The second United States Department of Education Labor Management Collaboration Conference (LMC) is convening in Cincinnati this week. The theme is harnessing the power of labor management collaboration in the interest of student achievement. I attended the last conference in Denver fifteen months ago as a researcher, part of a team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows. In addition to becoming steeped in the theory and practice of labor management collaboration, I had the opportunity to network with several leaders from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), which is an extraordinary organization that provides free technical assistance to improve negotiations outcomes at the local level. That learning has proven very influential in changing the tenor of our local negotiations during the last year.
There is an innovation of this year’s LMC that is critically important: the presence of state leadership teams, both as presenters and participants. Three states, Delaware, Kentucky and Massachusetts, are presenting. These states will highlight work they have done to support districts in collaborative work. Vermont is sending a team of statewide leaders, which I find tremendously encouraging. We need structures and supports at the state level to sustain and expand the good work in our state which is already happening at the local level. I am confident that our state leaders will find inspiration and practical ideas at the conference to help us move forward.
Mere process reform, however is not enough. Sustainability of our work ultimately depends on connecting to a greater goal: great student learning. Leaders at ED already get this; it is a theme of both labor management conferences. In Vermont, for us to take it to the next level, and to be able to deal creatively and proactively with 21st century education policy challenges, stakeholders need to refocus on this goal. Thinking about collective bargaining agreements must shift away from emphasis on salary and working conditions, management prerogative and taxation. Our CBA’s must become education improvement plans in which the traditional concerns become tools. When I think of the tremendous civic engagement which goes into our teacher negotiations in Vermont, I see a gold mine of effort and commitment which could be harnessed to our common enterprise of great student learning. Our children deserve no less.