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Is it In the Contract? Variations in Collective Bargaining Agreements

Despite a good deal of rhetoric lumping together all collective bargaining agreements with teachers, these contracts tend to vary widely depending on school district characteristics, as documented in a new study in Education Policy, a peer-reviewed journal. Using more than 1,000 contracts from California, Michigan, and Washington, Michigan State University professor Katherine Strunk and her co-authors found substantial variation within and between states on a host of key provisions. The divergence is partly explained by district size, and somewhat surprisingly, does not seem to be related to student demographics, at least not the proportion of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a proxy for poverty.

All this variation can be seen as a signal of contracts’ potential to be something other than a wet blanket on teacher innovation. In the authors’ words, “As policy documents that quite literally contain the terms of agreement between employees and employers, CBAs [contracts] need not inherently impose trade-offs between teacher well-being and student outcomes. Rather, as new elements of the teacher labor market become routine features of public school administration—as teacher evaluation systems continue to develop, for example, and more districts experiment with differential teacher pay based on effectiveness but also subject area and expertise—CBAs provide the opportunity to ensure that schools remain professional and collaborative while adjusting to changing contexts.”