NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
ERIC Number: ED514890
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Jan
Pages: 14
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
Unlikely Allies: Unions and Districts in the Battle for School Reform. Education Sector Reports
Silva, Elena; Headden, Susan
Education Sector
Providence, Rhode Island, is one of those gritty eastern mill towns that wears its centuries-old history on its sleeve. Like many American cities, Providence is home to a struggling public school system with chronically low-performing schools. They include Roger Williams Middle, where last year only 17 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above proficient in math, compared with the state average of 53 percent. Roger Williams Middle's scores have put it--along with three other Providence schools--in the forefront of national educational reform, among the first group of failing schools whose efforts to radically improve are being supported by federal stimulus funds. The U.S. Department of Education gives these schools three choices: "turnaround" or replace the principal, fire all the teachers, and rehire no more than half of them; "transformation" or replace the principal and significantly change structures and instruction; or "restart," meaning bring the school under new management by a charter or outside organization. More than 90 percent of schools are pursuing the first or second option. Providence has selected the third--but with a significant twist. In what is believed to be the first such arrangement in the country, it has created a novel union-district alliance in which the two factions will develop the reform plan together and share the responsibility of making it work. Those factions, of course, are notorious for not getting along. Unions complain that the demands put on teachers continue to rise as job security declines; districts protest union rules so rigid that they prevent even small changes to teacher hiring practices, evaluation procedures, and work schedules. It is a singularly antagonistic relationship that has made cooperation, thus any kind of substantive reform, all but impossible. Yet in Providence, where the labor-management relationship has been worse than most, both sides now find reason for encouragement in the newly forged partnership of two unlikely allies in the battle for school reform: District Superintendent Tom Brady, a retired Army colonel with a background in operations management, and Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith, a former teacher and state legislator with deep working class roots in the city. Working together, the two have laid out an ambitious "restart" plan for the four failing schools, under which the principal "and" a union teacher will share control, and the union contract--and many of the securities and protections that come with it--will no longer apply. (Contains 37 notes.)
Education Sector. 1201 Connecticut Avenue NW Suite 850, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 202-552-2840; Fax: 202-775-5877; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Middle Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Joyce Foundation
Authoring Institution: Education Sector
Identifiers - Location: Rhode Island