Rewarding the Best Teachers Helps Kids Learn

Eric Hanushek
Before Act 10, strong arguments for pay incentives made by economists like Eric Hanushek went unheeded (Credit: Eric Hanushek/ Wikimedia Commons)

Economist Shows How Act 10 Has Improved Wisconsin’s K-12 Schools

Just over 12 years ago, Wisconsin policymakers incurred Big Labor’s fury and made national headlines when they adopted and proceeded to implement a major legislative rollback of government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges.

One often overlooked, but nevertheless critical, provision in the package of reforms, known as Act 10, revoked Big Labor’s legal power to prevent K-12 school districts and other public employers from rewarding civil servants according to their individual talents, efforts, and achievements.

Yale Economist Has Done Groundbreaking Work in Teacher Pay Incentives

Barbara Biasi
Barbara Biasi: “[R]eforms of the structure of teachers’ pay” could have “profound” effects on students. (Credit: Yate School of Management)

Ongoing research conducted by Dr. Barbara Biasi, an economist and faculty member at the Yale School of Management, focuses on the impact of pay flexibility specifically and of Act 10 generally on student achievement in the Badger State.

In a recent article for Education Next summarizing findings on which she had already reported in working papers and academic journals, Dr. Biasi explained how Act 10 has furnished economists with their best opportunity yet to study the impact of the so-called “single salary schedule” in K-12 schools.

Under Act 10, Districts Can ‘Set Pay More Flexibly and Without Unions’ Consent’ Prior to 2011, throughout Wisconsin, teachers in the same district with the same seniority and the same number of years of higher education, without regard to their diverse fields of expertise or the relevance of the education to their jobs, earned the same salary.

The reason for the uniformity was simple: Whether they were part of the National Education Association (NEA) or the American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) union empires, teacher union bosses in Wisconsin, just like in other states, preferred the single salary schedule.

And under Wisconsin’s government-sector monopoly-bargaining statute as it stood at the time, they got what they wanted.

But Act 10’s significant narrowing of the scope of union bosses’ “exclusive” bargaining privileges allowed school districts, in Dr. Biasi’s words, “to set pay more flexibly and without unions’ consent, in principle detaching compensation from seniority and credentials.”

By 2015, she reports, roughly half of the districts in the Badger State had taken advantage of their new ability to recruit and retain “higher value-added” teachers without first having to beg union bosses’ permission.

Wisconsin Has Wiped Out Big Labor Claim That Teacher Pay Incentives Are ‘Untested’

Randi Weingarten and Joe Biden
Even national teacher union bigwig Randi Weingarten (pictured here with President Biden) has at times admitted the single salary schedule is not in the best interest of schoolchildren. But she really doesn’t care. (Credit: American Federation of Teachers)

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented:

“The fact is, even power-mad teacher union bosses like current AFT President Randi Weingarten have at times admitted that the single salary schedule is not in the best interest of schoolchildren, parents, or superior teachers.

“But whenever it’s seriously challenged, Ms. Weingarten et al. defend it anyway, because it enhances their monopoly power.

“For decades, union bosses were so successful at blocking even meaningful experiments in teacher pay incentives that they could dismiss compelling arguments made for them by eminent education economists like Stanford’s Eric Hanushek by pointing out such incentives were ‘untested’ in K-12 government schools!

“But Act 10, a law that was enacted thanks in part to the grassroots lobbying efforts of Right to Work members in Wisconsin, and which withstood repeated Big Labor court challenges thanks in part to Right to Work attorneys’ legal briefings, has eliminated union propagandists’ ‘untested’ excuse.

“As Barbara Biasi has demonstrated, in school districts across the Badger State, the elimination of the single-salary schedule straitjacket has been tested, and it has been shown to benefit schoolchildren and taxpayers.”

‘The Rate of Cross-District Movement More Than Doubled After Act 10’

Dr. Biasi’s research shows that, in Wisconsin districts that ditched the Big Labor-backed single salary schedule post-Act 10, teachers who were demonstrably more effective in helping children learn soon “started earning more” than their less effective colleagues. And pay incentives obviously mattered to good teachers:

“The rate of cross-district movement more than doubled after Act 10, with most moves occurring among districts of different type (flexible pay vs. seniority pay).”

Teachers who moved to “a flexible-pay district . . . were more than a standard deviation more effective, on average, than teachers who moved” to the same district when the monopolistic union contract was still in effect.

There is evidence that flexible-pay districts have benefited from increased effort by teachers who stayed put as well as from the influx of superior teachers.

Overall, “changes in the composition and the effort of the teaching workforce led to a 5 percent of a standard deviation increase in student test scores in flexible pay districts relative to seniority-pay districts” by 2016.

Dr. Biasi’s studies conducted to date highlight how “reforms of the structure of teachers’ pay can be a powerful instrument to attract and retain effective teachers, which could have profound and long-lasting effects on students.”

Of course, blocking districts from replacing single salary schedules with compensation regimes that better serve schoolchildren and taxpayers is just one of a host of ways in which government union bosses armed with monopoly-bargaining power over how teachers are paid and managed make schools worse.

Monopoly-Bargaining Repeal Is the Superior Solution For Education Reformers

Over the course of decades, union bosses have also wielded their unwarranted clout over how schools operate and the political power they derive from this clout to divert money allocated for teacher compensation into defined-benefit-pensions rather than salaries.

As Dr. Biasi points out in her Education Next article, ample evidence indicates higher salaries are a more effective means than lavish pensions to attract and retain good teachers. But teacher union bosses consistently oppose shifting compensation from retirement towards employment, undoubtedly in part because such shifts reduce the power they wield over educators.

“As beneficial as it has been, Act 10 has done relatively little to help ensure taxpayer dollars are funding predominantly active teachers rather than government retirees,” said Mr. Mix.

“That’s a good illustration of why National Right to Work’s preferred approach to government education labor-policy reform has long been elimination of all forms of Big Labor bargaining in public workplaces, rather than mere narrowing of the scope of union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges.

“This is the position espoused by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who recognized that union collectivism is incompatible with the ‘very nature and purposes’ of government.”

With Committee’s Help, Virginia Could Soon Repeal Monopoly- Bargaining Law Adopted in 2020

Mark Mix on the phone
Right to Work President Mark Mix: In school districts across the Badger State, “the elimination of the single-salary-schedule straitjacket has been tested, and it has been shown to benefit schoolchildren and taxpayers.”

Mr. Mix noted that the Committee’s tenacious lobbying against monopolistic unionism could soon pay off in Virginia, where a law green-lighting “exclusive”

Big Labor control over teachers and other public employees was adopted in 2020.

“Heeding the pleas of Right to Work supporters,” he explained, “Gov. Glenn Youngkin and a majority of members of the state House of Delegates have gone on the record in support of monopoly-bargaining repeal.

“The key remaining obstacle is the state Senate. But with all 40 seats in this body potentially up for grabs this fall, Virginia’s freedom-loving citizens now have the opportunity to set the stage for monopoly-bargaining repeal in 2024.”

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