Celebrating Collaboration and Race to the Top

Image of Secretary Duncan visiting a classroom at Howard High

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visit a classroom and talk to students at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, March, 21, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Secretary Duncan joined Vice President Joe Biden earlier today in Wilmington, Del., to celebrate the first anniversary of Race to the Top, and to highlight the importance of collaboration between labor and management.  Delaware received $100 million in Race to the Top funding one year ago, and the grant has helped the state make significant progress in improving its education system.

Race to the Top is the most meaningful education reform program in a generation. It rewards states that have comprehensive plans to adopt college- and career-ready standards, build data systems, create policies to support great teachers and leaders, and turn around low-performing schools.  Read Delaware’s Race to the Top application for more information on their plan to implement positive reforms. The Department awarded Race to the Top grants to 10 other states and the District of Columbia to support their bold reform plans.

Today’s visit also highlights Delaware’s successful labor and management collaboration, and follows on the success of the U.S. Department of Education’s recent Labor-Management Collaboration Conference in Denver, which brought together leaders from over 150 school districts.  Secretary Duncan recently noted that he and President Obama “are convinced that labor and management can collaborate to solve many of our nation’s enduring educational challenges. And we believe that progress more often follows tough-minded collaboration than tough-minded confrontation.”

More background information on today’s visit can be found through the White House, and don’t forget to subscribe to ED’s blog to keep up-to-date on all education matters.

Helping States Address Budget Pressures

Across the country, governments at every level are facing enormous financial pressures. Many school districts are facing layoffs, reductions in state funding, and massive budget deficits.

Secretary Duncan calls these challenging financial times “The New Normal,” and to assist states, the Department of Education today released promising practices that offer some options to states and communities on the effective, efficient, and responsible use of resources in tight budget times.

In a letter to governors, Secretary Duncan noted that these options are entirely voluntary and entirely a matter of state and local discretion. He also challenged stakeholders, from elected officials at all levels to school administrators, school boards, and teacher leaders, to work with governors in achieving the very best outcome for students during tough economic times.

Click here to read the documents attached to Secretary Duncan’s letter to governors.

A Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow Reflects on Accomplishments of the Denver Labor Management Collaboration Conference

Steve Owens, a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.

Steve Owens, a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.

The Labor Management Collaboration Conference in Denver was the Department of Education at its best, connecting people, ideas and resources and setting a vision for change.

The 150 participating districts, each represented by a union president, superintendent, and a board leader, met Secretary Duncan’s challenge for school districts to find new ways to do business together in ways that honor the end goal of the educational enterprise: excellent student learning.

During the event, I was part of a team of 13 past and present Teaching Ambassador Fellows performing qualitative research on the presenting districts, all of which had achieved distinction for their pioneering efforts in labor/management collaboration. Our job was to find strategies that would enable these successful collaborations to be available to districts just beginning the journey.

The district I studied is in Plattsburgh, NY, a small rural city on the Vermont border, just 25 miles from Canada. During the Plattsburgh presentation, Superintendent Jake Short challenged participants to “find a reason to do business differently, and then do it.” In Plattsburgh, where union and management work together to solve each other’s problems, trust, integrity and shared responsibility are keys to a relationship in which the true purpose of education, student achievement, is always at the forefront.

As the president of a Vermont NEA local affiliate (and a veteran of multiple traditional adversarial negotiations), I found the Plattsburgh approach both refreshing and timely. Short, union president Rod Sherman, and board vice-chair Tracy Rotz, were unbelievably generous with their time as I probed to discover the dispositions, skills, knowledge, and language fueling their success in order to share it with others.

The conference was transformative, setting a bold vision and connecting people, ideas and resources, to make it possible. Tracy Rotz noted that at the event everyone came together for a common purpose: to benefit students.

Steve Owens
Steve Owens is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.

Secretary Duncan and National Education Leaders Discuss the Future of Labor-Management Collaboration on Press Call

Yesterday in a call with reporters, Secretary Arne Duncan and leaders from national education organizations reflected on ideas discussed at the labor-management conference in Denver this week. Listen to the call Audio icon.

Participants in the call included:

  • Arne Duncan, Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
  • Anne L. Bryant, Executive Director, National School Boards Association
  • Michael Casserly, Executive Director, Council of the Great City Schools
  • George H. Cohen, Director, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
  • Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators
  • Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
  • Darren Walker, Vice President, Ford Foundation

Helena Embraces Problem-Solving Approach to Attract the Best Teachers

Helena Embraces Problem-Solving Approach to Attract the Best Teachers

Bruce Messinger, Superintendent, Helena Public Schools; Tammy Pilcher, President, Helena Education Association; Michael O’Neil, Board Chair, Helena Public Schools; Larry Nielson, Field Consultant, MEA-MFT.

To meet the needs of their 8,145 rural students, Helena Public Schools and the Helena Education Association adopted a 2009-10 Master Agreement focused on a problem-solving approach called “consensus negotiations.” Included in the agreement is a plan that includes shared decision-making to foster trust and respect among stakeholders and to attract the best teachers.

Superintendent Bruce Messinger described their work as uniquely collaborative. “If we had to do one thing in our presentation,” said Messinger at the Labor Management Collaboration Conference, “we would talk about the consensus process.”

To attract and reward exceptional teaching, the district and Helena Education Association created an innovative compensation plan that was attainable, affordable, and accountable. Called the Professional Compensation Alternative Plan (PCAP), the agreement provides opportunities and rewards for professional growth and offers a career ladder with 25 steps. The top step’s salary is almost $10,000 higher than that of the traditional scale. Board of Education Trustee Don Jones, explained, “Having the best teachers that you can possibly get in your district is the number one consideration. It’s that person in front of our kids and you want (him or her) to be one of the best. It’s the best thing we can do for our students. Generally to get the best, you need to be willing to pay for the best.”

Moving up the PCAP scale requires completion of an approved career development plan and successful supervisory evaluations, rather than a specified number of years of service. The school board and district leaders also partner with teachers through establishment of a fund to pay for professional development, including sabbatical leaves, tuition and fee reimbursements, and other professional growth opportunities.

Helena also provides support for new teachers by placing them with experienced, master mentors and giving them time to observe each other or other master teachers. Tenured teachers can choose to be a part of the “Professional Growth Strand,” the purpose of which is to promote professional growth, to involve teachers and administrators in cooperative discussions and planning, and to encourage working together for the accomplishment of school goals. Time and resources are provided for peer collaboration, observation, and data collection. Supervisors serve as coaches and facilitators.

Helena schools also recognize that effective principals recruit and support the best teachers. As a result, the district is piloting the Vanderbilt Assessment for Leadership in Education VAL-ED), evaluating administrators based on the learning-centered leadership research literature that aligns to the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards.

How was Helena able to accomplish so much? In their breakout session, Superintendent Messinger explained the revelation that came to labor, management and the board after focusing on the best outcomes. “Once we took away the fear that everyone was trying to take advantage of each other—that the reality is when we all got in the circle together and said we all really want to accomplish the same thing—we quit spending so much time pushing back against each other and put our energy pushing forward together.”

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 ED.gov.

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools: Collaboration Over Competition

Conference Participant, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools Focuses on Collaboration over Competition

Left to right: Tripp Jeffers, President, Forsyth County Association of Educator; Donny C. Lambeth, Chairman, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education; Arne Duncan; Don Martin, Superintendent; Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. (Photo courtesy of Tripp Jeffers via Twitter.)

At this week’s labor-management conference, 150 teams of districts are meeting to discuss ways to work together to improve student achievement. The fifth largest school system in North Carolina and the 83rd largest in the country, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools is one of many districts there that has cultivated a strong, collaborative relationship among with labor leaders.

In the Winston-Salem district, the long-standing relationship between the Forsyth County Association of Educators (FCAE) and the district has supported several of innovative projects:

  • Annual surveys of teachers, first developed collaboratively more than 20 years ago, capture information about working climate and school conditions. The data are used to inform professional development activities and principals’ evaluations.
  • FCAE members serve on multiple committees at the district level, sharing responsibility with district leaders and board of education members for initiatives such as the district’s grant from the Department’s Teacher Incentive Fund and Race to the Top applications.
  • FCAE participates in the district’s Teacher Advisory Committee, which allows for teacher input in district vision and policy.

The district uses the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Process (adopted in 2008). FCAE provides the teacher training on the evaluation process, which asks principals to assess teacher progress using a rubric that details four levels of performance (Developing, Proficient, Accomplished, and Distinguished). Ratings are based on classroom observations and examples of work compiled by teachers as evidence of their practice. Beginning this school year, documentation for at least one standard must include an example of student growth data, including SAS EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) results or other approved measures. The local and state teachers’ associations collaborate to provide much of the targeted professional development given to teachers as part of the evaluation and growth process.

Superintendent Donald Martin says the value of the relationship with the teachers’ association is immeasurable. “It is hard to put into words,” he says, “the value of a collaborative relationship with the teachers’ association that is built on mutual trust. The residual benefits are great, and we probably take them for granted.”

Teamwork Underway at Denver Conference

Teamwork Underway at Denver ConferenceDenver—They arrived in groups of three—a superintendent, a school board chair and a teachers union leader—but by dinnertime on day one, the threesomes that had traveled together to ED’s first-ever conference on labor-management collaboration could be seen chatting in groups of six and nine. They had come to Denver to learn ways to raise student achievement by working better as a team, and here they connected with others facing similar challenges.

The conference—full name: Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration—began Tuesday with Secretary Duncan framing the event’s goals and articulating 10 key areas of challenge and opportunity in implementing student-centered principles.

“When this conference is over,” Arne told the attendees from 150 districts in 40 states, “I hope you will leave with at least two messages of hope. First and foremost, student success must be the heart of the labor-management relationship… The second message I hope you will take away from this conference is the importance of a new narrative in school reform.”

The “tale of ceaseless conflict between labor and management” needs to be re-written, Arne said. And the 12 districts that are presenting their success stories at this conference demonstrated in breakout sessions Tuesday afternoon that it is more than possible for adults to behave like grown-ups and focus on the interests of children.

Too often, conflict between a school district’s management and its union captures the headlines, but the real story is that “teamwork works,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which is co-sponsoring the conference along with 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.

The conference wraps up Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 16. You can watch Wednesday’s plenary sessions live on the Department of Education’s Ustream channel and explore materials provided to attendees on ED.gov’s page dedicated to the conference.

Watch a summary of Tuesday’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.

Conference Promotes Labor-Management Collaboration

School districts and labor leaders from across the country are convening in Denver for the two-day conference on Labor Management collaboration.  The first-of-its-kind conference aims to identify ways that collaborative relationships, policies and agreements can more directly drive student achievement.  In total, 150 districts will be represented by their superintendent, school board president, and labor leader.

Many of the participating districts have already developed diverse and innovative approaches for navigating the challenges of labor-management collaboration – approaches that allow them to meet the unique needs of their communities while maintaining a consistent focus on student achievement.

In host city Denver, they have the ProComp system that rewards whole schools and individual teachers for learning gains and for working in hard-to-staff schools.

In Baltimore, the district and the union have set up management committees to facilitate their new contract, which includes a new program jointly focused on professional development and student learning.

And in Los Angeles, the Green Dot Public Schools contract sets aside preparation time and defines the teacher workday by areas of responsibility rather than hours.

These districts and many others across the country are pointing the way forward.  They exemplify what’s possible when labor and management work together to boost student achievement, and they embody the 10 key “Principles in Action” that the conference is focused around:

  1. Strategic Direction-Setting
  2. Clear and Shared Responsibility for Academic Outcomes of All Students
  3. Supporting the Growth and Improvement of Teachers and Leaders
  4. School Design, Schedules, Teacher Workload, and Time
  5. Teacher Evaluation
  6. Administrator Evaluation
  7. School Board Evaluation
  8. Transfer, Assignment, and Reduction in Force
  9. Compensation and Benefits
  10. Dynamic Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

These districts also echo principles outlined in “A New Compact for Student Success,” which lays out core tenets of student-centered labor-management relationships.  Written collaboratively by the Department and conference co-sponsors, the compact calls on school boards, district and building administrators, and teachers’ union leaders to acknowledge their shared responsibility to establish a strong and stable school environment, and to give educators resources and tools to transform all schools so that all students receive a genuine opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

For more information about the conference, click here.

Leaders from 40 States Expected at Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration

Leaders from 40 states representing more than 1 million African American students are expected to participate in the conference on labor-management collaboration Feb. 15-16 in Denver.

On Feb. 16, Secretary Duncan and national education leaders will discuss the future of labor-management collaboration in a call with reporters.

For more information, including an updated list of the 150 school districts expected to participate in the conference, please see the Feb. 14 press release.

ED Staff

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 ED.gov. 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

Education Funders Conference Call

On Monday, the day before the President’s State of the Union Address, the Department of Education hosted the first quarterly conference call of 2011 for education funders with Secretary Arne Duncan.

Secretary Duncan talked about the importance of reauthorizing ESEA, maintaining momentum for state and local education reform when education systems are facing huge budget cuts, the recent Aspen Innovation in Education Forum & Expo, the upcoming conference on Labor-Management Collaboration for Student Success, and the TEACH campaign.

Listen to the call. Audio icon Read the transcript.