Panel Paper: Inconvenient Truth? Do Collective Bargaining Agreements Help Explain the Mobility of Teachers within School Districts?

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 1:50 PM
Galisteo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dan Goldhaber1,2,3, Lesley Lavery4 and Roddy Theobald1,3, (1)Center for Education Data and Research, (2)Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, (3)University of Washington, (4)Macalester College
There is considerable evidence that teachers are inequitably distributed across student subgroups by experience, qualifications, and value added measures of performance. But while teachers are inequitably distributed on average, there is heterogeneity across school districts in the degree of inequity (Goldhaber et al., 2014). One mechanism that may contribute to these differences is teacher collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Many CBAs contain provisions that protect senior teachers from involuntary transfers and grant senior teachers the right to voluntarily transfer to more desirable positions within the district. To the extent that more senior teachers choose to teach more advantaged students, these seniority transfer protections may contribute to the inequitable distribution of teacher experience and effectiveness within school districts.

This argument is backed by empirical evidence in Moe (2005) and Anzia and Moe (2014), but is far from conclusive as other recent studies (Cohen-Vogel et al., 2013; Koski and Horng, 2007) find little relationship between seniority transfer protections and the extent of the teacher experience gap between more and less disadvantaged schools. The existing empirical literature—which focuses on static school-level distributions of teacher experience—certainly provides indirect evidence on this matter, but the school-level models estimated in the existing literature may not adequately control for the many factors—such as patterns of teacher hiring, attrition, layoffs, transfers into and out of the district, etc.—that may confound the relationship between seniority transfer protections and the distribution of teacher experience in a district. Moreover, these studies combine voluntary and involuntary transfer protections into a single measure, and we would expect these different types of provisions to influence the distribution of teachers differently. As such, it is difficult to know what to make of the conflicting findings in the literature.

            We utilize data on the provisions in the CBAs of all 270 school districts subject to collective bargaining in Washington state to estimate the impact of voluntary and involuntary seniority transfer protections on individual teacher transfer decisions. All else equal, we observe very different mobility patterns for teachers of different experience levels: the probability that a novice teacher transfers between schools in the district decreases as the percent of underrepresented minority students in the school increases, while the probability that a non-novice teacher transfers from one school to another school in the district increases as the percent of underrepresented minority students in the school increases. This, coupled with evidence that teachers who transfer into other schools in the district tend to transfer into more advantaged schools, suggests that patterns of within-district transfers may help explain the inequitable distribution of teacher experience within districts. Moreover, the relationship between the percent of minority students in a teacher’s school and the probability that she transfers to another school in the district is stronger in districts with CBAs that specify seniority as the only factor in voluntary teacher transfer decisions. We conclude that voluntary seniority transfer provisions appear to matter in terms of the “churn” of teachers between schools within districts.