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Baltimore teachers contract could be great

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten called me last week full of excitement over her Baltimore local's new teachers contract. Education leaders often exaggerate when talking to journalists, but Weingarten has taken some bold steps in Colorado and D.C. that were not popular with all of her members, so she is very credible, at least to me.

The contract between the Baltimore Teachers Union, led by Marietta English, and the Baltimore city schools, led by Andres Alonso, embraces the new Maryland state requirement that 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation be based on student achievement. That is not something union leaders welcomed, so the AFT decision to go with it suggests Weingarten and English are willing to meet school officials half way.

Based on new formula that gives credit to teachers for getting more training as well as raising achievement, a lead teacher (under the contract there can only be one per school) could eventually earn as much as $100,000 a year. Teachers at three lower levels also would earn much more than they do now.

A summary Weingarten sent me said "we're rewarding teachers for contributing to student learning and improving their practice as well as their fellow teachers' practice with high-quality professional development. We're rewarding teachers for great teaching."

The contract has an intriguing section allowing school-based options that would give teachers at individual schools more control over their working conditions. I thought this might be relevant to the controversy sparked by the BTU demanding the KIPP school in Baltimore, the highest scoring public middle school in the city, cut back its longer school day or increase the per hourly wage for those extra hours. But AFT executive vice president says I have that wrong. Charter schools like KIPP would have to work out such disputes with the BTU, as KIPP eventually did. Their teachers would still lack the power to decide that themselves.

Just how all these changes will work is not clear. The contract hasn't been voted on by the union. Details of how teacher advancement will be calculated need to be worked out. The Baltimore Sun noted that under the contract Alonso, English and school union representatives could veto teachers' school-based option plans.

The contract is a hopeful sign, one more reason why Weingarten does not deserve the anti-innovation label applied to her in the new documentary film "Waiting for 'Superman.'" It will be interesting to see how the new compensation plan actually works when it is up and running.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | October 5, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Andres Alonso, Marietta English, Randi Weingarten, new Baltimore teachers contract  
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Next: 'I was not allowed to take AP English'


Details need to be worked out prior to asking teachers to vote on this contract. Otherwise, they may get more than they bargained for. Many of the details are missing.

Posted by: musiclady | October 5, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Randi Weingarten's attempted impersonation of Al Shanker is becoming more convincing day by day.

She's the best thing to happen to teacher unions in this country since the passing of the great Al Shanker at the end of the last century.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 5, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

To phoss1---I think you have that right.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 5, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Any word on how they plan to handle high school? I'd hate to see an expansion of standardized testing, especially those primitive CRTs that were created to comply with NCLB.

How do they plan to interpret scores? Will it be left to principals to determine whether the test score target was approriate for that school or will a peer review committee make that guestimate?

Frankly, I'm torn on tactics here. My preference would be to work out an intellectually honest system to interpret scores, while moving towards diagnostic testing and away from the gamesmanship of NCLB. But perhaps the better approach would be to quietly undercut the test score requirment by loopholes and gamesmanship along the lines of NCLB. After all, federal state and local regs will always be easy to evade. Do we replay the NCLB culture of compliance with tricks to get this issue out of the headlines and move on, or do why try to actually make this work?

For what its worth - and I have less experience in these political dealings that other issues - when educators try to deal with these issues in an above-board manner like I would prefer - no good deed goes unpunished. So I intend to just watch and learn and hope.

Posted by: johnt4853 | October 5, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Does this mean more testing for subjects currently not tested:
foreign language
social studies
home ec

Posted by: edlharris | October 5, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

For johnt4853 and edlharris---

All that stuff appears to remain up in the air. That 50 percent share of the evaluation based on student achievement will be calculated based on a formula of 30 percent test scores and 20 percent other measures of achievement, but just what they will use must be worked out by study committees. It could get very complicated.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 5, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse


Hey, home ec is chock-full of math and writing skills. Have you ever tried to make a 1 1/2 recipe of something that calls for 1 3/4 tsp. of baking powder? Have you ever tried to write a recipe, one of the most condensed and data-sensitive forms of procedural text known to exist?

Posted by: gardyloo | October 5, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

@edharris--Rumor has it that the state will require testing in the areas you list but they will expect the locals to come up with the tests. I suppose that's better than having the state do it since many of those content areas differ from district to district. I hope the contract gets voted down if the details are not there. Look at what happened to DC teachers regarding job security for those accepting bonuses. The details are missing and the devil is in the details.

Posted by: musiclady | October 5, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Sad to say, musiclady.

For gardyloo, what will a standardized home ec test look like?

If a recipe calls for a pinch of salt, and you are quadrupling it, how many teaspoons will you need?

Posted by: edlharris | October 5, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

ed: one (1) tsp.

Posted by: axolotl | October 5, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I still don't see how we can devise tests to measure whether students are working at grade level or learning when we haven't decided what they should know at each level. I have subbed in schools where sixth graders were studying multiplication and in schools where sixth-graders were studying pre-algebra. Which one is on grade level and which one is behind or ahead? As nearly as I can figure, "grade level" means the work that is assigned at that grade in that school.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | October 5, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Thank you axolotl.
But what about those with big fingers? 4 pinches might be a tablespoon.

(You've quiet recently, basically since the primary.
Hanging out with the Marlboro Man in churches in Bermuda?)

Posted by: edlharris | October 5, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

"Based on new formula that gives credit to teachers for getting more training as well as raising achievement, a lead teacher (under the contract there can only be one per school) could eventually earn as much as $100,000 a year. "

Oh, god. Not more training. There's no evidence that credentials and master's degrees work, but you want to pay for more training?

And "lead teachers"? What will they do, exactly?

But hey, it will feed the education industry.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 6, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse

"Based on new formula that gives credit to teachers for getting more training as well as raising achievement, a lead teacher (under the contract there can only be one per school) could eventually earn as much as $100,000 a year. "

Oh, god. Not more training. There's no evidence that credentials and master's degrees work, but you want to pay for more training?

And "lead teachers"? What will they do, exactly?

But hey, it will feed the education industry.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | October 6, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse

I haven't read Maryland's RttT but down here our RttT would have doubled the testing, as the Tulsa Gates grant would have. If that ahappens, the incentives are to just play games. If they had peer review, they could invest in diagnosistic testing, and still use that data. I suspect that complying with state plans will be huge, and mostly that's good because of the disincentive against picking unnecessary fights by firing teachers simply over the principals' desire for control. But it also creates incentives to just play games to get the money. I wish they could uninvent VAMS. So much risk for so little gain, but if a deal gets them out of this educational civil war, its something.

Posted by: johnt4853 | October 6, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Interestingly Jay, all of this was done without "supporters" like Katherine Bradley collecting money from her friends to pay for commercials to vilify the union. There was no public negotiation by either group to try to get an advantage over the other. Perhaps education reform can succeed in urban environments without nasty leaders. Congratulations, Dr. Alonso.

Posted by: topryder1 | October 6, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse


Amen! The lack of clear, common curriculum content is the elephant in the room. How can we say whether students have been well taught if we can't even say what they are supposed to have learned?


Generic "credentials and master's degrees" don't have much evidence of effects, but training that is targeted at how to teach the specific curriculum content that will be taught has been shown to be important in both national and international research.

For example, see Cohen, D. K., & Hill, H. (2001). Learning Policy: When State Education Reform Works. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Also TEDS-M,

Posted by: mattmel | October 6, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Weingarten is a brilliant woman who probably realizes that principals have long been able to base their evaluations 100% on student progress but didn't bother to do so for various reasons, mostly economic. It was a lot easier to observe teachers for twenty minutes every two years and then give them all "highly effective" ratings. This is a matter of record.

So Randi undoubtedly knows that this legislation means nothing apart from the economy. If the recession continues, districts will continue to dismiss veteran (i.e. expensive) teachers based on supposed lack of student progress. If good times come back again, we'll be back to hiring and retaining every teacher who wants the job, especially in low-income schools.

In almost every state principals have long been able to visit classrooms frequently, assess student progress, look at student files and test scores and do whatever else they deemed necessary to evaluate a teacher. They were not required to ask permission to do this or to inform the teacher of it. In almost all states a teacher cannot challenge the CONTENT of her evaluation. That means if the principal deems her "ineffective" based on student progress or anything else, that evaluation stands. No one, no law and no union ever prevented it. Contrary to popular belief, administrators were NOT obliged to grant tenure to everyone, but they did, most likely because teacher retention was a huge problem

Unions do not hire, evaluate or fire teachers. Administrators do.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 6, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

For Linda/RetiredTeacher

I think that is one of your best posts. You have seen the future clearly.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | October 6, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Jay.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 6, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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