Strunk awarded grant from Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Study of public sector reforms to draw on data from four states

Dr. Katharine Strunk

Dr. Katharine Strunk

USC Rossier Associate Professor Katharine Strunk will embark upon a two-year study that will examine the impact of teachers’ unions, their collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and their long-held protections on teacher labor market outcomes, resource allocation and district outcomes. Together with co-principal investigators Joshua Cowen of Michigan State University and Eric Brunner of the University of Connecticut, Strunk will conduct studies analyzing the impact of recent reforms regulating public sector employees. Also participating in the research are Dan Goldhaber of the American Institutes on Research and University of Washington, Bothell, and Jane Lincove of Tulane University.

The set of funded studies will address the “big picture” question of how teachers’ unions and their CBAs affect primary outcomes of interest such as teacher quality and student achievement by probing union activity at multiple levels of the system: at the state level, where Strunk and colleagues will examine states’ policy reforms that change union protections, and at the local level, where the research team will assess changes in collective bargaining agreements over time. The project will bring together research from several states, including California, Michigan, Washington and Louisiana.

The research team will:

  • Analyze the impacts of changes in state laws in Michigan and in Louisiana on teacher labor market outcomes and district-level resource allocation;
  • Examine changes in the locally negotiated CBAs in California over the last decade, with particular attention to the impact of legal challenges to longstanding personnel policies; and
  • Collect, code and analyze locally negotiated CBAs in Michigan and Washington state both before and after the implementation of the high-stakes teacher evaluation systems and the shift to Right to Work status (in Michigan).

Research on these topics is particularly important today, as policy reforms aimed at changing the collective bargaining rights of teachers and the ability of teachers’ unions to operate have been proposed in nearly every state. However, as is often the case, reforms directed at teachers and their unions have outpaced the evidence to support or refute them, and little is known about the likely outcomes of these recent policy changes. This newly funded project tackles these important questions about the impacts of these state policy changes on local policy, teacher labor markets and eventually public school and district performance.

“We are very excited to begin working on these important questions related to teachers’ unions, collective bargaining and teacher-related policy changes,” Strunk noted. “There is a growing interest in the impacts of unions and collective bargaining agreements on student, teacher and school outcomes. This work has the potential to substantially enhance our knowledge on these topics and to begin to provide evidence to inform ongoing policy conversations.”

This work is being funded by a $681,886 grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Strunk also recently began another grant-supported study, a project examining the implementation and early outcomes of portfolio governance models in three cities. USC Rossier Associate Professor Julie Marsh is a co-PI of the study funded by the Spencer Foundation.