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Originally published March 27, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Page modified March 27, 2013 at 4:32 PM

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Editorial: Seattle teachers, district should consider community group’s ideas

Labor talks between Seattle Public Schools and its unions are private. Seattle community groups should still try and influence the discussion.

Seattle Times Editorial

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A COALITION of community groups should help shape Seattle Public Schools and teacher contract talks that begin next week.

Parents and community members have no official role. Labor negotiations are conducted behind closed doors, but their results have far-reaching public implications. That’s why the two dozen organizations that make up Our Schools Coalition are right to ask negotiators to seriously consider a set of thoughtful ideas for raising student achievement.

Among the coalition goals:

More training for teachers working with students learning English. More than 129 foreign languages are spoken in Seattle’s public schools. It is a testament to rich diversity and a challenge for teaching. A good model can be found in South King County where teachers in the Highline, Tukwila and Kent school districts are benefiting from a training partnership with Heritage University.

Discipline alternatives to out-of-school suspensions. A federal investigation into Seattle Public Schools’ disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions of black, Latino and Native American students amplifies the coalition’s call for improving discipline strategies.

Summer programs. Many students lose academic skills and knowledge over summer vacation. Low-income students, who are least likely to have access to summer camp, would benefit from district-led summer programs.

No one should be surprised that parents and education advocates are closely following labor talks. Embedded in teacher contracts are work conditions and rules with a direct impact on academic outcomes. Quality instruction may not be written into the contract but the circumstances that lead to good teaching provide a contract’s foundation. This is a useful exercise for other districts.

Workplace conditions that help foster a top-notch educational system is something teachers unions have pushed for. Good to have everyone on the same page.

Some things on the list might be greeted more warmly by one side. Union leaders likely agree with the coalition’s call for more professional development, career advancement and compensation opportunities.

The coalition was successful three years ago when it successfully pushed for evaluations that allow the district’s 3,000 or so teachers to be evaluated in part on how well their students do.

Whatever the outcome, the community coalition’s insertion into the dialogue enriches the conversation.

More goals can be found at ourschoolscoalition.org//

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