WHITE PAPER | Collective Bargaining Reform

April 14, 2011


Collective Bargaining Reform: Key to Improving Teacher Quality; Improving Student Outcomes, and Instituting School Choice through Student-Centered Funding in Indiana

Lisa Snell

In Governor Mitch Daniels December 2010 legislative agenda for education reform, he called for autonomy for school leaders to make the improvements necessary to bolster student achievement and be held responsible for the performance of their school. He argued that collective bargaining reform was essential to improve autonomy and accountability for principals. In the Indianapolis Policy Review (see, The Weighted Student Formula: Is There a Better Way to Fund Indiana Education? 2007), I have argued that principals need autonomy through school empowerment and more school choice for parents through a weighted student formula. Collective bargaining reform is essential to improve teacher quality and hold schools more accountable and is critical to moving toward a student-centered school funding system that gives parents more education choice and gives school leaders the autonomy to make decisions at the school level.


On April 13, the Indiana House voted to prohibit any unionized school employee from bargaining over anything other than wages and benefits. The House voted 54-43 to amend Senate Bill 575, which limits teacher collective bargaining to wages and benefits, to include identical limits on all union school employees represented by a union other than the Indiana State Teachers Association.”What we’re attempting to do is make it so everyone who is negotiating with a school would only be negotiating for wages and benefits,” said state Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, the sponsor.

Senate Bill 575 limits bargaining to only wage and benefit issues, prohibits contracts longer than the two-year state budget term, and outlaws any contract provision that would force a school corporation to incur a budget deficit.


Supporters, led by Governor Daniels and state school superintendent Tony Bennett, argue the bill would free administrators to focus on education instead of having to negotiate over trivial matters, such as the color of the walls in the teachers’ lounge.

In March 2011 in the North West Indiana Times, State Superintendent Tony Bennet argued that collective bargaining reform is necessary to improve the quality of Indiana schools. “We have far too many places where the collective bargaining process has stood in the way of providing the kind of flexibility, nimbleness and responsiveness we need in our schools.”

Bennett pointed to some recent contracts to show how far away from actual education goals he thinks collective bargaining has strayed:


·     From the East Chicago contract: “Teacher’s lounges will be attractive, comfortable and spacious.”

·     From Hammond’s contract: “Faculty meetings are limited to one per month.”

·      From Shelby Eastern Schools: “Teachers must be disciplined five separate times in response to five separate acts of misconduct before the contract can be canceled.”


While these work rules may seem ridiculous, there is a much more significant issue to be concerned about than just “trivial matters.” Collective bargaining has a negative impact on teacher quality and the ability of Principals in Indiana to manage their teachers for the most effective outcomes for students.


In Indiana collective bargaining reform is essential to allow local schools more autonomy and freedom to use resources more efficiently, improve teacher quality, and ultimately improve student outcomes. Collective bargaining reform is moving to treat teachers as professionals rather than just union members who have the option to fulfill minimal contract requirements. In Indiana the goal is to confine teacher contracts to wages and benefits and not have collective bargaining over issues such as class size, teacher workload, or rules that restrict the principal’s ability to make personnel decisions in the best interest of students. 

While some public schools have experienced modest improvement in recent years, thousands of Hoosier children continue to languish in low-performing public schools despite continual reforms that have included funding increases, smaller class sizes, changes in teacher training and staff reconstitution. Significantly, in Education Week’s 2011 Quality Counts Index which gives states an annual letter- grade for student performance based on multiple factors like test scores and graduation rates, Indiana received a D in K-12 student performance ranking 26th overall. For example, Indiana ranked 29th on the National Assessment for Education Progress (the nation’s benchmark for reading achievement) score for 8th grade reading with less than 32 percent of 8th graders being proficient in reading; Indiana ranked 37th on the number of students who pass the AP high school exams with a score of 3 or higher per 100 students with a score of 11 compared to the national average of 20; and Indiana ranked 26th for the state high school graduation rate at 72 percent.

Collective Bargaining Reform Can Improve Teacher Quality


 Indiana’s restrictions on collective bargaining are needed to improve teacher quality and student achievement. Numerous studies have shown that teacher quality is one of the most important school-controlled factors in student achievement. Education research shows that the effect of teaching on student learning is greater than student ethnicity, family income, or class size.


Therefore, to the extent that work rules in teacher contracts hinder Principals and other school leaders from making personnel decisions that ensure that students have the highest quality teachers and that teachers have the most flexibility to do their jobs—then collective bargaining also interferes with student outcomes.

Indianapolis is the case in point.  A 2009 study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP) found that Indianapolis Public Schools’ current layoff, transfer and evaluation policies fail to ensure that IPS schools are able to recruit and retain effective teachers.  The TNTP study surveyed nearly 1,700 current teachers and principals in Indianapolis and reviewed both district and contractual policies, and analyzed teacher performance evaluation data. Seventy-five percent of current Indianapolis classroom teachers and 85 percent of IPS principals responded to the survey. The study found several key areas where collective bargaining negatively impacts teacher quality in Indianapolis.

Seniority practices negatively impact teacher quality. In Indiana school districts use seniority as the central criteria for deciding which teachers will be laid off during budget shortfalls. These rules, which in Indiana are found in teachers’ contracts rather than state law, require that teachers be laid off according to seniority, without attention to classroom effectiveness. In other words, newer teachers are let go first, even if they’re more effective than the veterans. In Indianapolis, layoff policies are based exclusively on seniority, despite teacher and principal preferences for other factors to be considered. The agreement between Indianapolis and the union requires that layoffs be determined strictly by length of teaching service in the district. In the TNTP study 90 percent of Indianapolis principals report losing a teacher they wanted to keep due to the current layoff policy, and 74 percent of teachers and 98 percent of principals believe that factors in addition to seniority should be considered when layoffs are necessary. In the TNTP survey additional factors preferred by teachers included: classroom management, teacher attendance and instructional performance based upon an evaluation rating.

In addition, K-12 school districts that lay off personnel according to seniority cause disproportionate damage to their programs and students than if layoffs were determined on a seniority-neutral basis. Marguerite Roza, a senior scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, calculates that if a district is required to use layoffs to cut its budget by 10 percent and cuts the most junior employees, it will need to remove 14.3 percent of its workforce to meet the 10 percent budget reduction. On the other hand, if that district followed a seniority-neutral layoff policy—say by a standard of employee effectiveness—only 10 percent of the workforce would lose their jobs. The bottom line is that when seniority is used as the criteria to layoff teachers, a larger number of teachers will be let go and at least some of a district’s highest-quality teachers will be removed.

This point is particularly critical for the Indianapolis Public Schools in 2011. Indianapolis Public schools are projecting to layoff 271 teachers. Of the positions cut, 200 are elementary school teachers, 50 are middle and high school teachers, and another 21 are special education teachers. Notably, most of these teachers are educators with two years experience or less; the others had mostly three to five years experience. As Ann Wilkins, president of the Indianapolis Education Association said, “It’s heart breaking because it affects our children. It means that achievement won’t be as high as expected by the state.” This is especially true because teacher effectiveness and teacher quality has played zero role in which teachers will be let go.

Indiana is also negatively impacted by forced transfer and bumping rights conferred by seniority in union contracts. The New Teacher Project survey found that in Indianapolis forced-placement hampers the creation of effective instructional teams and destabilize schools. Ninety-one percent of all IPS teachers who have changed schools or attempted to change schools in the past five years say it is important that the administrator wanted them to come to their school. However, more than one third of all placements in the district are still made without any opportunity for a teacher to interview with a school, and 85 percent of IPS principals say they have been forced to accept a teacher they did not interview in the past three years.

Indiana is also negatively impacted by provisions in teachers’ contracts limit who can conduct evaluations and how often, and they even specify how much notice a teacher must be given prior to being observed. By contrast, in most professional workplaces, evaluation is ongoing and both formal and informal. It’s the same way in many high-performing schools where evaluation is a regular and continuous part of the improving process. In Indianapolis in the 2009 TNTP study, only 10 percent of principals reported they had enough time to conduct evaluations and 3 out of 4 teachers reported they were observed 2 times or less throughout the year for their teacher evaluation. The TNTP study noted that in the highest performing schools classroom “visits are not just more numerous but dramatically so” says Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project. In those schools, instead of “zero, one or two [visits], it’s 30 to 40 per year.” 

Collective Bargaining Reform is Prerequisite for School-Level Autonomy and Student-Centered Funding

Previously I have argued that Indiana’s children need meaningful public school reform where school financing is attached to the backs of children and public school enrollment is based on choice, not residential assignment (see, The Weighted Student Formula: Is There a Better Way to Fund Indiana Education? 2007). School funding needs to be put into the backpacks of children and follow them into the schools of their choice. Public school principals need to control resources at the local level in order to make informed decisions about how best to spend resources on the unique needs of their own students.


Today, in most school districts, individual schools are held accountable for results, but

Principals have negligible autonomy since decisions about budgeting, expenditures, curriculum and hiring are largely made by district, state and other officials outside individual schools. Since student-centered funding drives more money to the local level, local schools are held accountable for their academic results. Authority over the use of funds then rests largely with the principals of local schools to attain the results for which they are accountable. Integral to meaningful accountability, then, is (1) empowering principals to act as leaders of their schools over these matters and (2) empowering parents to pick the public schools they believe best meet their children’s unique, individual needs. Collective bargaining reform is an essential prerequisite to making a move to a student-centered funding system.


In districts that have attached school funding to the backs of children, collective bargaining restrictions have been essential to the success of their programs. Several districts demonstrate that it is possible to negotiate with unions for a range of concessions that give principals more autonomy over school-level decisions that were previously constrained by collective bargaining rules. In Boston, for example, in schools that utilize student-centered funding teachers are exempt from teacher union contract work rules, while still receiving union salary and benefits. New York and Denver have an “open  market” teacher hiring process where principals can interview multiple candidates and make decisions about which teachers will best fit with their schools. Clark County School District’s union contract has a provision that details how empowerment schools can deal with teachers that are incompatible with the school. The contract states that the school empowerment team, in conjunction with the school principal, may implement a peer review model and may remove and replace a teacher deemed to be incompatible with the model established at the school. The principal ultimately has the authority to make staffing decisions.

To date, most school districts that have implemented student-centered funding have had to negotiate changes in work rules and personnel practices one rule at a time. The advantage of limiting collective bargaining reform in Indiana to wages and benefits means that student-centered funding and the autonomy given to principals could be quickly implemented in Indiana without the need to negotiate each contract rule in order to give principals autonomy over school decisions.

This would be a huge benefit to Indiana, because in school districts that have implemented student-centered school finance reform have experienced rapid improvements in student outcomes. For example, Baltimore  City schools which has implemented a comprehensive student-centered funding system and negotiated very aggressive concessions from union contracts to give principals more autonomy, has seen the African American dropout rate fall by nearly two-thirds from 2007 to 2010 from more than 1500 dropouts to close to 500. This would be especially beneficial to a district like Indianapolis where the African American graduation rate is at 50 percent.

Offering parents and students “buying power” will help inspire excellence in all public schools, especially if they have to compete for students in order to receive funding. The school finance mechanism known that attaches dollars to the backs of children in the public schools  could help create more school choice, more equitable school financing and better-performing schools in the state of Indiana.

Student-centered funding systems have demonstrating results in equalizing funding for all students, closing the achievement gap and improving high school outcomes in school districts across the United States. This school finance mechanism seems especially suited for Indiana where the majority of school funding is already allocated at the state level.

Indiana needs collective-bargaining reform to improve teacher quality and student outcomes within all school districts in the state and to set the stage to move to offer parents higher- quality school choices through a more comprehensive student-centered funding system that gives Principals and local schools complete autonomy over resources and decision-making at the school level. In the end, the Indiana legislature’s 2011 effort to restrict collective bargaining reform in Indiana has the potential to create much more aggressive school choice and school autonomy reforms that will improve outcomes for thousands of Hoosier children.


















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