Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Manuel S. González Canché


Education reform rhetoric frequently pits the vested interests of teachers’ unions against those of students and families. To test whether union restrictions are related to student learning, I analyze a unique database of contractual items for the 2016-2017 school year across all 499 Pennsylvania school districts in order to examine a) variation, b) partisan political predictors, and c) relationships to student achievement and graduation rates. I also examine changes in 105 contracts that occurred during the 2015-2016 school year.

I depict variation among items using GIS mapping. I use OLS regression, probit regression, and spatial autoregression to examine relationships between contract features and student proficiency and graduation rates. I also use propensity score weighting with generalized boosted models (GBM).

After controlling for spatial dependence and district demographics, I find a significant negative relationship between the percentage of registered Republicans in a district and bonuses for teacher graduate credentials. I find a significant and positive relationship between Republican registered voters and math and science proficiency. This relationship diminishes in magnitude for ELA proficiency. I also find a significant positive relationship between average years of teaching experience and ELA proficiency in grades 3-8.

Using GBM, I find significant positive estimates (+2%) of teacher qualification indicators on students’ math achievement in grades 3-8, and a significant positive estimate (+2%) between harsh consequences for ELA teachers and student proficiency. I also find a significant positive estimate between higher teacher pay and biology proficiency (+4% for historically disadvantaged students), as well as a significant negative estimate of graduate credential bonuses on graduation rates (-6%).

These correlational results suggest that subject-area and grade-level differentiation in contracts – such as higher wages for STEM teachers – might be beneficial. The most effective STEM teachers might be seeking out positions in the best-paying districts with the strongest contracts.

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