Baltimore Breaks Through at the Bargaining Table

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Baltimore this week became the most recent in a series of AFT districts where union leaders and school administrators have put together a breakthrough deal designed to give teachers the tools and conditions needed to make every classroom a great place for teaching and learning.

Highlights of the district's new three-year deal tentative agreement were unveiled Sept. 29 at a high school in northeast Baltimore, at a town hall event that brought together frontline teachers and leaders of the Baltimore Teachers Union, AFT national officers, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, city schools CEO Andres Alonso and Mike Casserly, executive director for the Council of Great City Schools.

Featured in the tentative agreement are new opportunities for professional leadership, compensation and teacher voice. It offers more flexibility at the school level, giving teachers the chance to tailor programs and schedules to meet the needs of their students. It also establishes a new compensation system and career ladder: Teachers who are successful in moving children forward will advance their careers, and those who are not will receive support. And the agreement explicitly embeds professional practices that research, experience and common sense say will lead to better student outcomes. Teachers will be on an equal footing with administrators in the design of these professional building blocks used to gauge where teachers are in their careers. Called "achievement units," the new indicators of professional effectiveness will be based on multiple measures, incorporate a peer review process in their application, and reflect standards for support and professional development created by the AFT.

It's a contract "that can take Baltimore schools to the next level," BTU president Marietta English told scores of classroom educators who had gathered to hear the contract highlights. "This will allow teachers to have real impact and a voice in how they advance in their careers."

"A transformative contract" is how AFT president Randi Weingarten described the deal at the Baltimore town hall meeting. It embodies "the collaborative, respectful nature of the negotiations" and builds on recent progress in Baltimore, where test score increases have exceeded state and national averages, she said. "The Baltimore Teachers Union—like AFT affiliates in Hillsborough, Fla.; New Haven, Conn.; and Pittsburgh—has used collective bargaining to create a problem-solving contract that brings innovative, forward-thinking, systemic changes to schools."

AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson, a longtime leader in Maryland public education, hailed the agreement as an investment in the judgment of education's frontline. "Teachers have shown that they can make decisions in their schools, and this agreement gives that leadership back to the classroom."

Mayor Rawlings-Blake also lauded the agreement as an example of the "quiet storm of transformation" that Baltimore public schools have undergone in recent years—work done "without acrimony [and] in true partnership" with teachers.

It's a process better suited to school progress than education punditry, but Rawlings-Blake seemed comfortable with that tradeoff: Her remarks at the meeting made it clear that she had no plans to join the conga line of politicians now using the recent release of the education documentary film "Waiting for 'Superman' " as new varnish for old arguments against teachers and their elected representatives.

"We're not waiting for anyone," the mayor said. "We're committed to be in the vanguard of public education." Baltimore educators will vote on the new deal Oct. 14. [Mike Rose/video by Matthew Jones]

September 30, 2010