make roughly 25 to 30 percent more than non-unionized worker, table 2; cf., Blanchflower and Bryson, 2004, table 3, and Mishel and Walters, 2003.

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