The CDE Foundation is proud to release the report Grappling with Covid’s Impact on Education: Labor and Management Confront the Crisis, by Dr. Julia Koppich. You can read a prologue from our CA LMI team below.

Download the executive summary and full report here.


Adapting in a Time of Crisis. Labor-management collaboration is not an absence of conflict or disagreement. It is the ability to work together, lifting up diverse experiences and perspectives, and persevering until we address the issue at hand. Even in the best of times, developing trust and collaboration in large organizations is a challenge. This is especially true of public education systems staffed by leaders who are overwhelmed and exhausted grappling with the education and welfare of our children while also dealing with complex social issues from race and class to generational poverty in a pandemic.

The leaders interviewed for this study illuminate the challenge of California’s public school leaders working quickly together during the course of the pandemic to continue education services and protect students and staff during an unprecedented time. This challenge was further complicated by the politicization of the pandemic and the continually evolving understanding of COVID-19 safety considerations. And yet leaders continued to adapt and collaborate.

Documenting Experiences and Practices. This study was commissioned by the California Labor Management Initiative (CA LMI), a project of the CDE Foundation, with funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Since 2015, CA LMI has worked with over 170 public school system labor-management teams from across California to deepen their capacity to foster partnerships and collaborative problem-solving.

We commissioned this study to understand how local leaders adapted to the challenge. We wanted to learn how union and management leaders redesigned schooling and worked together to develop agreements to deliver educational services. We also wanted to understand what lessons and insights might be drawn from the crisis that could assist education leaders across the state to advance collaborative problem-solving. While the sample districts in this study were selected to represent the range of school systems in the state, we know there were other high profile districts that struggled and clashed intensely as they sought to balance safety for staff and students with the need to move quickly back to “normal” face to face instruction. That conflict was the predominant media depiction but not what this study found to be the predominant story told by education leaders.

We believe that the increased levels of communication and collaboration exhibited by school district labor and management leaders across California during COVID-19 offers insight into the importance of forging trust and collaborative practices in all our school systems. While decades of research makes the importance of collaboration in schools clear, most leaders have had limited capacity building in managing and sustaining collaborative systems.

We hope this study provides additional momentum for prioritizing capacity building to support partnerships based on trust, equity and communication, the three pillars of collaboration. CA LMI is committed to supporting labor and management leaders to achieve that goal. We hope that we can use the experience of this crisis to drive a clearer vision of a more equitable and effective education system for California.

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Download the full report here.