By Earl C. Rickman III
The recent Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration in Denver showed that when school boards, administrators, and teachers work as a team to improve student achievement, we can greatly strengthen the quality of education we provide to our students and our communities.
I was part of the 12-person delegation of school board leaders from NSBA and state school boards associations participating in the event. I was proud to also represent Michigan’s Mount Clemens Community School District Board of Education, where I serve as board president. My school district was one of the 150 school districts from across the country that participated in the conference.
This first-of-its-kind conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, brought national and local school leaders to hear from other superintendents, school boards, and teacher leaders who are working together to redefine the labor-management relationship in their communities, and it highlighted the successes some districts have achieved and how they got there. Through the conference and online resources now on the Department of Education’s website, districts across the country will now be able to share information about their collaborative success and have the resources to design teacher compensation, incentive, and development programs that meet their unique local needs to reach their goals for raising student achievement.
We know a broad base of support is required to achieve successful labor-management relations that drive student success. School board members, administrators, and teachers must all come together to find new ways to focus on increasing student achievement and strengthen our schools. Also, districts must have their community’s support to improve their schools something that is not a given, considering that 75 percent of adults don’t have children in the public schools.
Throughout our country, school board members understand the importance of increasing student achievement through developing collaborative relationships in the labor management process. No one suggested that tackling controversial issues such as tenure or teacher compensation would be easy and we know that conditions in some districts may not currently exist to adopt these types of approaches. Additionally, the collaborative successes produced in the districts featured at conference can also be achieved in other districts regardless of whether they engage in collective bargaining or whether specific agreements for raising student achievement are contained in the contract.
Local school leaders must rethink collective bargaining to focus on the most important priority increasing student achievement. A recent NSBA report, “School Boards Circa 2010,” found that 37 percent of school board members surveyed felt that collective bargaining, under the way currently practiced, was a barrier to improving student achievement.
School districts and teacher leaders must create contracts that benefit studentstaking into account factors such as the qualifications and evaluations of the teacher, the length of the school day, and the special needs of the students, the school, and the community. This takes guts and sometimes makes you unpopular, but it can be done.
We must change the culture from one of traditional confrontation over compensation and working conditions to collaboration to design those components around a shared vision for raising student achievement in that particular school district, including appropriate rewards and incentives for improvement.
An important part of advancing our public education system is developing successful teacher incentive compensation plans to reward success. NSBA has partnered with American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association to develop guiding principles for these plans.
These principles center on collaboration and support between school boards, administrators, and teachers leaders at the local level. If a local school district decides to create an incentive plan as part of its school improvement efforts, such a plan should be in line with the district’s mission and strategic plan, and should be integrated into other components including evaluations and training.
We’ve now seen great firsthand examples of how school leaders have come together to put their trust in one another and worked together as a team and made an impact on student achievement. These were real people, doing real work, and getting real results.
Going forward, we need to examine this teamwork further, ask some tough questions, and find ways we can replicate it in other communities and school districts with respect to local circumstances.
It’s time to rethink the relationship of teachers, administrators, and school board members in terms of the larger mission of the school system. Especially given the challenges and pressures that many districts face, collaboration along these lines may prove to be more productive than the traditional confrontational approach.
NSBA is looking forward to working with other national associations and the Department of Education to support local leadership and this collaborative approach as our labor management negotiations continue to evolve.
It’s time for education leaders to come together and do the right things for the children we serve.
Earl C. Rickman III is the president of the National School Boards Association and president of the Board of Education of Mount Clemens Community School District in Michigan.