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NEA calls for national summit on labor-management collaboration

Tampa - October 14, 2010 -

The head of the nation’s largest teachers’ union joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other education and union leaders in announcing plans to convene a national education reform conference on labor-management collaboration early next year.

The announcement came on the heels of a roundtable discussion here that highlighted an innovative labor agreement that is helping to transform public schools in Florida’s Hillsborough County. During the discussion, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel noted that the kind of collaboration that is evident in Hillsborough County is underway across the nation. He said that collaboration with educators—and the unions that represent them—is essential to improving student achievement.

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.

“There are innovative and creative collaborations happening in our public schools,” said Van Roekel. “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.”

Earlier in the day, Van Roekel met with Duncan, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andy Ford, and state and local leaders for a roundtable discussion 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.

Over the last month, the public has been inundated with negative portrayals of teachers and their unions. “Waiting for Superman,” NBC’s Education Nation summit, and other media coverage has vilified teachers and portrayed their unions as the obstacles to school improvement. Van Roekel challenged that assumption by highlighting how union-led transformation in communities like Seattle, Denver, Evansville, Ind., Columbus, Ohio, and Oklahoma City, Okla., is making the grade all across the country.

Van Roekel urged those listening to the discussion to take the lessons learned from Hillsborough and elsewhere back to their own communities to help improve local schools. Further, he invited everyone— parents, elected officials and movie-makers alike—to join NEA in working for real school improvement by taking the Priority Schools Pledge.

Although Hillsborough County Public Schools are a shining example of union-led school change and transformation, they aren’t a solo act. Van Roekel noted examples from across the country where educators are indeed everyday superheroes:

  • A fair and transparent contract (PDF) in Seattle takes a great step toward identifying high quality teaching. Student test scores are one factor in teacher evaluations. Administrators review an array of tests and a drop in test scores automatically triggers two observations of the teacher. That evaluation results, coupled with monthly reviews, are designed to give real-time feedback and support to teachers. The contract specifies that students in poverty, English language learners and students of color deserve special focus.
  • In Denver, the Math and Science Leadership Academy, designed and run by teachers, uses collaborative peer planning time to analyze data and figure out how to better meet the academic needs of students. Sixty percent of MSLA students are English language learners and close to 90 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches. The school aims to attract and retain accomplished teachers in math and science, and so far, the strategy appears to be working. MSLA has been receiving 30 applications for each teaching position.
  • In Evansville, Ind., educators concluded that low-performing schools needed a different approach. So, in partnership with the school district, the union developed the Evansville Equity Schools Project. The project includes a professional development academy which provides top-notch training for teachers in the three lowest-performing schools. Teachers can’t teach at the schools unless they attend the academy, take 40 hours of training on Saturdays and pass an examination.
  • In Columbus, Ohio, a union-led effort is working to close achievement gaps by bringing service-learning and 21st century skills to the classroom. A task force—which included the union—convened a community conversation which led to radical change at Linden-McKinley High School. A video recruiting students to the transformed and renamed Linden-McKinley STEM Academy emphasizes the appeal of certain aspects of the school’s new curriculum—field trips, designing video games and building robots.
  • In Oklahoma City, Okla., a vibrant combination of targeted academic programs, parental involvement, and professional development—all union-championed—are helping to address the issue of low academic achievement among Hispanic students. The results are impressive: the number of graduating Hispanic students rose by nearly 70 percent between 2008 and 2009, and student performance on end-of-year achievement tests went up substantially.

“Those who dare suggest that unions are obstructionists are wrong; in fact, the opposite is true. In communities around the country, we are leading the way,” said Van Roekel.

Click here for an Op/Ed by President Van Roekel on union-led collaboration in The Hill Congress Blog

For more information on NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, an effort to transform low-performing schools, visit:

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Staci Maiers (202) 270-5333,