You may remember the “groundbreaking” contract voted on (twice) and passed (once) by Baltimore’s teachers more than a year ago. In short, it promised: 1) raises, and 2) ways to demonstrate excellence within the teaching system and be rewarded for it; in exchange for: 3) giving up automatic yearly raises, and 4) agreeing to be held accountable for student learning (i.e. test scores) by an as-yet-undetermined metric. [For more detail/context, click the above link.]
Lack of Clarity on AUs
One of the key changes with the new contract is: in place of having teachers automatically get a pay bump by going up a “step” each year we teach in the system, we now control our own raises by documenting our professional activities as “Achievement Units” (AUs). The idea of AUs, we were told when the district and union were selling the contract, is that we can take college courses, attend professional development trainings, run after-school clubs, collaborate with other teachers, start a tutoring program, etc., in exchange for these AUs. Basically, anything that seriously extends our own learning or that of our students, anything where we go above and beyond the normal duties of a teacher, could earn us AUs. 12 AUs would earn us an increase in salary to the next level. Of course there would need to be some checks/safeguards, so that frivolous things don’t slip by. But all those safeguards, and in fact, all details about AUs, were to be developed after the contract was ratified.
I must say that, between my own experience and what I’ve heard from other teachers, the skeptics who said that North Avenue [our district HQ] shouldn’t be trusted to manage all the AU paperwork seem to have been right.
Here it is, more than a year later, and there are still no guidelines for AUs, save for college credits and principal evaluations. See, for example, this web page, which mentions that the criteria for AUs “for contributions to the school and district” are still in development. All the things they promised about AUs are still as far away as they ever were.
Arbitrary and Short Deadlines
North Ave set a deadline of June 30th, 2011, to submit all credits earned in years past (that hadn’t already been compensated, say by earning a master’s degree which meant higher pay). Each credit would convert to one AU. But that date was the cutoff. Any coursework/credits not submitted by June 30th would be invalid for use as AUs. While I was able to take advantage by submitting some credits, I agree with my colleagues who have complained that this date is quite arbitrary. Coursework, which you went to the trouble of undertaking to expand your own knowledge and skill set, should be worth AUs whenever it gets submitted. This is being fought for by our union, and is currently in arbitration between our union and our school district.
More recently, we were told on January 11th, 2012, that all coursework and credits from 7/1/11-12/31/11 must be uploaded to the electronic system by January 20th to receive AU credits. A nine day turnaround!
So, I immediately contacted the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for a copy of my transcript (I took a course through them at the Baltimore Museum of Industry this fall, on Safety Programs in Occupational and Classroom Settings). Note that UMES’s website says that they require a three week turnaround time for transcripts. With the deadline approaching, I submitted the AU upload anyway without a transcript (with a note explaining I would get them the transcript soon). Due to lack of transcript, the request was summarily rejected.
I also submitted work I had done through an engineering career externship, TEAACH, for which I had earned two Maryland State Department of Education credits. This was also rejected, with the explanation being that they do not accept MSDE credits, only university credits. [side rant/ When did this change? They accepted MSDE credits last summer — I submitted some! And how can BCPSS, which falls under MSDE, refuse to accept MSDE credits — is Baltimore no longer a part of Maryland? /end rant]
Raises & Pathways
In addition to AUs, the contract highlighted movement among professional career “pathways” as a way to advance your career (and salary). The pathways are designated: Standard, Professional, Model, and Lead.
I know several teachers who were supposed to be automatically transferred onto the model pathway, based on the contract, but were not. The transition criteria were: 10+ years teaching in BCPSS, Masters+30 credits, and 2 out of past 3 years’ evaluations at the Proficient level. And yet, these teachers who have all of these things, were placed in the Professional pathway, instead of Model. [In present/future, teachers must apply to become a Model Teacher and submit a portfolio of evidence to a panel of reviewers.]
Additionally, as a selling point for the contract, teachers were guaranteed the following: 1) a $1500 signing bonus, 2) a cost of living adjustment to our salaries last year while remaining on the same “step”, and 3) at least a $1750 raise from the transition between our old “step” pay level to our new “interval”. As far as I know, everyone did receive the first two. But many teachers found out this August that their transition interval was less than $1750 above their old step, and they were not paid the difference — the district had ignored the very clear wording in the contract.
After four months, with a grievance filed and the union going to arbitration against the school district, this issue was resolved and teachers got what the contract had promised. But this reluctance to abide by its own contract, together with North Ave playing fast and loose with teachers’ deadlines while letting their own deadlines slide by (e.g. the deadline for when they should have posted AU criteria), makes me pessimistic about lofty claims made about the contract a year ago. Like how it will improve the craft of teaching, and be a model for new teachers’ contracts across the nation. It also makes me think the contract might not survive, when it comes up for a renewal vote in a year and a half.
P.S. Sorry it’s been so long without a post. We’ve got lots of fun things coming up in February, including National Engineers’ Week, so I shall endeavour to keep y’all up-to-date here with this forum.