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Ed Department's Union Collaboration Event Set for February

The U.S. Department of Education announced today that it plans to hold its big Union Collaboration Jamboree Feb. 15-16 in Denver. The symbolism is clear: The city has gotten high marks for its teacher quality initiatives and is in a state that's tried some innovative things on this issue (but wasn't rewarded with a Race to the Top grant for its troubles.)

The conference will include, of course, representatives from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, as well as the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The Ford Foundation is providing funding for the event.

And not just anyone gets to attend.

Invitations went out today to about 2,000 school districts that got federal funding in the past year under some of the department's signature competitive grant programs, including Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, School Improvement Grants and the Investing in Innovation grants.

The department is going to randomly pick attendees from those who apply, making sure that districts from different regions and of varying sizes are represented. To get in the mix for an invite, a district's board president, superintendent, and teachers' union or teachers' association leader must each agree to show up to the conference. (Shouldn't be a hard sell if they like to ski, or drink micro-brews.)

And they have to promise to work together on areas including figuring out how best to employ teachers and student learning time, as well as improving processes for hiring, retention, compensation, development, and "evaluation of a highly effective workforce."

"We're setting a high bar for attendance at this conference because these school districts and labor leaders will have to go back home and do some very hard work to ensure that student success is the central goal in everything that they do," Secretary Duncan said in a statement, invoking one of his favorite phrases (high bar.)

So it sounds like the department wants district officials to get down and dirty at this conference, and not necessarily just gather for a photo-op to counteract the perception (made popular recently by Waiting for Superman) that unions are a major impediment to reform.

Think it'll work?

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