Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Abiola Farinde-Wu

Second Advisor

John Saltmarsh

Third Advisor

Jack Leonard


This historical study examines how the Boston Teachers’ Union responded to the ever-changing complexities of urban education in the years 1980 -2010. Using socio-historical methods along with loose-coupling theory, it details the union’s relationship with other decision-making sectors within the school district and the state, as well as documenting challenges the union has faced within its membership. In addition to chronicling the tensions resulting from collective bargaining, charter schools, and state and federal legislation, this study also address issues within the union surrounding racial tensions and professionalism and how these issues impacted on the union’s participation in the various school reforms of the period. This dissertation addresses how the union itself defined school reform and what impact this definition had on one teachers’ union local affiliate. The study is divided into four major themes: education reform, collective bargaining, relationships with other stakeholders, and economic budgetary issues. The study describes how the primary purpose of the BTU had evolved over the years from a focus on “bread and butter issues” into a process in which the union now had a say in education reform issues in Boston. The early years of adversarial bargaining had been replaced by “win-win” and “principled” negotiations. The scope of the union mission had expanded, and the BTU had shown itself willing to cede some contractual rights in the name of education reform. No longer could the BTU be seen as a hindrance to education reform. While the nature of the relationships with other stakeholders was not always ideal, the BTU and these stakeholders were able to move beyond politics and act in the interests of students to develop relationships that helped, not hindered to effect educational reform initiatives in Boston.


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