Teaching Profession

EdWeek Unveils Special Report on Labor-Management Collaboration

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 16, 2011 2 min read
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We here at Education Week are happy to announce a new special report, Joining Forces, on the concept of labor-management collaboration, reported and written by myself and several of my colleagues.

Just as with last year’s special report on professional development, this is a very conceptual topic to write about. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find a lot of different ideas about what the term “collaboration” means in an education setting, how to do it well, even whether it’s a good idea.

While the report doesn’t come to any firm conclusions about these issues, we’ve tried to get you thinking about them in somewhat deeper, more meaningful ways.

Though it wasn’t an intentional decision, several of the stories deal with the issue of teacher evaluations. In retrospect, that makes some sense, given that it’s an area in which, to be frank, neither districts nor unions have done a particularly good job leading the way.

Not long ago, I had a chance to ask the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, about this issue, and she acknowledged evaluations as a critical area in which both unions and administrators have fallen short:

“What we should have been doing—which we did not do—was to take ownership of the professional development and evaluation of teachers. And when management didn’t do its job, we turned a blind eye,” she said.

There are a couple of other things worth pointing out here. Pragmatism came up a lot in these stories; you see a lot of teachers’ unions really working outside their comfort areas on things like evaluation, sometimes eagerly and sometimes a bit begrudgingly, but always at the table.

The initiatives have pressed administrators in new ways, too: On more than one occasion while performing interviews for these series, I’d be chatting with one of them and an issue would come up, and the administrator would need to drop everything and get on the phone with his or her union counterpart. The moral of the story: You’d better up that cell phone contract if you plan on collaborating, because you’ll need it.

I am also glad that I had a chance to feature the Lucia Mar district in California. Of the three profiled in the report, the district is in my opinion probably dealing with a local context and set of issues that is most representative of the average U.S. district. Most districts, after all, are not the size of Memphis, Tenn.; thinking about what collaboration looks like on a smaller scale is a really important part of this conversation.

The district is in the beginning phases of implementing the TAP school improvement model, the first such instance in the state of California. It’s really going to come under the microscope as a result of pioneering this. Nevertheless, I did get the sense that despite the many moving parts, both union leader and superintendent want the effort to be successful and embraced by teachers.

Most of all, I want to thank the teachers who shared with us openly and honestly about their experiences on the ground working through some of these new initiatives.

Enough of my babbling—read the series and let us know what you think.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.

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