Center for American Progress

Union-Management Collaboration Can Help Public Schools
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Union-Management Collaboration Can Help Public Schools

Union-management collaboration improves and restructures public schools from the inside to enhance planning, decision-making, problem solving, and the ways teachers interact and schools are organized.

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For most of the past decade the policy debate over improving U.S. public education has centered on teacher quality. In this debate, teachers and their unions have often been seen as the problem, not part of the solution. Further, current discourse often assumes that conflicting interests between teacher unions and administration is inevitable. What is missing in the discussion, however, is a systems perspective on the problem of public school reform that looks at the way schools are organized, and the way decisions are made. Most public schools today continue to follow an organizational design better suited for 20th century mass production than educating students in the 21st century.

"Reforming Public School Systems Through Sustained Union-Management Collaboration," a paper by Saul A. Rubinstein and John E. McCarthy, offers an alternate path in this debate—a counterstory that looks at schools as systems. It focuses on examples of collaboration among stakeholders through the creation of labor-management partnerships among teachers’ unions, school administrators, and school boards. These partnerships improve and restructure public schools from the inside to enhance planning, decision-making, problem solving, and the ways teachers interact and schools are organized.

Rubinstein and McCarthy base their findings on the analysis of six excellent examples of how teachers and their unions have been critical to improving public education systems in collaboration with administration. The six case studies included in this report were not selected randomly and are not intended to be a representative sample of all school districts nationally. Rather, the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, recognized these districts as having a lengthy track record of innovation, and because they appear to have institutionalized a long-term collaborative partner- ship between administration and the local teachers’ union centered around school improvement, student achievement, and teacher quality.

This report is an effort to analyze and improve understanding of how these innovative districts have fostered collaborative approaches to curriculum development, scheduling, budgeting, strategic planning, hiring, subject articulation, interdisciplinary integration, mentoring, professional development, and evaluation, among others.

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