Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Baltimore from a Teacher Who Said "No"!


I'm a teacher in Baltimore, and I read some of your recent edition of Education Notes Online.

Here's an Op Ed piece that was published in the main newspaper here just prior to the voting (when the proposed contract was rejected). 

Best regards,
Bill Bleich

More from Bill:
Hi Peace & Justice Friends,

Just want to let you know that the proposed contract for Baltimore City teachers was defeated this past Thursday - 1540 to 1107!

It's an interesting situation. It seems, in a modest way, that teachers in Baltimore have essentially just handed a defeat to the education direction of the national government, our national union leadership, our local union leadership, the public schools CEO here in Baltimore, the Baltimore School Board, and The Sun newspaper. 

Rather historic. 

On the other hand, a significant portion of the opposition to the contract was based, not on substantive disagreement, but on the fact that the proposed contract was quite vague, leaving many new details to be worked out by new union/management committees, after adoption of the contract. 

The CEO, Board, and union leaders are taking advantage of this, planning a second vote soon, with few if any changes to the proposed contract. Instead, they are focusing on efforts to simply "clarify" the proposed contract to teachers. 

Below, I'm including an Op Ed piece that was published in the main newspaper here (side-by-side with an editorial strongly urging support for the contract) on Wednesday, just before the voting.  

All my best,
Bill Bleich

A teacher's case against the Baltimore union contract

The proposed agreement would empower principals, not teachers

By Bill Bleich
10:21 AM EDT, October 12, 2010

What's not to like about the proposed contract for Baltimore city schoolteachers? Plenty.

Start with "merit" pay, which will encourage rivalry among teachers. Currently, teachers share pedagogical insights, teaching materials and effective lessons. For most of us, our support for one another is a reflection of our profound concern for maximizing the intellectual growth of the young people for whom we're responsible.

With "merit" pay, there will be pressure on teachers to be less supportive of each other and to act in a more self-centered way. We are modeling the adult world to our students. Do we want our young people to learn — from observing our behavior — that backstabbing and unbridled ambition are the best way for humanity to conduct itself? Shouldn't our goal be to uplift all of humanity, not just a small portion of it?

Often, teachers are more highly motivated than administrators to serve our young people. The attitude that motivates some people to become principals causes them to focus their time on the requisite coursework for becoming administrators. In contrast, a dedicated teacher may selflessly devote large amounts of time to being the voluntary adviser for a school club, helping to organize social and academic events for the students after school, getting to know parents, and refining teaching strategies and instructional materials with the goal of becoming more effective each year.

But the proposed contract gives principals tremendous power to choose which teachers advance and which get sidelined. Won't that lead, in many schools, to a situation where a principal's favorites are cultivated and rewarded, with little regard for effectiveness, while anyone who opposes the principal on any matter at all — even when doing so for the benefit of the students, like fighting for smaller class sizes — is largely excluded from advancement?

The proposed contract is effusive about increased "career acceleration," but in reality major gains will be for a very small percentage of teachers. Linda Eberhart, an administrator who took part in the negotiations, explained that "the cost of the contract over three years would be a maximum of $60 million." That limited funding would have to cover the following costs (using the most accurate numbers available to the public):

--$1,500 bribe ("signing stipend") for each teacher = $9 million

--2 percent increase in 2010-11 (and continuing in second and third years of contract) = $21.6 million

--1 percent increase in 2011-12 (and in third year) = $7.2 million

--1.5 percent increase in 2012-13 = $5.4 million

--Cost of one "lead teacher" at each of 191 schools in second and third years of contract, assuming an average of an additional $20,000 per person = $7.6 million.

This adds up to $50.8 million. Only $9.2 million remains to fund all other "increased career acceleration." If we assume that the average "model teacher" would earn about $15,000 extra — compared to current salaries — and if we assume "model teachers" would be paid at that higher rate in the second and third years of the contract, that means, at most, that about 307 teachers will be allowed to become "model teachers." In other words, the district CEO will have to guarantee that about 92 percent of the teaching staff is not allowed to achieve either "lead" or "model" status.

Remember, if this contract is ratified, achieving "model" status will require the highest possible rating (currently entitled "proficient") for at least two out of three years. This means, to limit the number of "model" teachers, all the CEO has to do is tell principals that they can give top-rated evaluations to only a tiny percentage of teachers.

The Sun, in its glowing reportage about the proposed contract, argues that "Pay could go up quickly for effective teachers." Are we to assume that 92 percent of Baltimore's teachers — whose pay won't go up quickly — are ineffective?

The proposed contract is being lauded as a cutting-edge contribution on a national level to school reform and Race to the Top strategies. However, the real centerpiece of these trends is actually something less talked-about: a national curriculum. In all probability, in upcoming years, the MSA and HSA tests will be phased out and replaced with new high-stakes tests aligned with that curriculum.

For the first time, powerful forces will have highly centralized control of what gets taught in U.S. public schools. Will teachers who dissent from this establishment-backed — and likely corporate-influenced — curriculum be evaluated poorly and denied raises? This is where Race to the Top is headed, and it is another reason why we should not support the proposed contract, which is inextricably tied up with Race to the Top.

In the current contract, elected Baltimore Teachers Union building representatives are protected when they speak up to challenge the policies of a principal, a course of action that is sometimes necessary when effectively advocating for students, for fellow teachers, and for what's educationally best at a particular school. Currently, except under very limited circumstances, building reps cannot be involuntarily transferred out of a school. However, the proposed contract takes a significant step backward. It would allow a principal, with the CEO's approval (probably not particularly hard to acquire), to get rid of a building rep.

The proposed contract has a provision for investigating a principal who "significantly changes" the proportion of teachers receiving lower evaluations than the year before. That sounds good. However, the proposed contract only stipulates an investigation. It does not stipulate any consequences. And it does not say, even if the investigation finds wrongdoing, that the evaluations must be changed. Let's be clear. Principals are not elected. They are primarily accountable to higher administrative authorities, not to teachers, students and parents. The proposed contract has the potential to allow principals to become quite dictatorial.

Many aspects of the proposed contract are not stipulated with much detail, so it's not certain, but it seems that the proposed contract will actually cause class sizes to become larger. "Lead" teachers, it seems, will be given some leadership responsibilities that may prevent them from having a full teaching load. Similarly, a "Joint Governing Panel" is tasked to "designate the roles and responsibilities that model teachers will assume." This sounds as if "model" teachers may also be partly removed from the classroom.

In addition, it seems that some staff members will be spending time outside the classroom as Achievement Unit coordinators. If several people in a school — who each used to have a full teaching load — will be partly or completely taken out of the classroom, all the students that would have been taught by those individuals will have to be added to the classes taught by other teachers. This means that class sizes will grow.

Class size matters. If it didn't, why are the classes in advanced programs deliberately kept significantly smaller than other classes (even though all classes should be equally small, not just those for a privileged few)? It's simple. Smaller classes are better for teaching and learning. However, it seems that the proposed contract may lead to larger classes.

I strongly urge that teachers vote no to the proposed contract. We can do better for our students and teachers.

Bill Bleich teaches English and drama at Polytechnic Institute, where he also serves as the elected Baltimore Teachers Union building representative. His e-mail

1 comment:

  1. Here in NYC leaving the contract vague on how it is to be actually implemented is common. The union says that way we can interpret it how WE want, but the reality is that the teachers in the schools DO NOT get the best deal. A little phrase in a recent contract (that no one paid must attention to when voting) saying that the union would set-up a committee to look into teacher pay based on test scores, GOT US the BONUS PAY program. The union said members did not have to vote on it because it was in the last contract!!. Our union also negotiated a deal with the state education department having similar language about a union committee negotiating with the local government to decide how to evaluate us based on test scores. WE are waiting to hear how awful that will be! Is there an organized group in the Baltimore local that can put out literature about the problems/implications of the real issues in the contract?
    We,in NYC,were quite happy to hear that the contract was defeated! Lisa N.


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