Teacher Unions

Diana C Pullin & Susan L Melnick. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publication. 2008.

The excitement of a new teacher’s first job offer is often accompanied by the anxiety of signing an employment contract, the agreement between a teacher and a public school district setting out the basic provisions for a teaching job. However, this first teaching contract is perhaps not the most significant contract binding a teacher to a public school. Often more powerful is the collective bargaining agreement, the contract between the school district and the local teacher union, which sets most of the important terms of a teacher’s contract. While the teaching contract represents the basic employment agreement with a teacher, the teacher union and the collective bargaining agreement are more important than the individual contract.

Teacher unions, particularly in the late 20th century, played a critical role in determining the workday lives of most of the nation’s teachers. Teachers in this era were generally allowed considerable autonomy in the operation of their individual classroom. However, in most public schools, this individual autonomy existed within a set of structures for teaching established by school administrators and school boards and also by rules negotiated with the school district by a teacher union on behalf of all teachers. Thus, whether a teacher was a union member or whether a teacher was even aware of the activities of the local union, teacher unions played a significant role in the lives of most teachers.

Teacher unions, particularly the two leading national unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have also played influential roles in state, local, and national politics and in the consideration of some education reform initiatives. A former head of the AFT, Albert Shanker, was a prominent national advocate for changes to professionalize teaching practice and to implement standards-based education as those initiatives were beginning in the early 1990s.

Today, the future for teacher unions is uncertain. Across the nation, union membership has declined considerably for most types of workers, yet teacher union membership has grown and most teachers are greatly reassured that unions exist to protect their interests. There is little doubt that unionization has changed the work of teachers and school administrators. Yet, there is only limited research evidence, and no definitive findings, on the impact of teacher unionism or its consequences for student achievement. There is some evidence of reductions in class size and increases in teacher preparation time as a result of the work of teacher unions and also evidence of some salary gains as a result of collective bargaining, particularly through the use of salary schedules based on advanced degrees and experience. Nonetheless, public debate over the quality of the teaching force and the role of teacher unions is increasing, much of it very heated and some of it extremely ideological (Hannaway & Rotherham, 2006).

Teacher unions have always claimed that improved teaching conditions lead to improved learning environments. Critics argue the traditional teacher union can no longer play a useful role in schools that are moving beyond the industrial-style schools of an earlier time. Some assert that union influence needs to be sharply limited or eliminated because unions protect mediocrity or even incompetence and create barriers to educational improvement. Others argue that unions can change to meet current and future educational needs, to promote education reform and the transformation of teaching into a true profession.

The public clearly agrees that high-quality teachers are needed for high-quality education. What is not as clear is the future role of teacher unions. This chapter briefly explores the role of teacher unions in American education. It describes the traditional roles of the union in relationship to the work of the individual teacher and stresses the importance of a teacher’s awareness of, and potential participation in, union activities. It also considers the broader role of teacher unions in state and national political activities, in education reform initiatives and in enhancing the professionalization of teaching. Another goal of the chapter is to help new teachers reflect on how they will understand their own relationship to the other teachers with whom they work and how they will navigate the day-to-day challenges of developing as a teacher.

Teacher Unions in the United States

The organization and impact of teacher unions have changed throughout our nation’s history. Organizations of teachers were first created to address pressing problems for teachers. For example, many public schools hired teachers based on a patronage system, administrators had almost absolute power in schools, male teachers were paid more than female teachers, secondary teachers were paid more than elementary teachers, and all teachers were very poorly paid. Female teachers who married or became pregnant almost always lost their jobs. One early attempt to create more equitable and democratic conditions for teaching and schooling was led by Margaret Haley, president of the Chicago Federation of Teachers (CFT), at the turn of the 20th century. As Rousmaniere (2005) describes her, Haley inspired teachers “to conceive of themselves as political beings, and she initiated a nationwide struggle for democratic management and fiscal equity in public education” (p. ix). Haley further insisted that female teachers had the political and moral obligation to shape their working conditions in schools by actively participating in educational decision making. Although many of Haley’s views were actively thwarted or ignored during her tenure as CFT president, they are as relevant today as they were in her time. Between then and now, however, the growth in power and influence of teacher unions that began in the last half of the 20th century essentially resulted from efforts to protect teachers as workers in public schools, with primary, but not exclusive, attention devoted to “bread-and-butter” issues like salary and benefits. Beginning in the latter part of the 20th century, however, teacher unions became more involved in many important professional, curricular, and instructional issues and concerns.

There are two major teacher unions in the United States, the NEA and the AFT. The two national organizations have had slightly different traditions and histories, with the AFT having a longer tradition of functioning more like an industrial union, yet moving earlier than the NEA to promote the professionalization of teaching and education reform. Recently, both have adopted similar approaches to most education issues. Since at least the 1990s, there have been discussions concerning the potential national merger of the NEA and the AFT. At present, the relationship between the two is described as a partnership based on a commitment by both organizations to work together on behalf of their members.

The NEA started in 1857 not as a union, but as a voluntary professional association of superintendents, principals, teachers, and education professors. For many years, the NEA leadership was dominated by school administrators and education professors. Now, the organization is predominately composed of, and led by, public school teachers; however, it also represents some school support personnel and many higher education faculty. The NEA has over 3.2 million members nationwide, organized among over 14,000 local associations, and the national organization has an annual budget of over $300 million. According to the NEA Web site, the benefits of being a member include promoting excellence in education; securing professional wages and benefits; protecting each member’s career; building community support; and lobbying for funding and other decisions that affect our schools. The NEA offers a number of member services including professional development, financial services and insurance, and grants and scholarships to educators and local schools. It publishes a magazine for members, NEA Today.

The NEA plays roles as a national organization and also through its state affiliates. The organization employs a number of full-time staff throughout the country, including lobbyists to work with state and federal legislatures on issues like funding for public schools, teacher credentialing, and professional standards. Its lawyers represent the interests of teachers in employment disputes or in public controversies, such as the appropriateness of state-funded school vouchers to send students to parochial schools. In 1929, the organization adopted The Code of Ethics of the Education Profession, which according to the NEA, “indicates the aspiration of all educators and provides standards by which to judge conduct.”

The AFT was formed as a labor union in 1916 and is a part of the AFL-CIO, one of the largest traditional industrial labor unions in the country. AFT operates mostly in urban areas, especially east of the Mississippi. The AFT, on its Web site, reports that it has more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide, 43 state affiliates, and more than 1.4 million members, who are teachers, paraprofessionals and school-support personnel, government employees, higher education faculty and staff, and nurses and other healthcare professionals. The national organization has a budget of over $130 million a year. The AFT publishes American Educator, a quarterly magazine, and American Teacher, a monthly newspaper, for its members, as well as a number of specialty publications and reports.

The AFT describes its role as protecting the collective bargaining rights of teachers; to improve the lives of its members and their families; to give voice to their legitimate professional, economic, and social aspirations; to strengthen the institutions in which members work to improve the quality of the services members provide; to bring together all members to assist and support one another; and to promote democracy, human rights, and freedom in the AFT, throughout the nation and throughout the world.

The AFT provides its members many of the same types of services the NEA provides. It represents union members in collective bargaining, represents teachers involved in disputes with their employers, and engages in extensive lobbying and political activities. In addition, it provides members with such things as financial services and purchasing discounts, and a small, free life insurance policy for AFT members.

Both national teacher unions hold regular national conventions to elect officers and develop the important policy initiatives of the union. Both national unions have long operated research units to provide both professional development information and to provide data to inform bargaining and advocacy.

The NEA and the AFT are the major teacher unions in the nation, exerting the greatest state and national influence on behalf of teachers. However, in the dozen or so states (predominantly Southern states) that do not recognize the right of teachers to participate in formal unions, teachers have organized themselves into other state associations. And in some local school districts, teachers have organized themselves independent of either of the two national teacher unions.

The local role of teacher unions, and the considerable variability among how local affiliates of the NEA and AFT work, is an important consideration, particularly for new teachers. On occasion, there is considerable difference between the policy perspectives of the national or state organizations or their leaders and the actual practices of local union affiliates. In addition, the history and traditions of a local union’s relationship with a school district and its administrators and school board members can create considerable variation in the provisions of collective bargaining agreements and also a very different culture for teachers from one school district to the next, with the relationship with school administrators ranging from very cooperative and collégial to extremely adversarial.

Cultural expectations about unionism are also important to consider. Throughout the nation, union membership among all types of workers in the economy has dropped considerably over the past 25 years, as jobs for skilled laborers have decreased in number and as employers have reorganized their workplaces and outsourced much of their work to other countries. While unionism and the use of collective bargaining began in factories and industrial settings, now the most highly unionized workforces in the nation are government employees and teachers. For the past 40 years, in most public schools, unionism in the teaching force was the norm, and teacher unions played key roles in determining wages and working conditions for most teachers.

In addition to their role in the lives of teachers, teacher unions have also had an influence on the broader political and social spheres in the nation, addressing not only issues concerning the operation of our public schools, but also issues that also impact society. Teacher unions have played important roles in addressing social reforms and civil rights issues, particularly concerning race and gender. To the extent that the teaching force has predominantly been composed of women, any advocacy on behalf of teachers to improve their working conditions can be seen as an effort to promote gender equity. But the role of teacher unions concerning gender equity has been even broader in contemporary times. Both the national unions worked with the women’s movement to advocate for gender equity laws and with the civil rights movement to bar race-based discrimination. They have also been heavily involved in initiatives to provide training and curricular materials to promote equity. The unions have been involved in legislative lobbying for employment laws and in lawsuits challenging barring race-and gender-based discrimination in education.

The political activities of teacher unions, particularly the NEA, have also extended far beyond matters of public education. In addition to their own internal activities and serving important functions in representing teachers over matters concerning wages and working conditions, teacher unions became significant forces in the political arena, at both the state and federal levels. The NEA developed a very close relationship with the Democratic Party and many union members served as delegates to Democratic Party conventions. While most NEA leaders were members of the Democratic Party in the latter part of the 20th century, an increasing number of the members of the NEA identified themselves as Republicans. As a result, the NEA began to make an effort to become more bipartisan in supporting candidates it felt would advance public education.

Whenever public funding for schools has declined, teacher unions have taken on a major role in advocacy, advertising, and lobbying to support public education and increased funding. For example, the use of government-funded vouchers to allow students to attend private schools at public expense has been vigorously resisted by the NEA, which sees vouchers as a major effort to undermine public schools. Teacher unions have also challenged, although less vigorously, states’ creation of charter schools where unions were barred based on the belief that publicly funded schools could thrive if they were freed from the influence of teacher unions. This set of debates over alternatives to traditional public schools is in part a response to the most significant political achievement of teachers unions in the 20th century, attainment of the right of most public school teachers to engage in collective bargaining with their employers.

Collective Bargaining

State laws, state officials, and local school boards set the rules and requirements for how schools are to be managed. Local school administrators, the superintendent, central office staff, and building principals implement these policies and organize how the work will be done, and teachers carry out the work of educating students. State laws set out the requirements to qualify to be hired as a teacher, how teachers should be hired, how teachers can be tenured or fired, and the general rules for how school districts should operate.

Laws in most states allow public school teachers to participate in unions and bargain as a group with the school district over wages, benefits, and working conditions. Even in some states in which collective bargaining with teachers is not officially allowed under law, school districts often engage in these practices. Over 75% of the teachers in the nation work in schools in which teacher unions engage in collective bargaining with their school districts (Moe, 2006). The collective bargaining relationship between unions and schools is based upon a model derived from private industry, but adjusted somewhat to account for the unique characteristics of public schools. Industrial sector collective bargaining arose in a context in which the right to unionize and to strike was seen as the only mechanism to offset the unlimited power of profit-making companies, where most of the work occurred on an assembly line, productivity could be readily measured, there were strict policies of scientific management, and the marketplace would accommodate increases in benefits and salaries for workers through increased prices for the goods produced. The union existed solely to protect workers. These characteristics are, of course, in marked contrast to the work of schools where teachers are expected to put the interests of their students foremost and it is the role of schools to promote civic good within the constraints of limited public funding.

The formal recognition of teacher unions and the authorization of collective bargaining began in the 1960s and 1970s, in an era in which union membership in all types of jobs across the country was high and at about the same time that the right of federal employees to unionize was created. The sanctioning of teacher union activities also occurred at a point in history in which there was not widespread concern about the need for accountability in public education and in which the supply of teachers was large, due in part to limitations on access to other careers for women.

The state laws governing teacher unions set out the procedures for formal recognition of a union to represent all teachers in a district and describe the types of issues for bargaining between the union and the district. Once a majority of teachers in a district vote to have a particular union represent them, then the school district is obligated to negotiate with that union and to work with that union on the resolution of complaints concerning the treatment of teachers. The union, for its part, is obligated to provide “fair representation” to all the teachers in the district.

All members of a teacher union pay dues, but all teachers in a unionized district, whether they pay dues, benefit from union action on their behalf. Many states allow a teacher union to operate as an “agency shop” in which the union levies fees on all teachers, not just members, usually through an automatic payroll deduction system in which teachers who are not union members pay an “agency fee” to subsidize the cost of having the union negotiate, and enforce, the collective bargaining agreement. A nonunion teacher can opt out of any small portion of the dues that might be attributable to the union’s political activities that don’t relate to the collective bargaining agreement.

The agreement between a union and a district, the collective bargaining agreement or contract, applies to every teacher in the district, whether that teacher is a member of the union. The contents of collective bargaining agreements vary enormously from school system to school system. Most agreements last 3 or 4 years and are then renegotiated. In many smaller school districts, the agreement is a fairly straightforward and short document, revised after cordial negotiations. In many urban districts, agreements are now several hundred pages, sometimes accompanied by separate explanatory documents.

The revisions of any collective bargaining agreement can become acrimonious. In states where bargaining is allowed by law, there are usually procedures mandated for dealing with circumstances in which there is an impasse over negotiations. The traditional, industrial model of unionism is inherently adversarial in both the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement and in the implementation of that agreement. The perceived role of a union is to give priority to protecting the interests of union members. As a result, in some districts in which there has not been a successful agreement on the contract between the union and the district, union members are asked to engage in activities, or to refuse to participate in activities, in order to pressure the district to arrive at a successful conclusion to negotiations. These might include picket lines or “work to rule” or “work to fairness” activities such as refusing to participate in afterschool activities or to write letters of recommendation to colleges. Some teacher unions have utilized strikes to assert influence over their working conditions, even in the face of state laws barring the right of public school teachers to strike. Some teachers and union leaders have been jailed temporarily and subject to fines as a result of attempting to strike.

The typical topics for negotiations with a union involve wages, benefits such as health insurance, and working conditions. Most state laws allow a broader scope of bargaining, including such issues as safe working conditions, class size, overall teacher workload and the benefits of seniority, such as allowing veteran teachers priority in avoiding layoffs or transferring, permitting them to choose not to teach in schools characterized as high poverty or low performing. And in some school systems in the many years in which fiscal constraints on the district’s budget are significant, district administrators have sometimes agreed to give more intangible benefits to teachers, like more preparation time, to offset the inability to offer meaningful pay increases.

The cornerstone of every collective bargaining agreement is the set of provisions concerning how teacher salaries will be determined. Teacher salaries are generally based upon a single salary schedule in which every teacher’s pay is based upon years of service as a teacher and the individual’s educational attainment. In recent years, some local unions have negotiated agreements in which a district pays bonuses to teachers who are in particularly scarce supply, such as math and science specialists or special educators, teachers who have obtained certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), or individuals willing to work in particularly challenging urban schools. Most states now allow bonuses for teachers with NBPTS certification. More recently, a few local unions have agreed to move away from the uniform salary schedule more dramatically to implement “merit pay” systems in which salaries or bonuses are in part based upon an individual teacher’s success in improving student performance, usually based on state standardized test scores.

Some local affiliates have also recently begun to expand the topics for bargaining to allow such reforms as using veteran teachers to mentor and evaluate new teachers, merit pay, or allowing the union to provide professional development activities. Other local unions have created mechanisms for ongoing discussions and problem-solving activities between the union and the school district or within each school, rather than relying only on the negotiations to renew a collective bargaining agreement.

Enforcing Teacher Rights in Schools

Once a collective bargaining agreement has been finalized, a main function of the union is to ensure that the agreement is followed. The teacher union, acting through its building representatives, works to enforce the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement and any associated issues of state or federal law and to collect information on how the next agreement should be modified to protect teachers’ interests. The local union representative, the teacher responsible for overseeing union matters in each building, works with individual teachers to ensure that union protections are in place. Collective bargaining agreements contain informal and, then if these are unsuccessful, more formal procedures for pursuing “grievances” in which teachers claim they are being denied the protection of the collective bargaining agreement. These provisions focus on the fairness of a teacher’s treatment, but rarely allow a challenge to the substantive professional decisions that administrators make about the quality of a teacher’s performance, matters that are also governed by state laws on the employment of teachers.

One of the most highly charged activities associated with the implementation of the agreement concerns the evaluation of teachers and the termination of teachers. Teacher unions usually vigorously advocate for all teachers in disputes with public school districts. In situations involving the potential termination of a union member’s teaching contract, the union will usually represent the teacher during the grievance process and will often represent the teacher in arbitration hearings or court litigation. The goal of the union is to promote fair treatment not only for the teacher under scrutiny, but for all teachers. This advocacy, however, has resulted in some criticism that teacher unions act as if it is more important to protect their incompetent members than to ensure educational quality for students.

Teacher Unions and Teacher Quality

One of the notable debates about teacher unions focuses on whether unions have promoted, or can promote, increased teacher quality and improved educational opportunity for the nation’s students. These debates center at the very local level on whether teacher unions seek too many perquisites for teachers in collective bargaining agreements, removing them from responsibility for providing quality education, and provide too much protection to incompetent teachers. But the debates are also about teacher quality and how teachers can work with each other to promote increased success in educating all students and in transforming teaching into a true profession.

Every state’s laws set out the general standards for teacher hiring, the grant of tenure or professional teacher status (which define the circumstances under which teachers can lose their jobs), and the termination of teachers. In addition, state and federal laws protect all employees from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and age apply. For the most part, evaluation of a teacher’s competence and the determination of tenure, termination, or individual contract renewal have traditionally been the sole responsibility of school administrators. Each state’s laws set out at least the general standards for terminating a teacher for cause. The standards are often rather general, like the provision that a teacher can be terminated for “just cause,” “incompetence,” or “moral turpitude.” In addition, many local collective bargaining agreements further specify the standards and procedures for tenuring or terminating a teacher.

Next to its responsibilities for negotiating the collective bargaining agreement, most local teacher unions accept as a paramount responsibility the protection of their teachers from inappropriate denials of tenure or from termination from employment. The general perspective of most local unions is that aggressive enforcement of teacher rights is essential. Strict adherence to the procedures for these significant decisions about teachers, in both state law and the collective bargaining agreement, sometimes is seen as more important than substantive decisions concerning teacher competence. As a result, many critics of teacher unions feel that unions act too often to defend mediocrity and incompetence at the expense of quality education for students. To unions, however, the use of union authority for the protection of powerless individuals has always been the cornerstone of the labor union movement in this nation.

Teachers now enter the workforce with a variety of experiential and educational backgrounds. Fewer novice teachers start working in schools after completing a traditional teacher education program. State definitions of what it requires to be regarded as a highly qualified teacher vary. Thus, there is considerable variety in the qualifications new teachers bring to their work and how their professional development will occur, and how their performance will be evaluated. Further, there is considerable variability in the amount of on-the-job assistance new teachers receive from the veteran teachers. These factors, along with the national movement for more accountability for schools and educators mean that decisions about evaluating, tenuring, or terminating a teacher take on increasing significance and the role of teacher unions becomes more challenging.

Teacher unions have become increasingly involved in activities concerning both government regulation of public education and also teacher-generated efforts to change teachers’ work to make it more of a profession. The NEA and AFT have always promoted the role of veteran teachers as mentors for less experienced teachers. How these efforts played out at the local level have varied. More recently, union leaders have become involved in negotiating with the government over the criteria for award of teacher certification or designation of a teacher as “highly qualified” as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the criteria and processes for state approved teacher certification programs.

Teacher union members also have played key roles in the work of such entities as the NBPTS, which provides voluntary advanced certification of a teacher’s competence. One of the original advocates for the creation of the NBPTS was Albert Shanker, the former national head of the AFT. And the current board overseeing the activities of the NBPTS consists of a majority of members from the NEA and the AFT.

The transformation of traditional, industrial-style unionism into a form of unionism that promotes the work of teachers as professionals will become the critical issue for teacher unions for the near future. Professionalization and the rise of what has come to be termed professional or reform unionism focuses less on wages, benefits, and working conditions and more on the quality of schools and the teaching force. While the two national unions continue to work to shape their roles in the “new unionism,” reform union approaches are currently occurring only in a small number of local unions. These new types of union activities reflect teachers’ efforts to focus less on traditional issues of salary and job protection and to move toward collaborative leadership of schools and local implementation of reform practices, peer review, and professional development. These approaches also rely upon a model in which the relationship between the union and the school district aims to be collaborative rather than adversarial. In some instances, these reform approaches have gone so far as to create some public schools in which teacher unions run a small number of schools jointly with the local school district, or in which a majority of the teachers in one school can vote to remove their school from the coverage of the district’s collective bargaining agreement to run the school with more administrative flexibility. And, some of the publicly funded charter schools are now organizing in ways in which some forms of teacher unionism are allowed.

Teacher Unions and the Future of Education in the United States

Near the end of the 20th century, contemporary leaders of teacher unions followed in the footsteps of such predecessors as Margaret Haley and Albert Shanker and became powerful forces in public policy debates regarding education reform. The NEA, for example, engaged in a large number of lobbying activities and litigation in an effort to increase public funding for schools and reduce the use of charter schools and vouchers to allow children to leave traditional public schools and further erode public education in the United States.

In several states and local school districts, teacher unions have begun to work with school administrators to expand the role of teachers in promoting educational quality and improvement. Sometimes working through changes in the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, sometimes working through separate accords, unions have initiated new professional development and mentoring programs, merit-based pay systems linked to documented gains in student achievement, peer review of teaching performance, and collaborative decision making on issues of local educational policy.

All of this occurs in an era in which implementation of the NCLB and state education reform laws may have the most significant impact on the role of teacher unions. These legal mandates for reform are designed to impact educational practice at the school and classroom level. NCLB, in particular, will result in addressing pressures on low-performing schools, which could result in closing or reorganizing schools, possibly even termination of the educators who work in them. While the NCLB does contain a provision stating that it cannot override the provisions of collective bargaining agreements or the protections for teachers contained in other state or federal laws, there is no question that relationships between teachers and school districts and school administrators will be pressed to change. There is no question that national, state, and local teacher unions will have to respond effectively to these pressures.

Teacher unions will continue to evolve as local administrators change their practice to become more collaborative and teachers become a larger part of the decision-making processes affecting the improvement of education rather than simply being expected to react to mandated reforms. At the same time, teacher unions will also have to change their approaches to working with administrators on traditional contractual matters related to wages and benefits in a struggling economy. To be successful, both groups will have to move farther away from the old industrial-style models and behaviors that fostered the hierarchical, bureaucratic, and hostile teacher-administrator relationships characteristic of much of the last half of the 20th century.

Several factors underlie the need for these changes. There is dwindling public commitment to any type of labor union, dramatic decreases in the numbers of Americans in any types of jobs who have membership in a union, and increasingly difficult economic conditions in the United States, particularly concerning the finance of public functions like education and health care. These circumstances are tied to tough economic times and globalization. As this chapter is being written, teachers are in the midst of tough contract negotiations across the country. The bottom line for many union members is that they want to be sure they have jobs first, and the greatest benefits and best working conditions possible within these economic constraints.

While salaries and health care are uppermost on the agenda for teacher unions in the early part of the 21st century, the matter of education reform is equally, or perhaps even more, important. Teachers have rarely been considered experts in the views of most policy makers, yet they are ultimately responsible for the implementation of any reforms designed or mandated by others. As Adam Urban-ski (2001), a contemporary leader of the AFT, has pointed out, failure to include teachers with meaningful roles in education reform “deprives us of the collective wisdom of practitioners on issues about which they know the most—the needs of their students. Including teacher unions as partners in transforming public education is essential to achieving the ultimate goal of improving student learning” (p. 1).

Since the early 1990s, Urbanski has argued that much needs to change. While he supports the teacher unions’ role in negotiating “bread-and-butter” issues, he has argued that unions also should negotiate such issues as class size, curricular matters, the content of professional development, the structure of instructional time, and a number of other professional and instructional issues—all of which are either elective in collective bargaining or prohibited by legislation. But he also has argued forcefully for the involvement of teacher unions in education reform and has been actively involved in urging unions to change to accommodate a broader mission. In his words, “Just like today’s schools, teacher unions are stuck in the past. They still expend most of their energy and resources on defending a very small minority of troubled members; they still define their mission narrowly in terms of bread-and-butter issues; and they still confine themselves to reacting to management’s provocations. Strong unions have secured important professional rights and benefits for teachers, but their power must now be harnessed to create a more genuine profession for teachers and more-effective schools for all students” (p. 2). Urbanski believes that unions can build on their former accomplishments to grow in partnerships with all stakeholders and work effectively in bringing about needed reforms in U.S. education. In support of his point, Urbanski quotes the words of the late Albert Shanker: “It is no less the responsibility of a teacher union to preserve public education than to negotiate good contracts.” To Urbanski, this means that teacher unions “will have to recognize that teachers will do well only if their students do well—and that no community will long tolerate teachers’ doing well while students do not” (p. 2).

These are “precarious times” for teacher unions (Kop-pich, 2006). Some recent evidence suggests that teacher unionism is not appealing to new members of the teaching force, who are far less interested in job security and far more interested in career development than their predecessors (Johnson & Donaldson, 2006). In states where union membership is voluntary, membership is declining. And some teachers seek to work in charter schools, where teachers generally don’t support teacher unions either (Hannaway & Rotherham, 2006). However, in one recent large survey of teachers in schools with collective bargaining, 94% responded that if membership were completely voluntary, they would still join their local teacher union and pay its dues (Moe, 2006). The role of teacher unions in the nation’s schools is controversial. One of the difficult challenges for each new teacher will be to determine whether, and how to, participate in a teacher union.