CINCINNATI -- Educators including the U.S. secretary of education, teacher union leaders and school administrators will focus this week on ways to transform the teaching profession with such targets as better recruiting, preparation and career development, and evaluations based on effectiveness.
Leaders at the Labor Management Conference are set to approve a seven-part plan aimed at upgrading teaching and schools to better equip students to compete in increasingly digital and global workplaces – even as many schools across the country have seen tightened budgets and teacher layoffs during a rough economy.
"The quality of any school relies on the strength of its educators at the front of the classroom," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. He will take part in the two-day conference that begins Wednesday in Cincinnati, and he said a key goal of the meeting will be to share success stories that will help colleagues learn from what has worked.
There have been pushes to weaken teacher union power in some states, including Ohio, where voters last November rejected Republican-promoted reductions in collective bargaining for public employee unions. The collaboration-minded meeting here follows up on one in Denver last year.
"It's collaboration, not confrontation, that is essential to building strong public schools and ensuring that teachers have the time, tools and trust they need to improve teaching and learning," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement to The Associated Press. "School districts across the country are demonstrating that when adults engage in the hard work of working together to solve problems, rather than winning arguments, our children, our teachers and our communities benefit."
Among schools making presentations will be Cincinnati Public Schools. The financially-pressed urban district has shown some of Ohio's best student academic progress and much-improved graduation rates. District and union officials worked together to focus teacher evaluations on student achievement, and on increasing teacher opportunities, community education initiatives and expanding civic and business involvement.
"I don't think innovation really gets started and takes hold unless you have all the partners operating together on all cylinders," said Eve Bolton, school board president for the Cincinnati schools. She said such collaboration leads to greater transparency, accountability and commitment.
The AFT, National Education Association, National School Boards Association and other participating groups are setting out the plan for improving the teaching profession, noting that schools can take different approaches to reach its targets. They are: more shared decision-making in schools; recruiting from a high-performing and diverse talent pool; providing for career-long learning; evaluating teachers and principals on student academic growth and their other contributions; offering career paths with competitive pay and advancement; having schools with the right environment for teachers and for helping high-needs students, and reaching out for more engagement between schools and their communities.