At Labor-Management Conference, “C” Is for Collaboration — and More

Participants at the Labor-Management Collaboration Conference in discussions

DENVER—If we had a dollar for every time someone used the word “collaboration” at the Department of Education’s labor-management conference that wrapped Wednesday, the Department might not have needed financial support from the Ford Foundation to underwrite this first-ever gathering.

Collaboration, we learned through the conference’s plenary panels, breakout sessions and sidebar conversations, can take many forms in a community’s P-12 public school system. At its most basic, it relies on mutual respect among parties who occasionally have divergent viewpoints—school boards, superintendents and teachers unions and associations. At a minimum, everyone plays nice even when they disagree.

In its more advanced form, collaboration entails tackling challenges together as soon as they arise, or—as one participant put it in a tweet from the conference—wrestling with issues, not with each other. These districts cooperate to tackle such difficult issues as teacher evaluation, school design and schedules and compensation and benefits.

And in those school districts where a collaborative spirit is the most ingrained, stakeholders who don’t personally sit at the negotiating table are nevertheless engaged in order to tap their experience and know-how; in those situations, it’s not just their representatives coming up with all the solutions or making all of the decisions.

In addition to “collaboration,” there were two other “c” words we heard frequently in Denver:

  1. Commonality. The 150 school districts invited to this conference came from 40 states. About a third were from urban areas, another third from suburban and a third from small towns or rural areas. Some of the districts serve affluent communities, while others work with a very poor population. In total, they serve 4 million students. But regardless of their demographic and geographic differences, they found in discussing their experiences that they had quite a bit in common. “One thing I’ve learned is we’re not alone,” said Michael Denker, the president of the school board in Wagner, S.D. “Other people have the same problems you do—that’s for sure.”

  2. Consistency. In the places where adults collaborate well to serve students, it was not unusual to hear that those adults had grown up in the community—some attended the very same public schools they lead today—or they had otherwise been working alongside each other for years. Where there is low turnover among school superintendents, union leaders and school board members, it’s understandably easier to build trusting, enduring relationships. “This stuff takes time,” said Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, a conference co-sponsor. “It takes trust between administrators, school board members and teachers.”

In Secretary Duncan’s closing remarks to the 450 school superintendents, board leaders and teacher representatives who voluntarily came to Denver for the conference on Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration, he employed two more words that start with “c.” He praised the attendees for their courage, and he asked for their commitment to take what they learned back home and get to work on forging a new labor-management relationship that has students at the center.

“I think this is the start of something historic,” Arne said, “and I think you guys collectively are going to help lead the country where we’re going to go.

“My only request to you,” he continued, “is that you go ‘all in’ on this. We can’t hold back… We’ll do everything we can [at the Department of Education] to be a good partner.”

Similar pledges were made in the closing session by the leaders of the conference’s other co-sponsoring organizations—the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Watch a summary of Wednesday’s proceedings in this short video (below). See photos from the first day of the conference.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

All of the labor-management conference’s plenary sessions were webcast, and you can view archived video on the Department’s Ustream channel. A variety of blog posts and materials related to the conference are available on

Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, 150 school districts from across the United States will meet in Denver for a conference to address this question: in education, how can we transform the relationship between management and labor into a strong partnership for improving instruction and student achievement?

At this first-of-its-kind conference, participants will hear from other superintendents, school boards, and teacher union leaders who are working together to redefine the labor-management relationship in their communities. They’ll be asked to take a fresh look at their own unique relationship, and the policies and agreements that affect it. They’ll be invited to develop their own plans for redefining that relationship in their schools. Most importantly, they will do this critical work as a team; in order to attend the conference, each district is sending its superintendent, school board leader and the leader of its union or teachers association.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Funding to support the conference is being provided by the Ford Foundation.

Materials developed for the Feb. 15-16 conference are now available on You can find the agenda, presenters and attendees, the welcome message from conference sponsors, and principles of student-centered labor-management relationships at the “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration” website. The site will be updated with additional materials during the conference and after.

We invite you to visit the “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration” website!

ED Staff

Michigan Class Queries Cunningham on ED Policy

Cunningham standing and talking to students seated at a table

After speaking with Tracey Van Dusen's class, Peter Cunningham engages "Rising Scholar" students brought by Dr. Victor Kennerly and Tyrone Weeks to a presentation of Ann Arbor Public Schools' innovative programs, such as their lab school. The goal of the program is to address achievement disparities by reaching out to a diverse stream of under-served but high achieving students.

When I began my year as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, it was a priority of mine to bring my students into the experience as much as possible. My hopes were exceeded last month when my Advanced Placement Government and Politics students got a first-hand lesson in federal education policy from Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, Peter Cunningham.

After a morning visit with Detroit Public Schools, Mr. Cunningham traveled to my school — Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 21 . After giving us a brief description of his job, the Assistant Secretary talked about the Department’s work to recruit and reward high quality teachers and to support education reform taking place in schools across the country. He spent most of his time answering their questions, which ranged from inquiries about No Child Left Behind to whether he knows Rahm Emanuel.

I was proud of my students’ thoughtful comments about the importance of listening to student input when evaluating teachers, their concerns about “teaching to the test,” and the need for arts education.

“They’re more than just classes for me,” said one of Pioneer’s music students. “It’s who I am.”

While in Ann Arbor, Mr. Cunningham and I also conducted a round table conversation about education policy with teachers, and earlier the same day, we visited several schools in Detroit. I appreciate Mr. Cunningham’s visit, which provided a unique opportunity for me to visit and learn more about the Detroit schools and to give my students and colleagues a chance to contribute to our national conversation about education. When the bell rang to signal that class was over for my AP students, everyone was disappointed. After the kids applauded, Mr. Cunningham responded, “That was fun!”
And it was.

Cunningham looking over the shoulder of students

Peter Cunningham discusses with Western International High School students the real world applications of science experiments in understanding the damage of last year's Gulf oil spill. The high school is one of 34 Detroit Public Schools recently approved by the Michigan Department of Education to receive federal School Improvement Grant funds for turning around its academic achievement.

Cunningham talking with a teacher with Tracey Van Dusen standing on the left in a black coat

Cunningham and Van Dusen observe a 7th grade pre-algebra class at Burton International School for a first-hand look at Detroit Public Schools' new academic plan that provides students a daily "double dose" of reading and math. (Photos courtesy of Detroit Public Schools).

Tracey Van Dusen
Tracey Van Dusen is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow teaching AP Government and American Studies at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Next Generation of Teachers

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

President Obama and I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. It is the one factor that can prevent a person’s zip code from determining his or her destiny. During Black History Month, it’s important to reflect on where we must go as a nation to ensure that all children, regardless of race or ethnicity, are given the world-class education they deserve.

Yesterday at Morehouse College in Atlanta, I shared a stage with some great leaders who reminded me that the struggle for education has always been a matter of civil rights and that now more than ever it is imperative that we work to ensure all children have access to an excellent education. I joined Congressman John Lewis, director Spike Lee, Morehouse President Dr. Robert Franklin, and MSNBC’s Jeff Johnson as we spoke to a crowd of nearly 800 young men – both high school and college students – who are deciding their career trajectory. All of us onstage encouraged these high-achieving men to answer the call to serve their country in the classroom.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Close Up

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on a panel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia

The statistics paint a clear picture of where we need to go. Nearly 35% of our students in this country are Black or Hispanic, but less than 2% of our nation’s teachers are Black or Hispanic men. We need to change this so the teachers in our schools reflect the diversity of the students that they teach. It is for this reason, and because we must ensure that we have a new generation of great teachers, that the U.S. Department of Education launched the TEACH campaign this past September. The mission of TEACH is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of teachers in the classroom as we see the baby boomers retiring over the next ten years.

Morehouse College was the most appropriate place for our discussion. A century-old institution dedicated to the education of Black men, the College has an amazing history of producing civil rights leaders who became change agents for our country. The passion in the air was palpable as students shared their dreams for their future careers. I was inspired by the stories of several young men who are choosing to become teachers so that they can fill what they feel is a void of male role models in schools. Dr. Franklin reminded us of the words of perhaps the most famous Morehouse alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “We can all be great, because we can all serve.”

Dr. Franklin urged the students of Morehouse College, and to young African-American men everywhere, to answer the call to serve by being a teacher. After yesterday, I’m hopeful that many of them will answer that call.

For more information on teaching, and how you can start your pathway to the classroom, visit

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Wide View

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on a panel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia

Arne Duncan

Rural Charter School Makes Education Real for Students

The community of Walton, Kansas, has embraced a charter school as a tool for designing an educational program that is meaningful in their distant rural town.

Using a charter school grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center has fully integrated agriculture and project-based learning throughout its curriculum and established partnerships between local farms.

But agriculture is only one of many possible career paths for students at Walton, said Principal Natise Vogt. They learn science while raising chickens and gathering eggs, math and angles while making planter boxes, and both literacy and computer skills while researching wind energy generated by the turbine outside their windows.

Walton has used the flexibility of the charter program in innovative ways to add relevance to the curriculum for his rural students. Students learn by making tangible connections between their education, the community, and the larger global economy. As a result, Walton has seen community involvement and pride increase—along with higher test scores.

“Kids can be excited about learning, and want to learn when what they’re learning makes sense to them,” said Principal Vogt.

The President’s fiscal year 2011 budget requests a $54 million increase in the Charter School Grants Program, seeking $310 million and representing another step toward meeting the Administration’s commitment to double financial support for the program. Where it makes sense, grants from the charter schools program can serve as a tool for innovation in rural communities.

John White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

More information about the Charter Schools Program is available from the Education Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement at:

Watch a video telling the story of this compelling rural charter school.

View more photos.

Duncan Focuses on Fixing NCLB for Rural Schools

Secretary Duncan teamed up with John Hill, director of the National Rural Education Association, during a call to both journalists from rural communities and education writers who cover rural schools on Wednesday, January 26. The Secretary and Hill discussed the importance of fixing the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind that do not work for rural schools and answered questions from the media about the challenges and opportunities that rural schools have.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Senators Join Duncan to Discuss Fixing No Child Left Behind

Secretary Duncan was joined by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a national press call on January 26. The Senators, who currently serve on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Harkin chairs, called for fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.

Secretary Scores in Minnesota Science Classroom

Secretary Duncan with students at Crystal Lake Elementary School

Secretary Duncan with students at Crystal Lake Elementary School

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s professional basketball experience is well known, but Lakeville, Minnesota students were thrilled to experience his team playing on a very different “court” during his visit to Crystal Lake Elementary School with U.S. Rep. John Kline and Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in suburban Minneapolis Friday.

The three visitors each joined a team of Crystal Lake 4th graders for a rousing game of Jeopardy during science class, with Duncan among the “McFlurries,” Kline with the “Earthquakes,” and Cassellius a member of the “Ice Cubes.” Water was the theme of the classroom version for the longtime TV game show.

Kline’s team went first, choosing the category “waters to waters.” The question was, “type of precipitation depends on _____ outdoors?” The Earthquakes correctly responded with “temperatures,” and erupted with high-fives as they were awarded 50 points.

Tensions were thick for the McFlurries as they chose “water vocabulary” as their category and got the question, “crystals of ice can also be referred to ________?” Just seconds before the buzzer was sounded, Duncan’s teammate Tyler correctly blurted-out, “Snow!”

“That was clutch, boy!” exclaimed the Secretary to his beaming teammates as they celebrated the victory.

In response to students’ questions afterwards, Duncan confirmed that he does get to play basketball with the President. He also discussed the tougher aspects of his position, noting that he gets “a lot of homework” every night, including hefty reading assignments.

The Secretary, Kline and Cassellius also visited a 2nd grade English Language Learners classroom, which read a welcome letter to the visitors.

Duncan preceded the school visit with a speech hosted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to business, community and political leaders about the important link between education and economic prosperity, and how the President’s agenda supports reform on the K-12 level and makes college affordable for students.

“I think we’re fighting for our nation’s economic security,” he said, noting earlier that about 25% of all students currently choose to drop-out of high school, although there are virtually no good job opportunities available to them. “In a globally-competitive, knowledge-based economy, those with low skills are going to lose. Those communities with high skills and a highly-educated workforce will be successful.”

More Photos

ED staff

New Education Dashboard Brings Greater Transparency to Data

At an education stakeholders’ meeting today, Secretary Duncan announced the launch of an online tool designed to help educators, parents, students, and policy makers “have a much more transparent conversation” about what is working—and what is not working—in American education today.

Called the Education Dashboard, the site offers all 50 states’ pre-kindergarten-12th grade data around 16 key indicators that are tied to the nation’s educational goals, as well as some measures of states’ postsecondary systems. Specifically, the indicators focus on measuring progress toward realizing the President’s vision that by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller explained at today’s launch that the key indicators in the Dashboard were selected because they are relevant, reliable, and measurable across all 50 states. While some of the data have been seen before, much of the information is new, including information about which state systems allow student achievement data to be incorporated into evaluations for teachers and disparities in funding between high- and low-poverty schools.

According to Miller, the data indicate that “we are a far cry from where we need to be” and show a “wide variation in what we see in both performance and trends” between states. Secretary Duncan described the Education Dashboard as a starting point, a tool to “increase the visibility and increase the debate” about best practices and how to results for students.

The Dashboard can be found at The Department welcomes feedback on the new site, which users can submit via links throughout the Dashboard.

Laurie Calvert
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from her position teaching at Enka High School in Buncombe County, N.C.

Secretaries Duncan and Geithner Host Student and Parent Town Hall on Paying for College

Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler

Secretary Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and D.C.'s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler

We cannot underestimate the impact of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on 9.4 million students nationwide. This tax credit will make college more affordable for our future business leaders, scientists and teachers and help families struggling with rising tuition bills and growing student loans.

—Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Expanded tuition tax credits for working class families, larger Pell Grants for low-income students, and making student loans more affordable for all college graduates were on the docket today as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, D.C.’s Wilson High School Assistant Principal Charlette Butler, nearly 50 Wilson seniors, their teachers, parents and community leaders at the University of the District of Columbia for a town-hall style forum on the Administration’s efforts to ensure all Americans reach their college dreams. (See photos.) Wilson High School, the District’s largest comprehensive high school and boasting an impressive 90% college-going rate among graduates, is currently housed on the UDC campus while a $100 million renovation is being completed at the high school campus.

The town hall forum commenced with Secretaries Duncan and Geithner extolling the benefits of the recently extended and enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The credit, initially created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and extended through 2012 as part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, provides families with college tuition expenses the opportunity to claim a tax credit of up to $2,500 each year for up to four years per student. For students claiming the maximum credit for these four years, the AOTC will provide up to $10,000 to help pay for the cost of college.

The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 of expenses, and 25 percent of remaining expenses, up to a total credit of $2,500. The maximum available credit for 2011 would cover about 80 percent of tuition and fees at the average two-year public institution, or about a third of tuition and fees at the average four-year public institution. In addition, the AOTC is partially refundable, meaning that low-income families with no federal income tax liability can receive up to a $1,000 tax refund to help defray college expenses.

Secretary Geithner unveiled a new Treasury Department analysis showing that 9.4 million families with college students across the nation will benefit from over $18.2 billion in tax relief to help make college more affordable and accessible in 2011. He further noted that in the District of Columbia, the Wilson Class of 2011 and nearly 16,000 families of enrolled college students across the city will be eligible to file for the tax credit this year. For parents and students struggling to pay college tuition and fees or budgeting for future student loan debt, this partially-refundable tax credit will make a positive difference in their lives.

Wilson students and parents inquired about the range of federal initiatives to assist low-income families with the rising costs of college and engaged the Secretaries on the Administration’s historic increases in the Pell Grants program as well as access to Federally subsidized student loans and college work-study programs; discussed actions taken to simplify and streamline the FAFSA form and federal financial aid process and pressed the Secretaries for opinions on the future passage of college access legislation for immigrant families like the DREAM Act. Angela Benjamin, a physics teacher at Wilson, and feted at the forum by Secretary Duncan for her recent designation as one of the seven most effective teachers in DC Public Schools, asked about the benefits of the recently expanded income-based repayment program (IBR) and whether its existing loan forgiveness provisions for teachers would be “grandfathered in” for experienced educators like herself. To the delight of the crowd, Duncan replied, “Angela, me and you lose on this one”.

However, for millions of America’s future college graduates and our nation’s future public servants, IBR will make a huge difference in their personal finances and ability to afford their student loan payments. Under IBR, borrowers who assume loans after July 1, 2014 will be able to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. If they make their payments, all borrowers will have loan balances forgiven after 20 years. Teachers, nurses and other public servants will have any remaining student loan debt forgiven after 10 years.

To read more about what Secretary Duncan and Geithner wrote about today’s visit and the benefits of AOTC, see their blog post.

Click here for an accessible version of the video.

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Educating Our Way to a Better Economy

Secretary Arne Duncan joined Labor Secretary Hilda Solis today to announce a historic $2 billion investment in helping meet the President’s goal of having the “most-educated, most-competitive workforce in the world by 2020″: the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program.

In our globally competitive, knowledge-based economy, employers need workers with postsecondary skills, credentials, and degrees. Our postsecondary institutions must dramatically increase their completion rates and build partnerships with industry to ensure that the skills that are being taught are the skills employers need.

These grants also represent one of the largest expansions of access to high-quality job training and educational resources in history. They are designed to use evidence to replicate success, build institutional capacity to use evidence to increase outcomes, and build a body of evidence to inform investment decisions. All learning materials created in this process—from full courses to textbooks—will be made freely available online. Additionally, institutions can apply to develop a new generation of high-quality, cutting-edge shared courses and resources to help students learn more quickly at lower costs.

This program is being run by the Department of Labor, in close collaboration with the Department of Education.

You can find the Department of Labor’s press release at

You can find the solicitation for grant applications at

Amy Laitinen
Office of Vocational and Adult Education

i3: Change for Education Paradigms

i3: Change for Education Paradigms

Speaking at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo on January 20, Secretary Duncan discusses roadblocks to education innovation with Aspen President and CEO, Walter Isaacson. “It’s not a technology challenge,” Arne Duncan explains. “It’s a courage challenge.”

On Tuesday, some of our country’s most creative minds converged in Washington, DC for the first Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Project Directors’ Meeting.

The meeting brought together project directors and staff from school districts and non-profits who last year won grants as part of the Department’s i3 competition – a grant program that supports local efforts to start and expand research-based innovations that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes in high need districts. In September, the Department announced that 49 school districts, non-profit organizations, and institutions of higher learning were selected from a pool of nearly 1,700 applicants to receive a share of the $650 million fund.

The two-day event, organized by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, provided an opportunity to recognize the innovative projects successful applicants are undertaking, to facilitate networking among grantees, and to provide training in grant management and evaluation design.

Attendees participated in a number of breakout sessions and heard from a great line up of speakers including a surprise guest, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Addressing the packed hall, Secretary Duncan talked about the tremendous hope he felt being in a room with so many bold education innovators. “All of you represent the great hope of where our country can go,” he said. “If the collective force of this room can be replicated, we will really be able to break through as a country.”

Secretary Duncan also discussed the Department of Education’s aspiration to be a powerful engine of innovation, rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy. He acknowledged that Washington doesn’t have all of the answers, and that many of the best ideas will come from communities across the country.

That’s why i3 grants were awarded to bold applicants like the Beaverton School District, which (in partnership with Young Audiences Oregon and Southwest Washington, Young Audiences Arts for Learning National Office, and the University of Washington) will use its grant to develop and implement a novel academic program focused on improving achievement in literacy, learning, and life skills among high-need students.

Speaking Thursday at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum, Secretary Duncan continued to argue that the current global environment “compels us to challenge the status quo” with innovative thinking. “The education sector has been slow to transform how we do education,” he said. He encouraged innovators at the forum to bring forward products and services that help students to learn better and faster, indicating that there will be a market for products that help schools to achieve dramatically better results. “There are lots of folks who can do well by doing good,” he said. “We’re changing the rules of the paradigm.” (See photos from the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo.)

To learn more about other winning i3 applicants, check here (PDF, 285K).

To view excerpts from the i3 conference, click these links:  Monica Beglau and the i3 project, Philip Poekert, and Cindy Pulkowski.

ED Staff