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New Study Reveals Surprising Views of Local Teacher Union Leaders

A new study authored by Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Susan Moore Johnson and a team of Ed School advanced doctoral students reveals that the leaders of the thousands of local teachers union affiliates who hold the greatest sway over the educational lives of public school teachers and students are focused on far more than the traditional union priorities of wages, hours, working conditions, and due process for their members.

The National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have long exerted tremendous influence over education policy at the national and state level. But it is the presidents of the thousands of local NEA and AFT affiliates who are most influential in the daily lives of public school teachers and students. They represent teachers in contract negotiations, defining local policies, and practices ranging from class size and length of the school day to textbook selection and teacher evaluation. Yet we know very little about these local leaders, and we seldom hear their voices in debates about the role that their organizations do and should play in public education and school reform.

“Many people think of local teachers union presidents as fist-pounding defenders of the status quo. However, over the 40 years since states first adopted collective bargaining for teachers, the roles of local union leaders have evolved, as have their working relations with administrators,” said lead author Johnson, the head of HGSE’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. “Like other educators today, these presidents are responding to unprecedented change in public education. One by one, they are re-defining the character and impact of unionism in public schools.”

In this new report, which was funded by the Joyce Foundation and released by Education Sector, the presidents of 30 local unions in six states speak candidly about their views on issues including reforming teacher pay, coping with the No Child Left Behind Act, new competition from charter schools, and the challenges of leading multiple generations of teachers who don't always see eye to eye.

The study, which was conducted by Johnson with a team of researchers including HGSE advanced doctoral students Morgaen L. Donaldson, Ed.M.’97; Mindy Sick Munger, Ed.M.’01; John P. Papay, Ed.M.’05; and Emily Kalejs Qazilbash, Ed.M.’97, reveals that union leaders are also focused on such priorities as nontraditional pay structures, professional support for teachers, and more collaborative approaches to collective bargaining.

For more information, please read "Leading the Local: Teachers Union Presidents Speak on Change, Challenges."


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