In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Teacher Unions and Associations

  • Introduction

Education Teacher Unions and Associations
Diana D'Amico
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0045


The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are key players in public education, education-reform debates, and politics. At the same time, they have garnered significant criticism from policymakers and scholars. While teacher organizations are a centerpiece of current educational discourse, they are at once shaped by and a response to a variety of social and historical forces. The first two sections of this entry provide broader conceptual frameworks, considering the ways in which the historical structures of public schooling, relationships between teachers and administrators, gender dynamics, and definitions of professionalism shape teacher unions and associations. This literature casts fresh light on current debates and presents new ways of considering the perennial tensions that surround teacher organizations. To this end, this entry begins with a listing of scholarship that examines the historical roots of teacher organizations as well as a framework for considering public-sector unions. The second heading examines teachers, administrators, and the school structure in historical perspective. Divided into three sections, the literature listed here calls attention to the gendered dynamics that shape teachers’ work lives, the relationships between teachers and administrators, and the question of profession. The scholarship included in the third section offers detailed analyses of teacher organizations and exposes readers to the intricacies and politicization of the debates surrounding teacher representation. This heading lists qualitative and quantitative research pertaining to the economic and noneconomic impact of collective bargaining. Divided into three sections, the literature listed here investigates the impact of bargaining on school finance and the public education system, broadly conceived; the impact of collective bargaining on achievement and education quality; and the impact of collective bargaining on teachers’ work lives. The final heading offers literature related to teacher organizations, reform, and politics. The literature listed under this heading animates a salient component of the larger debates as these scholars grapple with the appropriate role of teachers and their organizations in public schooling. Divided into four sections, this heading begins with literature related to membership, motivation, and militancy. The next section offers literature related to teacher-organization politics; the third section lists literature pertaining to teacher-organization reform; and the last lists literature that considers teacher organizations as reformers.

General Overviews

The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are historic organizations with different points of origination and following separate yet intersecting trajectories. The current debates engulfing these organizations are an outgrowth of this past. Rather than providing mere background, the historical sources listed in the first section of this heading offer new ways of considering the place of teacher organizations in public education. Unionized public-school teachers share much with other public-sector unions. The literature under the second heading of this section offers an overview of public-sector bargaining.

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