Center for American Progress

CAP Reports Find Education Reform Accomplished by Labor-Management Partnerships
Press Release

CAP Reports Find Education Reform Accomplished by Labor-Management Partnerships

Negotiations Involving Illinois Teachers, Unions, Administrators and School Boards Expected to Produce Tangible Results for Local School Districts

Washington, D.C.—Last month, Illinois Senate Bill 7, designed to overhaul state policies on teacher hiring, tenure, workforce reductions and dismissal procedures, was signed into law after intense negotiations, involving a comprehensive stakeholder process that included legislators, education advocates, management organizations, and teacher unions. Today, the Center for American Progress released “Reforming Public School Systems Through Sustained Union-Management Collaboration,”showing that labor-management partnerships are critical to improving public education systems, and “Illinois: The New Leader in Education Reform?,” which focuses on the use of these partnerships in the successful passage of Illinois Senate Bill 7.

“Collaboration between teachers, their unions, administrators, and school boards is both possible and necessary for any meaningful and lasting public school reform,” said Cynthia G. Brown, vice president for education policy at CAP. “Despite the prevailing assumption that conflicting interests between teacher unions and administration is inevitable, we are seeing that, when included in the conversation, teachers and their unions are able to effectively contribute to efforts aimed at improving teacher quality.”

Reforming Public School Systems Through Sustained Union-Management Collaboration,” by Saul A. Rubenstein and John E. McCarthy, documents how these efforts were created and sustained over the past two decades, and what they can teach us about the impact of significant faculty involvement and local union leadership, in close concert with district administration, within the process of school system restructuring. The school districts studied were chosen deliberately, representing urban, rural, large and small areas across the country, sharing lengthy track records of innovation and the appearance of institutionalized long-term collaborative partnerships between administration and local teachers unions, centered on school improvement, student achievement, and teacher quality. As such, they offer common themes and patterns that can be tested through larger samples and surveys. Key recommendations from this study include:

  • Shared decision-making in school improvement should take place at both the district-level as well in the schools themselves.
  • Successful union-management collaboration in public school reform must focus on substantive areas affecting the quality of teaching or student achievement.
  • The development of peer-to-peer networks of teachers will improve the quality of instruction.
  • Formal structures at the district and school level must co-exist with strong cultures of collaboration, with school boards and the community, to inform approaches to planning and decision-making, as well as hiring decisions.

Illinois: The New Leader in Education Reform?,” by Elliot Regenstein, details the history that laid the groundwork for the passage of S.B. 7, the maneuvering that produced its final form, and the lessons that may be applicable to other states as they consider similar legislation. These lessons may seem basic but they can be surprisingly hard to implement well in the policymaking process. In negotiating S.B. 7, Illinois policymakers, teacher unions, and advocates successfully managed a process designed to bring real results for students to fruition. These lessons include:

  • Understanding that education policy exists in a political context where the power dynamic really matters.
  • Sequencing an agenda that identifies a logical order of reforms and issues, tackling each in an orderly process.
  • Employing a strong, honest broker in the process who is respected by both (or all) sides and has strong substantive knowledge.
  • Encouraging stakeholders to identify their core principles, and after sufficient alignment, compromising on specifics, rather than allowing the process to denigrate into a power struggle.

To speak to CAP experts, please contact Anne Shoup at [email protected] or 202.481.7146.