By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
The first-ever Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration conference was held Feb. 15-16 in Denver, and was attended by several CTA members who gave it mixed reviews. One hundred and fifty district teams — consisting of a teachers union leader, administrator and school board member — were selected by lottery to attend the conference designed to bridge the differences between labor and management. Teams pledged to work together collaboratively. Attendees spent two days in seminars led by presenting districts about reform models, and then teams regrouped for collaboration time.
The conference was sponsored by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in collaboration with the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, and others. It was funded by the Ford Foundation.
Duncan, in his opening remarks, urged administration and union leaders to put an end to “ceaseless conflict,” and noted that collaboration is not for cowards. He told participants that he did not expect teams to emerge with new agreements, but was hoping for progress.
Here’s what CTA attendees had to say:
president of the Monterey Bay Teachers Association
“I was intrigued by the possibilities of working collaboratively with my district. We’ve done some things in the past that have worked to everyone’s benefit, and I wanted to find out what else was out there to help us improve the performance of students, teachers and the district as a whole. I brought back some tips on how to identify projects we can work on collaboratively and ways that we can build trust among teachers, administrators and school board members to improve communication. During sessions with other districts I found labor-management collaboration models that were useful and valuable and that we could clone outright or do a variation of. I had no interest in discussing ways of linking student performance to teacher test scores or merit pay.”Aaron Williamson,
president of the Ravenswood District Teachers Association
“I felt that merit pay and value-added assessment and doing away with due process were the hidden agenda behind this conference. I went to one workshop that promoted ‘innovation grants’ given by government, but to me the word ‘innovation’ meant throwing out the bargaining contract and union busting altogether. I felt like I had a target on my back in that room. But it was a valuable experience to be part of the dialogue. I wanted to understand the issues more in depth from a union perspective and a nonunion perspective, since education is under attack from every angle. I did appreciate presentations about how other districts are revamping their teacher evaluation systems. I think we can all agree that the current system doesn’t work. Some districts implemented extreme value-added evaluation systems, and other districts opted for multiple measures including peer evaluation. It was interesting to see districts willing to take risks and try pilot projects.”Arielle Zurzolo,
president of Asociación de Maestros Unidos (and presenter for Green Dot Public Schools)
“I was extremely glad to be part of the national conversation about school reform. I am proud of the reform efforts that my district is part of, including site-based decision making, a professional workday, and joint union-management committees. Working on a collaborative relationship between unions and management is best for students. Management has responsibilities that they must honor while making decisions (sustainability, etc.), and unions have different responsibilities (teacher autonomy, etc.), but the common interest should be student success. If conversations can be centered around this, with mutual understanding of everyone’s other responsibilities, a collaborative relationship can ensue.”Lloyd Walzer,
president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association
“I met with our superintendent and school board president for over an hour to discuss how we will incorporate the conference goals of improving student achievement through labor-management collaboration. We agreed to have transparent communications and to meet regularly to re-evaluate our progress toward improving student achievement. It was a fine opportunity for us to get to know each other in a nonthreatening way.”Tyra Weis,
president of Associated Pomona Teachers
“Our district is ahead of the game when it comes to collaboration. We are already communicating, and this conference made it clear to us that we are on the right path. We saw paths we don’t want to go down — value-added teacher assessment and merit pay. I was in an audience two years ago where Mr. Duncan was soundly booed, and I was one of the people booing. I’m not cheering now, but I’m glad not to be booing. I was happy to be included in this discussion, but as an educator, I expect to be part of the discussion. If you’re not at the table, you’ll find yourself on the menu. ”Greg Gadams,
president of the Fresno Teachers Association
“I went out of curiosity to see what was being proposed at the national level. I wanted to see what was being said in the room, and I wanted to have the opportunity to say that value-added assessment, or tying teacher evaluations to test scores, is not the way to go. But the format wasn’t set up so that you could do that. In the main room with Duncan, the message he kept hitting on was value-added assessment and financial incentives (merit pay) for teachers. I didn’t feel the conference was worthwhile, although it would have been so if we had been able to discuss the real issues.”John Ennis,
president of the Twin Rivers United Educators
“In many cities and states there are reforms in place, and they’re worth watching and evaluating. These reforms are not going away. It is better to get on board and participate than to be left behind. As long as collective bargaining and binding arbitration are in place, what is there to be feared? This could be a way to steer federal officials away from the Race to the Top nonsense.”