Strong Union-Management Partnership Increases Student Performance


A national study on union-management partnerships and educator collaboration in public schools across the U.S. shows that high levels of collaboration between educators positively impacts student achievement. The study also shows that collaboration lowers teacher turnover and increases teacher engagement. At a time when teacher shortages are being reported in states across the country, this finding could impact how school districts plan to retain their teachers. The full working paper is available for review.

The ongoing research study is being led by Saul A. Rubinstein of
Rutgers University and John E. McCarthy of Cornell University and the
most recent information was provided through a working paper.

The most recent working paper sharing the research, that includes more than 400 schools in 21 school districts across six states including California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey, outline the following results:

  • Improvement on student performance on standardized tests.
    • 12.5% more students met or exceeded standards in English at highly collaborative schools compared to the least collaborative schools.
    • 4.5% more students met or exceeded standards in Math at highly collaborative schools compared to the least collaborative schools.
  • Reduction in voluntary teacher turnover and increased school commitment of faculty.
    • When collaboration is high, there was no statistical difference between turnover in high-poverty and low-poverty schools. Conversely, turnover in high-poverty schools was 3.5 times the rate of that in low-poverty schools when school-level educator collaboration was low.
  • Highly collaborative schools and strong union-leader networks increase cross-school knowledge.
    • Teachers in schools with stronger collaboration are more likely to know about and implement innovations from other schools.

Rubinstein and McCarthy write in the Working Paper that “over the past 16 years, federal efforts to improve public education have focused on market reforms like charter schools and voucher programs. To date, there is little evidence that these reforms have produced the promised benefits. However, for the past 10 years, we have been studying a different approach to improving and reforming public education––one based on building strong relationships among teachers’ unions and school administrations, and developing collaborative institutions in schools and school districts focused on improving teaching and learning. Our findings reveal that union-management partnerships help to catalyze productive collaborative behaviors that benefit students and educators alike.”

The Consortium for Educational Change (CEC) and the California Labor Management Initiative, a project of Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation (CDEF), are support partners in the research.

“For more than 30 years, CEC has partnered with schools and districts under the theory that labor-management collaboration has a critical impact on student achievement, school climate and teacher performance,” says CEC Co-Executive Director Jo Anderson. “The research by Rubinstein and McCarthy is proving valid our theory of action.”

“Put simply, labor management collaboration matters,” says CDEF CEO Shelly Masur. “The resulting positive school climate helps overcome the role of family poverty and teacher experience as predictors of student achievement and school performance.”

For the study, union-management partnership was defined by the extent to which union leaders and district administration worked together to improve teaching and learning. School districts with strong partnerships tended to have more collaborative schools. In fact, formal union-management partnerships at the district-level seem to be a catalyst for building highly collaborative schools.

CEC and the California Labor Management Initiative are among several organizations encouraging school districts to participate in the research study, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Schools and districts interested in participating in the ongoing research study can contact Heather McCarthy.

The CA LMI is a partnership between the California Department of Education, the Association of California Administrators (ACSA), California County Superintendents Educational Services Agency (CCSESA), California Federation of Teachers (CFT), California School Boards Association (CSBA), California School Employees Association (CSEA), and the California Teachers Association (CTA).

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