It is a concept that even the youngest students learn, starting in kindergarten: Work together and you accomplish more.

Research by a Rutgers University professor shows that, in school districts where union and management work collaboratively, where there are formal processes such as site-based decision-making, leadership teams, and joint learning opportunities, students achieve at higher levels. And these findings apply to school districts across the economic strata, including high-poverty schools, where educators have faced challenges closing achievement gaps.

Dr. Saul Rubinstein, co-director of the Center for Learning & Transformation at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, studied union-management collaboration in the public and private employment sectors for 25 years. He discovered that collaboration benefits both employees and organizational performance.

Turning his eye to public schools, he found that there, too, partnership and collaboration between management and unions pay off—in particular, by improving student performance.

“We have now found a clear link between teacher unions and administration partnerships, teacher collaboration at the school level, and student achievement,” Rubinstein said. “As a former school board member this makes sense to me, because teacher collaboration is key to higher quality teaching and student outcomes.”

Based on Dr. Rubinstein’s research, which he shared last year with NJSBA’s Student Achievement Task Force, our Association is working in collaboration with other statewide education groups on a new pilot program, set to begin this summer.

The NJSBA-initiated project will offer an approach for school improvement based on union-management partnerships, teacher collaboration and opportunities for mutual learning and support. Supporting organizations represent the entire spectrum of the education community. They include the NJEA, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, Rutgers University, Princeton University, and Middlesex County College.

Interest is high. Last month, 75 people, including school board presidents, local union presidents, and superintendents, attended an information session about the program. So far, nine school districts have confirmed their participation in this exciting project.

As educators, we have learned many lessons from the various innovations and reforms implemented over the past decades. Some have worked well, some not so well. But one of the key lessons is that reform cannot only come from the top. We must find ways to build upon, support and cultivate local innovation.

We hope that this labor-management collaboration project will result in innovation at the local level that will enable students to achieve more. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].