An article in the Madison Capitol Times explains that there is a bit of controversy as competing groups utilize various facts and figures to support their cause regarding the benefits of unions on students. The Republicans such as State Senator Glenn Grothman argue that Wisconsin’s state 4th-grade reading scores are below the national average and that this is the result of strengthening unions over the past ten years. But this belies the fact that the state is actually above average in nearly all other standardized tests.
The Unions claim that Wisconsin is number 2 in SAT/ACT scores. First, that is an older result and now the number is more like #3 on SAT scores, but with only 4% representation. This is not a great statistic, because it selects only the very top students in a state where ACT scores are taken and compares their scores with the wider sample of students in states (including average ones) that accept the SAT exam.
An article in the Harvard Educational Review did find that students in pro-union states do a statistically significant 50 points better on the SAT. The problem still remains that we are comparing the best and the brightest between states and those students often do well even with poor teaching. We rather need some assessment that more fully describes the full distribution of students, including average and poor students.
It is here that Angus Johnson, a historian of student activism makes some very good arguments. Wisconsin is actually above average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams in eight grade math and reading and fourth grade math. One reason for a lower score in reading is the large influx on non-english speaking students Wisconsin has received during the past ten years, and another would be state budget cuts to education during that period as well.
Mr. Johnson continues by comparing Wisconsin results with non-union teaching states such as Virginia, Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. These are by and large not states known for excellent education and Johnson’s statistics confirm this:
Of the ten states in the US without teachers’ unions, only one — Virginia — had NAEP results above the national average, and four — Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi — were in the bottom quintile.
That is right, of the 10 states without unionized teachers, 4 of those states rank in the bottom 10 states, 9 of 10 non-union states are in the bottom 25, and only one state, Virginia, ranks in the top 25 states in the nation regarding education – well behind Wisconsin.
This makes perfect sense. Using the Tea Party’s own market-based principles, it seems reasonable to assume that talented teachers would gravitate toward states with higher, union-supported salaries. One would think that a market-based Tea Party Governor, interested in the quality of education in his state might recognize this point. One would also think that Governor Walker would understand that the state’s most vital resource is education.
Wisconsin can not afford the brain-drain that occurs in states like Iowa. People stay in Wisconsin because of the quality of education and standards of living that are in part supported by unionized teachers. Sadly, Governor Walker does not seem to agree. So that leaves the rest of the state to make a choice: Squander one of your state’s most competitive assets, or relegate your standard of living to that of Mississippi.