As Quick Hits reports, a recent survey by Harvard professors Paul Peterson and Martin West, along with professor William Howell from University of Chicago reports that the share of teachers with a positive view of unions, and their impact on schools, has dropped 16 points from 58% in 2011 to 43% in 2012, while the number of teachers holding negative views jumped from 17% to 32%.
But the authors add an important caveat. When part of the sample of teachers was asked an either-or question (forcing them to choose that the union has either positive or negative impact, rather than 5 more nuanced choices of response), 71% said positive. “When push comes to shove,” say the authors, “a clear majority of teachers still support their unions.”
Our soon-to-be-released survey, a follow up to the 2007 Waiting to Be Won Over, finds similar sentiment among teachers. Teachers are, for example, less likely than in 2007 to say unions are absolutely essential, but they still say they are very important. And despite plenty of teacher angst about unions—we shouldn’t have to join, dues are too high, work rules are too rigid—more than three quarters of teachers (including more than seventy percent of new teachers, with less than 5 years of experience) say that, absent the union, their working conditions and salaries would suffer. Majorities also agree that they would be more vulnerable to school politics, and would have nowhere to turn in the face of unfair charges by parents or students. More than half of teachers who are not even members of a union or association agree that the union protects the working conditions and salaries of teachers, and that teachers would be more vulnerable without a union. Among those that are members (and that’s the vast majority—more than ¾ of teachers), they are more likely than four years ago to report involvement in local union activities, and they are more likely to associate their union membership with feelings of pride and solidarity.
Peterson et al are right to point to ballooning costs and underfunded pensions to illustrate the tough climate that unions are facing. But it’s not at all clear that the union is really losing its base. Teachers may be demanding and expecting more from unions, but they don’t appear to be giving up on them.