11/17/2010

Baltimore Teachers Ratify Bold Contract Agreement

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The members of the Baltimore Teachers Union on Nov. 17 ratified a tentative agreement with the Baltimore City Public Schools, adding their school district to a growing list of districts nationwide that are using collective bargaining and collaboration as vehicles for education reform.

"The contract is a bold step by the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Baltimore City Public Schools to transform the city's school system and make a difference in the lives of all students," AFT president Randi Weingarten says. "It meshes unique reforms with school improvement strategies that are working in other districts. The BTU and BCPS have shown what is possible when both sides are committed to a collaborative process that is focused on working in the best interests of kids."

The new contract provides innovative reforms, increases the level of teacher input in education decisions, establishes multiple opportunities for educators to earn significant pay increases, and does away with the traditional pay scales by allowing teachers and school personnel to determine the pace of their career advancement.

Under the new agreement:

  • Educators can earn Achievement Units (AUs), which are like "credits" available to all teachers and education professionals. AUs can be earned for in-school and out-of-school activities, such as participating in high-quality, meaningful professional development; completing graduate courses; or participating in other activities that improve the performance of students, colleagues, the school or the district. Compensation increases as AUs are earned.
  • There are more opportunities for career advancement. The agreement establishes four career pathways—Standard Teacher, Professional Teacher, Model Teacher and Lead Teacher. Educators can advance in their careers at any time—across career pathways and along intervals within career pathways—by earning AUs, receiving positive evaluations or participating in a review by the Professional Peer Review Committee. This replaces the conventional system that provides regular increases based on years in the system.
  • Teachers will have a greater voice in teacher evaluations. The new contract calls for the addition of multiple criteria to be included in teacher evaluations, and establishes a governing panel of educators and administrators who will provide input into the criteria and measures used to assess performance.

The new contract also provides an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration between the BTU and BCPS. Two labor-management committees—a Joint Oversight Committee and a Joint Governing Panel—will be established to develop and implement programs intended to increase student learning, improve professional practice and reward educators for the work they do.

"This landmark contract demonstrates the willingness of Baltimore teachers to break with tradition and try new ways to create incentives for boosting teacher and student performance," says BTU president Marietta English. "It's significant that this agreement was developed at the negotiating table with teachers, related service providers and school district leadership. The team was able to develop innovative, inspiring ways to improve teaching and learning."

This is the second time Baltimore's educators have voted on the new contract, and they sent a clear message with each vote, Weingarten says. The final tally the second time was 1,902 to 1,045. "First, they made it clear that they have the right to demand more time to learn about and consider provisions that are extremely new and different," she says. "The second message was sent today: Trust is paramount in any contractual agreement. BTU members wanted to see that the agreement included checks and balances to ensure that everyone—including principals and district administrators—is holding up his or her end of the bargain. Satisfied that they will be full-fledged members of the education team, they voted for sweeping changes to improve teaching and student achievement.

"Now, the vision for great Baltimore schools depends on a good-faith implementation of the contract by school district administrators, principals and teachers, through their union." [AFT and BTU press releases]

November 17, 2010