Labor-Management Collaboration Conference Sparks Discussions

A first-of-its-kind conference on labor-management collaboration held in Denver in February has been considered by its conveners a historic effort to transform the relationship among superintendents, school boards and teachers into a partnership to boost student achievement.

AFSA President Diann Woodard attended the conference and said there were 150 districts from across the country represented. The conference was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the American Association of School Administrators, the AFT, the Council of Great City Schools, the National Education Association and the National School Board Association.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that to participate in the conference, a school district’s school board president, superintendent, teachers union and a teacher all had to attend. He said student success must be at the heart of any agreement and that he hoped to create a new narrative of school reform in which labor and management could work together collaboratively.

“Accountability must be shared,” said Duncan. “What we do must make a difference in the lives of children.”

He stressed these collaborations will raise expectations and will become a tool of innovation, creating new ways to improve academic outcomes for students and the work of educators. Duncan also talked about a few of the guiding principles and the opportunity they present for implementing a student-centered relationship.

“In a time when budget cuts are looming, working together toward a common goal makes sense,” said Woodard.

Charlie Rose, general counsel to the U.S. Department of Education, led a conversation on how to create the environment for labor-management collaboration. The conversation concluded that for collaboration to thrive, trust must be a key element and leadership must exhibit stability. Rose emphasized the importance of communication and that both sides should not want collaboration for the sake of collaboration, but rather collaboration that leads to results.

Woodard said the conference included breakout sessions that spurred individual discussion. In one of the sessions, 12 selected school districts discussed the collaboration formed in their districts. Each participant discussed how the necessary reforms outlined by federal education officials, such as pay-for-performance, teacher evaluation and school design, had been implemented.

In another session, districts worked as teams and were given time to meet, reflect on issues and challenges and develop a district action plan. Teams then were asked to share what they had learned throughout the two-day conference.

A final session focused on how to support labor-management collaboration. Woodard said during that session the irony was brought out that principals had not been invited to the conference but were nonetheless viewed as essential to the success of the schools and the push for collaboration.

“If true collaboration is to be achieved in schools, then no one should be excluded,” said Woodard. “Principals lead schools and their voices need to be added.”

Finally, a discussion titled “Leading a Movement to Advance Student Achievement through Labor-Management Collaboration” was hosted by the conference’s key sponsors.

Duncan made it clear the administration was invested in improving all aspects of education, and the other sponsors agreed that taking ownership and responsibility of the current situation lays the foundation for moving forward.