Unlikely Allies: Unions and Districts in the Battle for School Reform

Unlikely Allies: Unions and Districts in the Battle for School Reform

Education Sector     

Faced with the task of turning around failing schools using federal stimulus funds, the city of Providence, R.I., is believed to be the first in the nation to align its school district leadership and local teachers’ union into a single governing body responsible for reform.

Though this partnership taking place at four Providence public schools is new and cannot yet report results showing improvement, or failures, the nonprofit education policy think tank Education Sector has issued a report on this partnership between two bureaucracies normally in opposition.

Under the philosophy that shared control between the union and the district will eliminate contractual barriers to student and school reform, instead instilling a concept of reciprocal obligations between the two sides, the partnership was officially formed as a nonprofit organization called United Providence. This group – with an executive board composed of the district superintendent, the teachers’ union president, three other union representatives, two district employees, an executive director of school transformation and two parents – now operates two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.

The Education Sector’s two authors, a senior policy analyst and a senior writer/editor, go into depth on the history of how this partnership was forged – the superintendent and union president decided to put aside a previous lawsuit and join forces in a mutually beneficial relationship, how the decision was made to establish United Providence as an alternative to other cities’ opting for replacing principals and firing more than half the teachers, and how the partnership’s responsibilities are shared (at least at the drafting stage since the school-level plans have yet to be finalized or approved by the State).

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