Baltimore’s New Teacher Contract–And How It’s Different from D.C.’s

Since I wrote my Nation article arguing that "Waiting for Superman" is inaccurate and outdated in its portrayal of all teachers unions as impediments to reform, look what happened: Another major city's AFT affiliate, the Baltimore Teachers Union, agreed to a groundbreaking new contract. Here are the highlights:

  • No more "lock step" promotions based only on education and years in the classroom. Instead, there will be 4 categories of achievement and skills-based teaching proficiency: standard, professional, mentor, and lead teacher. At each level, teachers can earn raises based on how well their students are learning, as well as what they have done to improve their practice, from taking additional courses to achieving high ratings from a peer review board or principal. 
  • By 2012, a standard, or beginning teacher could earn up to $53,400; a professional teacher up to $84,011; a model teacher up to $92,700; and a lead teacher up to $100,800, or nearly as much as a principal. There will be only one lead teacher per school. These salaries are intended to make Baltimore competitive with its suburbs.
  • If 80 percent of the teachers in a building agree via secret ballot, the school can adopt a longer day or longer year, policies that unions have historically fought.
  • On teacher evaluations, the contract references a future collaborative effort to create a new system. So no word yet on how much student standardized test score data will count in evaluating teachers.

While AFT President Randi Weingarten has been hesitant to speak optimistically or enthusiastically about Michelle Rhee's contract in Washington, D.C., everyone involved is praising the Baltimore effort. "This is the most professional contract I have seen," Weingarten told the Baltimore Sun. The union's promotional materials brag about "unprecedented cooperation."

Compare that to what Weingarten told me in August about the D.C. contract: "Everyone acknowledges we did what we ought to have done," she said, "But I think it's hopefully one of the last old top-down industrial-model contracts. … I disagree that it's revolutionary."

Why the different messages? Here are some key differences between the D.C. and Baltimore contracts:

  • The jumping off point for the D.C. negotiations was Rhee's belief that many D.C. teachers were thoroughly incompetent, beyond remediation, and needed to be booted from the system ASAP. This past July, she fired 241 teachers. In Baltimore, firings seem to have been left off the table (for now) to ease the process of agreeing to a new contract. Superintendent Andres Alonso told the Sun, "The next level has to be about every kid being in a classroom with a great teacher." And that means firing bad teachers sometime in the future–but perhaps not immediately.
  • The word "tenure" appears nowhere in the Baltimore tentative agreement. There does not appear to be a weakening here of due process rules before a teacher gets fired, or a change of the rules by which teachers are excessed. In D.C., Rhee won the power to fire/excess teachers based on performance evaluations. Traditionally, teachers are excessed based on seniority. 
  • In D.C., the teacher merit pay pilot program will be financed by private philanthropies. That led many to question its sustainability–especially since the donors have said they may not want to work with any chancellor other than Michelle Rhee. Private money does not appear to be part of the equation in Baltimore.

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