EXPLAIN IT TO ME: Non-Partisan Act 10 Research: Good for Kids, Good for High-Performing Teachers

Apr 11, 2024 | Uncategorized, Wisconsin Voices Blog

Explain It to Me: Non-Partisan Act 10 Research: Good for Kids, Good for High-Performing Teachers

Research Paper Awarded Prestigious American Economic Association Prize

What Happened

2011 Act 10, which changed bargaining rights for public-sector unions and contributions to benefits for employees, remains 1 of the most significant and debated pieces of legislation in 50 years.

However, rigorous, non-partisan analysis of the reform was nowhere to be found…until recently! Professor Barbara Biasi of the Yale School of Management published a 2021 paper that just won a major award from the American Economic Association. The paper compares districts that used Act 10 to pay teachers as individuals against districts that continued to use uniform union pay scales. True nerds can read the paper here, but a readable summary is available here.

Why It Matters

In short, Act 10 was good for students and good for high-performing teachers.

Act 10 helped higher-performing teachers get paid more.

“Teachers with higher…contributions to the growth in student achievement…started earning more in flexible-pay districts. School and district administrators appear to be able to identify an effective teacher when they see one.”

Act 10 helped higher-paying districts attract higher-performing teachers.

“Teachers who moved to a flexible-pay district after a collective bargaining agreement expired were more than a standard deviation more effective, on average, than teachers who moved to the same districts before the expiration. The effectiveness of teachers moving to seniority-pay districts, on the other hand, did not change, and these teachers did not experience any change in pay.”

Act 10 helped higher-performing teachers get paid better earlier in their careers.

“[Teachers who moved to a flexible-pay district] also had lower seniority and academic credentials and enjoyed a significant pay increase upon moving.”

Act 10 helped students’ test scores in districts that used it.

“Overall, changes in the composition and 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 in the five years following the reform.”

Act 10 made it harder for lower-funded districts to compete for teaching talent, but better state funding could mitigate it.

“…A district with a smaller budget and a larger share of economically disadvantaged students may have to pay too high a premium, which it cannot afford. The district may thus decide to stay with seniority pay to at least be able to fill its teaching slots. …We also show, however, that properly designed bonus programs that redistribute state funds to districts serving large numbers of disadvantaged students could offset this effect.”

Act 10 did create a short-term retirement shock, but districts that used it got their lower-performing teachers to retire.

“Teachers who left flexible-pay districts were far less effective than those who left seniority-pay districts.”

Act 10 did create a short-term retirement shock, but it helped policymakers learn that benefits, not salaries, are the best path to fiscal soundness.

“I find that approximately 45% of the increase in retirement can be attributed to the decline in net salaries, whereas 55% can be ascribed to the fall in gross salaries and pension benefits. …Shifting part of [teachers’] lifetime compensation away from retirement towards employment (i.e., raising salaries and making pensions less generous) could significantly improve teacher retention.”

Act 10 was especially beneficial to male teachers, who are a minority in Wisconsin schools.

“In schools with a female principal or districts with a female superintendent, the gap is virtually zero. In schools and districts run by men, the gap is substantial. …The third possible explanation is higher demand for male teachers from certain schools, for example those employing fewer men, those that lost male teachers immediately before Act 10, and those enrolling a higher share of male students.”

The Quote

“Non-partisan analysis confirms what Wisconsin taxpayers know: Act 10 gave public school districts the freedom to reward the best teachers they have and drive student achievement. Rolling those reforms back would be costly to school districts, high-performing educators, and, most of all, students.” – CJ Szafir, CEO, Institute for Reforming Government

What’s Next

Another lawsuit is seeking to overturn Act 10, likely due to a more favorable Supreme Court. The suit will take months to find its way to court.

About IRG 

The Institute for Reforming Government is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that seeks to simplify government at every level by offering policy solutions to thought leaders in American government in the areas of tax reform, government inefficiency, and burdensome regulations.