May 31, 2011

Jobs With Justice

Partnerships in Education: How Labor-Management Collaboration Is Transforming Public Schools

Public education has always been a path to achieving the American Dream. And if education is the blueprint to the dream, then our nation’s teachers are the architects. Educating America’s children is not only about individual student achievement; it’s about building the next generation of thinkers, leaders, workers, and citizens who will sustain our nation’s greatness.

But today, our nation’s future is on the line. As state and local governments with cash-strapped budgets consider cost-saving strategies that involve ending collective bargaining rights for educators, they are essentially compromising the education of our children and the future of our communities. How? Because the partnerships that come out of teachers’ unions provide a way for teachers and administrators to work together to build great schools. Revoking the right of teachers to collectively bargain significantly undermines their ability to focus on what’s most important—our children’s success.

In American Rights at Work Education Fund’s Partnerships in Education: How Labor-Management Collaboration Is Transforming Public Schools, we highlight strong labor-management partnerships between teachers’ unions, represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), and administrations that are transforming schools in communities from coast to coast. For these students, collective bargaining has provided a path for their teachers and administrators to work together to find solutions and create opportunities. And their success points to the urgent need to protect teachers’ right to collectively bargain—not just for the sake of a dwindling middle class, but for students and their communities, too.

The report focuses on nine school districts from across the country where student achievement is flourishing through the work of labor-management partnerships. In these schools, teachers’ unions are working together as equal partners with school officials to provide a better education for all students, using collective bargaining as a tool to foster innovation and problem solving at a time when America’s schools need it most. Through coordination, collaboration, and partnership, these districts have made students’ needs their number one priority. And as a result, children, their families, and their communities are thriving.

At these schools districts, responsibility for student success is shared—together, teachers and administrators celebrate what works and identify areas that need improvement. The result has been improved academic performance across socio-economic divides, increased parent engagement, and more resilient communities.

At John Muir Elementary in Merced, California, the administration and the union refocused reform efforts based on a strategy of “meeting students where they’re at.” The school has created targeted professional development programs, reduced class sizes, and provided intervention assistance for kids who are struggling. Similarly, the labor-management partnership in the Charlotte County Public Schools in Florida establishes core curriculums and the best teaching methods for all ages of learning, with priorities like a balanced curriculum, flexible on-site teams, and family involvement. At Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the teachers’ union and administrators established the Promise-Readiness Corps, enabling teachers to offer students the academic, social, and emotional support they need to develop a sense of ambition for success beyond high school.

These partnerships also promote increased involvement from parents, leading to greater student success. In Los Angeles County, California, at Pharis F. Fedde Middle School, administrators, teachers, and parents work together to ensure school learning remains consistent with the changing needs of their students. Meanwhile, union members and management jointly redeveloped Delaware Elementary School in Evansville, Indiana, into an equity school, where teachers and the administration maintain consistent communication with parents. At both schools, increased interaction between parents and the school has enabled educators to get to the heart of what their children are experiencing in the classroom, resulting in more effective instruction and more engaged students.

Even beyond parents, these partnerships have a track record of bringing entire communities together. After all, public schools remain the heart of local communities. They bring families together to share in the common goals of educating children and keeping communities inclusive and strong. Partnerships among parents, families, and communities are essential to quality public education and student success. At the Ignacio Cruz Early Childhood Center in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the administration and the union agree that community engagement is a priority. From the first day of student registration to graduation and beyond, parents are provided opportunities to increase their stake in their child’s education. Meanwhile, at Ethel M. Taylor Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio—one of nine Community Learning Centers in the district—administrators and teachers developed a comprehensive program of services, including physical and mental health care, arts and culture, and adult education, that has unified the Cincinnati community and improved student performance.

In Columbus, Ohio, the discussion surrounding Linden McKinley STEM Academy’s ability to close the achievement gaps was community-wide, involving more than 300 parents, business leaders, teachers, administrators, and faith and political leaders in community meetings. Likewise, Compadres in Education, a program based at Putnam City West High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to address low academic achievement among Hispanic students, has experienced a surge of interest and involvement from the community since its inception. Since community engagement became a priority, student performance and graduation rates have been on the rise.

As a whole, the schools in Partnerships in Education feature a culture of collaboration based on trust and professional integrity. These labor-management partnerships create benefits not just for schools and students, but families and communities. And they’re a testament to the fact that when everyone has a seat at the table, our children thrive and communities flourish. Download the full report.

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