“Revolutionary” Teachers’ Contract Passes

First off, a side note for those interested in the recommendations for turnaround at my school: more information, including school test data, has been posted online within their recommendations report, at Baltimore City Public Schools’ website, on their “Expanding Great Options 2011-12” page.

Now, sorry to annoy “a  parent” more by continuing the contract discussion, but … on to the contract!

A Brief History

Last time it came up for a vote, on October 14th, the tentative agreement (TA) on a new teachers’ contract failed. It had been negotiated by teams from the Baltimore Teachers’ Union (BTU) and representatives of the school district, which is headed by schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso and is known by the location of its headquarters as “North Ave”. The vote was 1540 against, to 1107 for.

Why everyone’s been talking about it

The contract has been on many people’s minds and tongues across the country, ever since it was announced that the TA had been reached on September 24th and details began to come out that week. The contract has been endorsed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, national American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore Sun, and of course both CEO Dr. Alonso and BTU President Marietta English.

What’s all the fuss about? The contract is basically a tempered form of merit pay. There are some monetary incentives thrown in (a $1500 signing bonus, guaranteed small raises over the next three years), and a new way for individual schools to vote to override certain contract aspects (e.g. offering a required extended school day for students, above and beyond the normal contracted hours), but the heart of the contract is the change in how teachers get raises. Note the word raises: there is no way for your salary to ever decrease, so I guess if you’re a bad teacher you’ll just get unsatisfactory ratings and potential firing (after intervention). And a mediocre teacher might quit after a few years of frustration at how slow s/he is moving up the salary scale.

Until now, teachers’ pay in Baltimore (as it is in surrounding counties) has been tied to years of service/experience. Now, instead, you must earn twelve “achievement units”, or AUs, in order to advance and get a pay rise. That 12 AUs can come straight from getting a proficient evaluation (which, in a few years, will become tied to student achievement data — i.e. test scores). Or it can come from a satisfactory job evaluation (9 AUs) plus 3 AUs earned somewhere else. Guaranteed AUs would come from taking additional courses (1 AU per credit). Other AUs would come from certain professional development experiences, attending conferences, advising student clubs, or other uncompensated work done to improve the school and/or boost student achievement (details to be determined).

Besides this basic form of merit pay (showing improvement in student data and/or professional development required for increased salary, instead of automatic), a great teacher as defined by BCPSS could see huge raises by applying to become a model or lead teacher. Only one lead teacher is allowed per school, but s/he could earn almost $100,000. A school could have (and should have, hopefully) many model teachers, who would receive starting salaries of $85,000 (still higher than any current teacher gets, even after decades of service). To become a model teacher, in general you would have to apply to a committee made up of half North Ave appointees and half BTU appointees, showing evidence of what you have done to increase student achievement and improve your school.

So, anyway, merit pay with a few twists and a number of sensible alternatives & precautions.

What’s Changed

Short answer: not much, just more time and more persuasion.

After the contract failed at the last vote, there was a quick skirmish of activity where the BTU got feedback from members, discussed with Dr. Alonso, and revised the Tentative Agreement. I received a telephone call a few days after the vote with a long survey about the TA and related issues in education; I guess this probably came from the union though do not know for sure. Within two weeks of its initial rejection, the new TA was published.

The new contract had a few actual changes.

  • A new system to “ensure reliability and validity of evaluations” and protect against principal abuse of their new evaluative power over our salaries
  • Addressing teacher concerns about the peer review board that would determine AUs and model teacher status, to make sure the board has representatives and subcommittees knowledgeable in various subject areas, grade levels, and also for clinicians / non-teaching professionals like guidance counselors, social workers, etc.
  • More examples of AUs other than just from your evaluation or college credits (though details still left for later)
  • Some things that were already in the contract were emphasized or highlighted in a way to make it more reassuring to teachers wary of change or of potential negative repercussions

The tentative contract also had a new look (much more professional-quality) with an attractive design and changes highlighted in red.

But the main difference was just more time and more conversations to digest the information, ask questions, get reassurances, and figure out how the contract will affect us. Public meetings were held that were announced more than 24 hours in advance (in the lead-up to the first vote, we were getting e-mails that a union rep would be available at such-and-such location tomorrow to answer questions!). Union reps visited schools; the BTU leadership made itself more accessible; copies of the contract were placed in every mailbox.

Today

Voting today was supposed to go from 7am to 6pm. I got to my voting location this morning at 7:05 but went to the wrong side of the building/campus. At 7:15 I parked my car in the right place, got out, greeted a number of teachers from my school who were standing in line, and found out voting hadn’t yet begun; they were still setting up inside. This was outrageous, since they had had weeks to prepare and they knew that teachers had to get to their jobs and teach a full work day. No leave or early-release day had been given, and 7:30-6 are pretty much my usual working hours!

Luckily, voting did begin at about 7:20, twenty minutes late. Although there was a bit of a line to get through at that point, the voting moved quickly (in part due to electronic voting) and I was on my way to school at 7:40.

This evening, the results were announced (pdf), and the contract has passed, 1902 for, to 1045 against.  I’m certainly looking forward to this year’s pay rise / signing bonus, and will be curious to see how it plays out in this brave new world of achievement units and model teachers.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to ““Revolutionary” Teachers’ Contract Passes

  1. The discussion is not what bothers me, it’s the attitude of the majority (not all, maybe 70%) of Inside Ed posters that merit pay without tons of protections and definitions would ever be acceptable to anyone, when in fact it’s quite common in the professional world. Sorry if I come across as grumpy. This post seems like a pretty factual and level headed summary – doesn’t annoy me.

    • nyates314

      My picking at you was definitely tongue-in-cheek 🙂 I don’t think you were being grumpy!

      I’ve been frustrated with some of the conversation on InsideEd too recently, though more by a few on both sides impugning the character of opponents. That to me was just rude: even if the same arguments were being brought up time and again that is because they hadn’t been satisfactorily addressed.

      There is much good and much to be concerned about in the contract: I do appreciate the fact that we’ll be able to vote again (hold a referendum) in three years.

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