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'Collaboration' the Word of the Day at Denver Conference

The "Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration" conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Association of School Administrators, and other partners kicks off this afternoon in Denver, and Education Week is here to cover all the action.

We don't get started until this afternoon (Mountain time), but this is as good a time as any to outline the parameters of the conference.

Announced last fall, the conference brings together 150 district teams consisting of the superintendent and local union leader, among others, to share best practices around things like pay, scheduling, teacher evaluation, and reductions-in-force.

It has been otherwise dubbed "Collaborpalooza" by Mike Antonucci, the "Labor-Management Jamboree" by colleague Alyson Klein, or my personal favorite, Collaboration-A-Go-Go.

Despite the breathless headlines, this isn't the first conference of its sort, though it is the first one the Education Department's had a hand in sponsoring. The AFT hosted something similar last fall. (I wonder if Randi Weingarten is secretly miffed that the NEA and now the Obama folks are lifting her "collaboration" ideas.)

Is there more going on underneath the surface than a coming-together of like minds? Possibly. Some wags have intimated that it was also a ploy by Democrats to make nice to the teachers' unions before the 2010 midterm election (in which they ended up getting clobbered anyway).

And unions have been under attack lately from Republicans in statehouses across the nation, so they no doubt want to shift the dialogue toward cooperation. Both the AFT and the NEA have sent out a bunch of press releases highlighting the conference and the accomplishments of some of their affiliates in attendance.

Whatever the reason, though, the lineup here should be interesting. There will be some formal presentations, but much of the time is spent in breakout sessions with some of the spotlighted teams. Of those, there are some of big hitters here like Denver (duh), famous for ProComp; the Green Dot Public Schools, a unionized charter school network; Hillsborough County, Fla., the recipient of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to improve teaching; Baltimore, which just signed a new contract overhauling the salary schedule; and the ABC School District in California, which Weingarten mentions in just about every speech she makes.

But there are a lot of districts that you've likely not heard of before. What are the folks in Helena, Mont., up to? What's going on in Plattsburgh City School District, N.Y., or the Independent School District 15 in St. Francis, Minn.? Inquiring Reporters Who Cover Teachers want to know.

Some long-standing players in the reform business, like the Douglas County, Colo., school system—an early adapter of performance pay—will catch us up to speed on version 2.0 of reform.

Some folks we definitely won't be hearing from: Central Falls, R.I., New York City, and Washington, D.C. Affiliates there all either refused to come to the conference or backed out, citing uneasy relationships with their school administrators.

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