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Talking in Memphis: When schools and unions team up, students win

As state legislatures and teachers' unions clash over budgets and reforms, Memphis shows that close cooperation of school and union officials can turn failing schools around.

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From our posts in Memphis as a deputy schools superintendent and a union leader, we watch with concern as state legislatures and teachers' unions around the country clash over methods of achieving school reform. While both sides make important points about improving education, the tone of the national conversation is serving as a wedge, further widening the historical rift between labor and management. Such strife can only harm efforts at meaningful reform.

To our colleagues, all of whom want an improved education system but disagree on how to get there, we suggest: Consider Memphis. We have been in your shoes, and we have found a way to work together to effect positive change.

Two years ago, we took a close look at the Memphis City Schools and what we saw was disheartening: Ds and Fs on the state report card, low graduation rates, and an unacceptable number of graduates – merely 6 percent – prepared for college. The MCS have been plagued with this sort of performance for years. But instead of accepting the status quo, we decided on radical change. The Memphis Education Association (the union) and the school administration resolved to join forces in a complete overhaul of our system.

Teachers are key: Fight for funding

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