Professional Educators

NEA and Local Affiliates Leading the Way to Student Success

They are coming from districts large and small, urban and rural, east and west. All are committed to the common cause of creating great public schools for every student. Affiliates of the National Education Association (NEA) are sharing strategies at a national conference focused on improving student achievement through labor-management collaboration.

“The architects of reform include the same people you see when you walk into a school: educators,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA. “Teachers care deeply about students and schools. They want students to succeed. They want schools to be excellent. Educators and their unions are committed to working with all stakeholders to get the tools and resources we know students need to get a first-class education.”

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Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, the Conference on Advancing Student Achievement through Labor-Management Collaboration starts today in Denver. Teams representing 150 school districts across the country were selected to participate. Each team is composed of the local union or Association leader, superintendent and school board president. Some have already made great strides in collaborating for student success. Others are just starting their work.

More than 70 NEA affiliates are participating, and about 50 more of the attending affiliates are represented jointly by NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Thirteen union-district teams will describe what they have learned from working together and will provide examples of labor-management relations, policies and agreements. The presenters are using strategies tailored to their individual communities, in places like Denver; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Montgomery County, Md.; and Helena, Mont.

While several NEA affiliates will be making presentations at the event, Van Roekel notes that many in the audience have their own success stories as well. “Unfortunately, we don’t hear or read enough about the many unions and school districts working in student-centered, innovative partnerships. Teachers and their unions are showing the way to great public schools and student success.”

Through the Priority Schools Campaign, NEA is helping students in struggling schools achieve and bringing communities together to promote student success. In many of these schools, NEA is providing school-based technical assistance, offering training to community members and connecting schools with vital partnerships to tackle many of the non-school related issues that affect students’ ability to learn and achieve. A key goal of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign is to develop and foster collaboration, disrupting the status quo to create systemic change. The campaign includes schools that receive School Improvement Grants and others working toward agreement-based change.

Innovative Union, District and State Approaches by NEA-affiliated Attendees

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has proposed a new way to evaluate teachers and administrators in its Reinventing Educator Evaluation plan. Under the proposal, assessments would include classroom observations by trained evaluators, multiple measures of student learning and evidence of the educator’s contributions to the school, district or profession. Other key recommendations include streamlining evaluation standards, establishing teacher and administrator ratings, encouraging peer assistance and review programs, creating opportunities for exemplary teachers to take on new roles to help other teachers and requiring professional growth plans and support for educators.

The Illinois Education Association jointly developed an Accountability for All proposal that would streamline the process for removing underperforming teachers and resolve teacher dismissals in a much shorter time. The Association worked with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union. The unions suggested a “Student Bill of Rights” that would hold districts accountable for providing every student with a qualified teacher. In addition to recommending the expansion of training and mentoring programs for teachers and school administrators, they also proposed changes in tenure attainment and layoff decisions.

The Michigan Education Association has created MEA’s A+ Agenda, a proactive, positive plan for real education reform in Michigan. It focuses on five bold areas for reform that can improve public schools, prepare Michigan students for the workplace and move the state forward. The agenda calls for realigning the pre-K-12 curriculum to make sure students graduate ready to succeed in college or other post-secondary opportunities; increasing accountability for everyone in public education; streamlining the tenure process; increasing professional training for administrators, teachers and support staff; and increasing school district efficiency and financial stability to ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

The Hamilton County Education Association in Tennessee is working collaboratively to boost achievement in middle schools with a grant from the NEA Foundation. In collaboration with the Public Education Foundation, the district and union formed networks to share and implement best practices. Data is used to set goals, measure progress, and improve instruction. The results are impressive. More students are scoring advanced on state exams, and the achievement gap has narrowed from 24 to 14 percentage points. The percentage of students passing the state’s reading and math exams has increased.

The Adrian Education Association in Michigan has been working with the superintendent since they decided to apply for a School Improvement Grant for Adrian High School. Tutoring opportunities are offered before and after school. Collaboration with a state university has resulted in richer summer school offerings. Instructional coaches provide professional development and guide educators through curriculum and instruction changes.

The Springfield Education Association in Massachusetts worked with the school district and community groups to respond to disappointing graduation rates and gaps in student achievement. A grant from the NEA Foundation provided funding for teachers to visit students and parents at home. Strategies also include providing new professional development opportunities for teachers and creating professional learning communities that not only explore student performance and growth data, but also look at teacher satisfaction and perceptions about curriculum, instruction and leadership.

The Salem-Keizer Education Association in Oregon is working collaboratively to improve Priority Schools. They helped develop an extended learning day at one school and are starting community outreach. The Association and the school district are also working on the CLASS Project: Creative Leadership Achieves Student Success. The four components of CLASS are: teacher effectiveness and evaluation, professional development, compensation, and career pathways.

The Little Rock Education Association is working to boost student achievement by increasing parental and community engagement. The Association has hosted community conversations to gauge concerns and priorities. The district’s high school graduation rate is increasing and achievement gaps are narrowing.

The Des Moines Education Association is collaborating with school administrators to implement Keys to Excellence for Your Schools. KEYS is an NEA school climate improvement program that examines data to identify indicators of school quality, especially conditions associated with high levels of student achievement. Questions range from how well the staff uses data to how comfortable they are voicing concerns to administrators. The results can be used in school improvement plans to create better learning experiences for students. KEYS parent and community surveys may be next.

Historic National Conference

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the NEA, AFT, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Funding to support the conference is being provided by the Ford Foundation.

“We are pleased that the Department of Education hosted this conference,” added Van Roekel. “We know that success is a shared responsibility. We will continue to work with administrators, parents, community leaders and policymakers. By working together, we can help more students, more ways, more effectively.”

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