Ford, Duncan and Van Roekel in Hillsborough

Union-District Collaboration Earns National Attention


Ford and VanRoekel


FEA President Andy Ford, speaks with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on October 14 in Tampa. Ford and Duncan were at the Rampello Downtown Partnership School for a roundtable discussion highlighting an innovative labor agreement that is helping to transform public schools in Hillsborough County.


During the discussion, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel noted that the kind of collaboration that is evident in Hillsborough County is under way across the nation. He said that collaboration with educators — and the unions that represent them — is essential to improving student achievement.



Also participating in the discussion were AFT President Randi Weingarten, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Jean Clements, state and local leaders as well as teachers, parents and administrators on how labor agreements are playing a pivotal role in transforming public schools.


The group traveled to Tampa to observe how consensus reached between union members and administrators in Hillsborough County Public Schools is leading to a more effective evaluation system for teachers and principals. Beginning this year, feedback from mentors and peers will be included in the educator evaluation process -- a practice all agree will lead to stronger performance, stronger public schools and students better prepared to compete in a global and interdependent world. "Hillsborough's teachers are leading change, fighting to create better opportunities for all kids, and driving a range of improvements in schools and classrooms," says Weingarten. "District officials recognize the union as a full partner in school reform. They understand that frontline educators need to be deeply involved in decisions that affect their classrooms and their schools."


NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (on right), along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (center) and AFT President Randi Weingarten, (far left), during a press conference at Rampello Downtown Partnership School in Tampa. (c) 2010 Photo by Dirk Shadd/NEA

Van Roekel and Duncan






Union- District Collaboration 

By Dennis Van Roekel - 10/14/10 09:25 AM ET

National Summit on Labor-Management Collaboration Announced

By Amy Buffenbarger and Staci Maiers


NEA President Dennis Van Roekel joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in announcing plans to convene a national education reform conference on labor-management collaboration early next year.


The conference will highlight examples of progressive collective bargaining agreements across the country and identify opportunities for further reforms at the state and district level. Participants will include national, state, and local union leadership as well as school superintendents and school boards from across the country.


“There are innovative and creative collaborations happening in our public schools,” Van Roekel said. “Not only do we need to highlight this great work, but we need to share lessons learned and figure out how great ideas can be replicated.”


The announcement came on the heels of a roundtable discussion with Van Roekel, Duncan, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andy Ford, and state and local leaders that highlighted an innovative labor agreement between the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and Hillsborough County Public Schools, located in Tampa, Florida. The agreement, which includes a new-teacher mentoring program, more rigorous educator and principal evaluation systems, and development of a new compensation system based on student achievement measured through a strong value-added formula, is just one example of how collective bargaining is playing a pivotal role in transforming public schools.


Van Roekel previously visited Tampa in August to learn more about the collaborative work happening in the Hillsborough Public Schools district. “It’s past time to stop pointing fingers about who should be responsible for improving our public schools. It’s time to begin a dialogue about how to share in that responsibility.” Van Roekel wrote in his op-ed in The Hill. “Like the Secretary of Education, reformers can look to the collaboration and progressive labor agreement in Hillsborough as a model to start the conversation.”



Union- District Collaboration 


Fueled by major magazines, filmmakers and network specials, playing the blame game has become the new sport among education reformers. When did teachers become the boogeyman for the myriad challenges facing public schools? Regrettably, this approach falls short of the constructive dialogue we need in public education today. This morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will visit Hillsborough County, Florida, to learn more about school reform efforts that are rooted in a different model for transforming education: collaboration.

In August I traveled to Hillsborough to showcase a groundbreaking partnership between the Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association that will overhaul how teachers are trained, evaluated and compensated. The Gates Foundation awarded Hillsborough $100 million for the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative so educators and administrators will be able to see what does or does not affect the bottom line: student learning.

Take the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement. It’s been around for a while, and it appeals to many people. After all, why shouldn’t teachers earn more when their students learn more? Underlying this idea, however, is an assumption that many teachers could do better work if only they wanted to, and that a little bit more money would motivate them to do so.

In Hillsborough, education stakeholders knew that this assumption wasn’t true. They also knew that simply paying bonuses based on test scores did nothing to improve student achievement, because such a program was already in place in the county. So Hillsborough designed a system that will look at many indicators of student achievement, not just test scores, and consider all of them in the evaluation of teachers. Teachers will learn where they need to improve and receive the coaching, technology or other help necessary to make that happen.

The opinions of teaching colleagues will be weighed, as well as principals. And rather than simply paying bonuses for performance, the county is creating a new career ladder that allows teachers to move to different levels based upon their overall performance. The local teachers union was involved at every step in developing this process—and the district used an inclusive approach that welcomed the union’s meaningful input.

There is universal agreement that we must hire and retain more great teachers, and there is no reason we can’t make real progress toward this goal, providing that we work together. Today I will join Secretary Duncan and other education and union leaders in announcing plans to convene an education reform conference early next year that will put a national spotlight on labor-management collaboration.

Across the country, many of NEA’s local affiliates – including Denver, Seattle, Montgomery County, Md., Columbus, Ohio, and Chattanooga, Tenn. – have agreed to significant changes in the ways that teachers are evaluated and compensated. The key word is “agree”, which can only occur when there is mutual respect and teachers are treated as allies rather than adversaries.

It’s past time to stop pointing fingers about who should be responsible for improving our public schools. It’s time to begin a dialogue about how to share in that responsibility. Like the Secretary of Education, reformers can look to the collaboration and progressive labor agreement in Hillsborough as a model to start the conversation.

Dennis Van Roekel is President of the National Education Association.

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