I sent the e-mail described in my last post to all the staff at my school on Friday and, a couple hours later, a grizzled veteran saw me in the hallway and chuckled. He's a great teacher, one of the best in our school, and always chooses to pick the "regular" (not advanced) 9th graders and does a great job with them. "Delaying the vote, huh? That's just delaying my $1500." He went on to say that things will pretty much be the same: "If they like you, you'll get good evaluations, and look at the good stuff; if they don't like you, they'll notice every little bad thing you do. It'll be the same. I'll just make more money in my retirement."
And, that, folks, is the most spirited defense of the new contract that I have heard. I'm offering my own defense of it -- I'm generally an optimistic and believe people to be good, and this contract kind of excites me in some ways -- but not even our BTU building rep is defending it much, because he's too uncertain. I know we need more information, and I think the information dissemination has been pretty bad, so I'm really interested in how this vote (on Thursday) will go. I believe it will pass, but I believe for the wrong reasons -- I believe it will be people looking forward to getting that $1500 check right before Christmas. But it might not pass. I don't know. If it doesn't pass, teachers are going to be portrayed as whiny and not wanting change, but that won't be the case, necessarily; the contact was rushed and it's disappointing, to say the least, how it has been handled, at the very least its speed without any public forums.
I want someone to give a spirited defense of the contract, because I don't think I've heard that yet. I've heard some people who will vote for it -- and, truth be told, if I were in town on Thursday, I probably would, too, at this point I'm probably at 51% yes -- but no one has poured any sort of passion of words into defending the contract as the following writer has. Poly rep Bill Bleich's look at the numbers for funding the contract are simple, effective, and convincing -- his views on war education not as much (in my view). Still, it's powerful, and definitely provoked my thought.
Anyhow, this is worth a read. I post it not as an affirmation of everything he says here, but to get more words and discussion out there. (I cut and pasted the comments from the InsideEd blog here - Views on Baltimore Contract:
CRITIQUE OF THE PROPOSED BTU CONTRACT
COMPETITION INSTEAD OF HELPING EACH OTHER
“Merit” pay - more money for a relatively small percentage of teachers who get top evaluations - will encourage rivalry among teachers. Now, without merit pay, it’s different. Currently, we help each other all the time. We share pedagogical insights. We share teaching materials. We share 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 helpful, and act in a more self-centered way. The goal of “merit” pay is to get more money for oneself by outshining others, especially since the number of high-earning “model” and “lead” teachers will be strictly limited. “Merit” pay is counter to mutual support and collegiality among teachers.
Think about it. We are modeling the adult world to our students. Do we want our young people to learn - from observing our behavior - that rivalry, withholding assistance, and backstabbing are the best ways for humanity to conduct itself? Isn’t it better to show, by example, that humanity is better off when we are mutually supportive? Shouldn’t our goal be to uplift all of humanity, not just a small portion of it?
FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF TEACHERS - NO MATTER HOW EFFECTIVE - MAJOR MONEY IS A MYTH
The proposed contract talks about increased “career acceleration,” but in reality, those gains will be for a relatively small percentage of us. Linda Eberhart - who participated on the CEO’s side in negotiations for the new proposed contract - “said the cost of the contract over three years would be a maximum of $60 million” above and beyond the cost of the current contract (Sun 9-30-10). Let’s take a careful look at the implications of this.
The total budget for the Baltimore City Public Schools is currently $1.23 billion. About 54% goes to salaries, with about $360 million of that going specifically to teacher salaries. Of the $60 million MAXIMUM that the school board may add over three years, here are costs that would have to be deducted from that amount:
1) The one-time $1500 bribe (signing stipend) x 6,000 teachers = $9 million
2) 2% increase in 2010-11 (to be included again in next 2 years) = $21.6 million
3) 1% increase in 2011-12 (to be included again in the next year) = $7.2 million
4) 1.5% increase in 2012-13 = $5.4 million
5) Cost of one “Lead Teacher” at each of 191 schools in 2nd & 3rd year of contract, assuming this means an average of $20,000 additional per person = $7.6 million.
This adds up to $50.8 million. In other words - not counting the single lead teacher at each school - only $9.2 million remains to fund all other “increased career acceleration.” If we assume that the average “Model Teacher” would earn $25,000 extra - compared to salaries in the current contract - and if we assume they would be paid that rate in the second year and again in the 3rd year of the contract, that means at the most that about 184 teachers will be allowed to become “Model Teachers.” In other words, if the quote by Linda Eberhart is accurate, and $60 million is going to be the MAXIMUM amount of new money spent on this contract, then the CEO will have to guarantee that 94% of us are not allowed to achieve either “Lead” or “Model” status!
Keep in mind, according to the new contract, that achieving “Model” status will require the highest possible rating (now called “Proficient”) for at least 2 out of 3 years. This means, to limit the number of “Model” teachers, all the CEO has to do is tell principals that they can only give top-rated evaluations to a small number of teachers. The CEO could easily mandate, for example, that only 5% of the teachers at each school can get the top evaluation. In fact, according to the numerical analysis in this critique, the CEO will probably have to do something like that, to stay within budget (if the proposed contract is adopted).
The numbers used in this section of the critique are as accurate as could be determined, but even if they’re off by a bit, the general conclusion would be virtually the same. Maybe instead of 94% of teachers being blocked from “Model” and “Lead” status, if the numbers aren’t exact, perhaps just 90% of teachers would be prevented from the “increased career acceleration,” which is roughly the same thing.
The Sun, in its glowing reportage about the proposed contract, argues that “Pay could go up quickly for effective teachers” (9-30-10). Are we to assume that 90% or 94% of Baltimore’s teachers - whose pay won’t go up quickly - are ineffective?
We don’t need a star system. We need to continue working together as equals, helping each other to best serve our students’ educational needs.
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, though it’s not discussed extensively, is actually 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 forthcoming national curriculum. For the first time, powerful forces will have centralized control of what gets taught in all U.S. schools.
Let’s consider the international situation. The main conflict in the world, which profoundly influences all other developments - even at the local level - is the intense rivalry for control of cheap labor and natural resources - especially energy - by the world’s major powers. Two wars are currently raging because of this, and more war is on the horizon, including the threat of a world war, once another world power is militarily capable of challenging the U.S. empire, a situation that could develop, perhaps, in as little as 25 years.
Exxon/Mobil, along with the other major oil and gas giants - and the big banks who provide them with financing - are key players, behind the scenes, in running the United States. The continued and expanding profits of these institutions require war. They need millions of young people who are willing to fight and die for them. To accomplish this, the ruling class needs the schools to teach a particular set of beliefs and “facts.”
Picture the situation, perhaps just 5 or 6 years from now, when a devoted teacher wishes to encourage the consideration of a more accurate, balanced set of facts and analytical thinking.. But the new high-stakes tests require - for students to score well - that particular answers, favorable to the world-view of Exxon/Mobil, must be given. And any teacher, whose students haven’t been duly habituated to giving those responses, will be evaluated poorly - and denied raises - because his or her students didn’t make the appropriate “progress.” This sort of scenario is where Race-to-the-Top is headed. And this is another reason why we should not support the proposed contract.
It must be acknowledged, however, that the proposed contract does have some positive aspects. And, if we do vote to reject the proposed contract, the positive aspects can, of course, be included again in a newly-negotiated, second version of the contract.
One positive aspect of the contract is its insistence that teachers at Charter schools (and at other, similar types of schools) must be paid in accord with our contract. The proposed contract also insists that larger salaries must be paid at schools where the hours are longer, or where the school year includes more days. Maryland is almost unique in this regard. In most other states, teachers in the Charter schools are not covered by the union at all, and they are generally paid significantly less than unionized teachers.
In fact, one reason for the national push to have more and more Charter schools - as part of Race-to-the-Top - is to lower the cost of public education. And this too relates to war. The current military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan require hundreds of billions of dollars. Lowering the cost of education is one way that the Exxon/Mobil loyalists want to free up resources, and then direct those resources toward ongoing and new wars in their desperate effort to preserve their lucrative and blood-soaked empire. Fortunately, this cost-cutting aspect of the charter-school movement is not part of the proposed contract.
ENCOURAGING COWARDICE INSTEAD OF WHOLE-HEARTEDLY SERVING OUR STUDENTS’ NEEDS
The current contract stipulates that a Building Rep cannot be involuntarily transferred out of a school (except for very limited exceptions). However, the proposed contract says that a BR can indeed be reassigned, and all that’s required is written approval by the CEO.
Picture this. A Building Rep has helped to organize teachers at a school to fight hard for racial and socio-economic equality in class size so that all classes - whether advanced or regular - have the same average size. Imagine it was an effort to significantly improve learning for the majority of students at that school, who are in the regular classes, but who were - for years - treated as stepchildren and thrown into overcrowded classes which are much less conducive to educational progress. Imagine that the Building Rep and many of the teachers had to ruffle some administrative feathers to finally win this campaign. Imagine that other bold efforts - requiring some opposition to the principal - are also being pursued in the interests of parents, teachers, and students. The proposed contract would allow a principal, with the CEO’s written approval (probably not too hard to get) to get rid of that Building Rep as a way of trying to undermine those
social-justice campaigns for better education.
Similarly, any teacher who speaks up boldly - trying to advance the learning situation for his or her students - may, at times, have to oppose the policies of a principal. If that principal, under the new contract, has the power - through evaluations - to have a major and direct effect on a teacher’s salary, then highly devoted teachers may hesitate to do what’s truly in the best interests of their students.
Think about it. Not infrequently, the motivation to become a principal is based on wanting to: 1)Make more money, 2)Distance oneself from the students, 3)Do less work, and 4) Eventually advance one’s career to a higher-paid, cushy, school-headquarters position.
With this in mind, it’s reasonable to argue that, often, teachers are more highly motivated than administrators to serve the educational needs of our students. The self-serving, careerist attitude that motivates some people to become principals causes them to focus their time on administrative courses and personal advancement, while a dedicated teacher, instead, may devote his or her time to being a voluntary Club advisor, helping to organize social and academic events for the students, getting to know parents, and spending large amounts of time revising personal teaching strategies and materials to become more and more effective each year.
But the proposed contract gives principals tremendous power to choose which teachers to advance, and which to sideline. Won’t that lead, in many schools, to a situation where favorites are cultivated and rewarded, but anyone who opposes the principal on any matter at all - even when doing so for the benefit of the students - is excluded from advancement?
NO TEETH IN PROVISION TO INVESTIGATE PRINCIPALS WHO WRITE UNFAIR EVALUATIONS
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 stipulate, even if the investigation finds wrong-doing, that the evaluations must be changed.
In fact, in our current evaluation system, observations and evaluations cannot be grieved in regard to their content. Only procedural violations can be grieved. In the proposed contract, the consequences of an evaluation will be much more significant. In particular, a teacher can be held - indefinitely? - at a particular interval (which is the proposed contract’s new name for a salary step).
The proposed contract, like the old one - and like the Performance-Based Evaluation System - has no provision allowing teachers to grieve the content of an evaluation. Let’s be clear. Principals are not elected. They are primarily accountable to higher authorities, not to teachers, students, and parents. The proposed contract has the potential to allow principals to become quite dictatorial. And such principals won’t necessarily be “benign” dictators. They could readily be dictatorial in regard to teachers and simultaneously contemptuous in regard to the educational needs of our students.
INCREASING CLASS SIZE
This is not certain, because many aspects of the proposed contract are not stipulated with much detail. However, it sounds as if “Lead” teachers will be given some leadership responsibilities that may prevent them from having a full teaching load. Similarly, the “Joint Governing Panel” - in the proposed contract - is tasked to “designate the roles and responsibilities that Model Teachers will assume, consistent with the strengths of the Model Teacher.” This too sounds as if these teachers will be partly removed from the classroom. In addition, it sounds as some staff members will be spending time outside the classroom as AU (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 classes will grow in size.
Class size matters. If it didn’t, why are the classes - in advanced programs like Ingenuity - deliberately kept significantly smaller than other classes. It’s simple. Smaller classes are better for teaching and learning. However, it seems that the proposed contract may well lead to larger classes.
The writer of this critique urges you to vote NO when the ratification vote is held on October 14th.. We can do better than this for our teachers and for our students.
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