Friday, August 24, 2007

Baltimore School Contract Negotiations

Earlier this week, the Baltimore Sun reported on what the Baltimore teacher's union is doing due to the stall in contract negotiations.
The Baltimore Teachers Union is asking teachers to "work to rule" when classes start next week because negotiations on a new two-year contract have stalled over planning time for teachers, a union leader said yesterday.

Contract talks have reached an impasse, said Marietta English, president of the teachers' chapter of the Baltimore Teachers Union. The union, which also represents paraprofessionals, plans to ask the Maryland State Department of Education to move negotiations to a fact-finding phase to resolve the issue.

snip

Teachers and paraprofessionals will continue to work under the existing contractual agreement, English said yesterday. The union is asking teachers to perform only tasks dictated by the contract and to work only during the designated school day.

The union is committed to working with Andres Alonso, the new chief executive officer of Baltimore schools, English said, but "we think it is outrageous that teachers are being denied a new contract while newly hired teachers are being offered bonuses up to $7,000 to work in the Baltimore City public schools," she said.
This is a perfect example of how parents and students cannot trust teachers' unions.

Despite what many people think, I am not completely anti-union. I don't like unions and in particular public sector unions since they drive up the cost of government. But if a union sticks to doing what it is supposed to do, that is focus their efforts on work place conditions and protections, I generally will not oppose their actions.

However, the problem with public sector unions, like teachers' unions, is that they claim to have the interests of the public at heart but cannot reconcile their professed concern with the actions they take. Baltimore schools are set to open on Monday and now teachers are being told--don't do anything extra. Working to the rule at a time when extra effort is required, i.e. at the beginning of a school year, is a cheap shot and clearly does not have the best interests of students at heart.

The thing that really chafes me is that the impasse is over planning time--planning time. In a work day that is already an hour or so shorter than the rest of the world but France, and includes a 45 minute lunch break, further shortening the work day, the Baltimore teachers union is upset about planning time. Not having too many kids in the class, not pay, not benefits, not even the condition of classrooms (i.e. no heat or A/C) but planning time.

I don't know of any other job, unionized or otherwise, that even considers planning time a negotiable condition and the cause for a labor demonstration. The fact that heartens me is that I know many teachers will ignore the union and go about doing their jobs for our children the best they know how.

Here is the thing that chafes me about the school system:
A school system spokeswoman did not return calls for comment last night. English said the school system wants to use some of the planning time for staff development. The contract includes 10 staff development days.
School systems routinely don't go on the offensive, ceding the public relations ground to the unions. The minute these talks broke down, the press officer for the school system should have been on the phone to the Sun and making the schools' case. They have such a wonderful case to make here.

By almost every measurement, Baltimore schools are in dismal condition. Teachers have within their power the ability to make the most immediate and long term changes and for my money, anything that helps them do their job better, whether voluntary or mandatory, is a good thing. Having ten days of staff development augmented by a couple more days is nothing. If it means teachers have to do a little planning outside the work day--so be it. The school system needs to improve and that means teachers too. The school board should be up front and public about it.

According to the Maryland State Report Card for 2007, Baltimore City Schools have 21.6 percent of teachers with Conditional certification and 47 percent of classes being taught by teachers who are not highly qualified according to NCLB standards. In contrast, statewide, only 7.8 percent of teachers in Maryland are working with conditional certification and 17.8 percent of classes don't' have a highly qualified teacher. Based on those figures alone, the Baltimore City School Board should be out there with guns blazing that their desire to have more development days is meant to close those gaps.

The galling fact is that eventually the school board is going to cave. The best that can be hoped for is a compromise of some sort.

The parents and students of Baltimore need better teachers and they certainly don't need lazy teachers. Working to rule is lazy and it is a cop out by the union. The public shouldn't take it and they should be public about this disapproval.

5 comments:

Epiphany in Baltimore said...

1. My lunch is 27 minutes, not 45.

2. My workday is generally 7am-7pm, and I almost always take work home. Today, I left at 5:15, and it was the earliest I've left all year, and I've got 60 essays to grade tonight. To hear someone say that a teacher's work day is shorter than anyone else's is woefully inaccurate.

I don't know of any other job, unionized or otherwise, that even considers planning time a negotiable condition and the cause for a labor demonstration

And are other jobs jobs where you have to present effectively for several hours? Of course, planning time is needed.

According to the Maryland State Report Card for 2007, Baltimore City Schools have 21.6 percent of teachers with Conditional certification and 47 percent of classes being taught by teachers who are not highly qualified according to NCLB standards. In contrast, statewide, only 7.8 percent of teachers in Maryland are working with conditional certification and 17.8 percent of classes don't' have a highly qualified teacher. Based on those figures alone, the Baltimore City School Board should be out there with guns blazing that their desire to have more development days is meant to close those gaps.

Those numbers are because BCPSS cannot get qualified teachers to work under the conditions that the school system is in. We already have less planning time than any other district in the state; wouldn't making these conditions worse be a further mark against getting a job in the city?

In general, I'm not in favor of a work-to-rule tactic, and agree with a few of your points. However, too much of it is lost in illogic.

Laura S said...

"Teachers have within their power the ability to make the most immediate and long term changes."

What power do you think we have? Vert little! I am told what to teach and in what sequence. And I have the power to choose my behavior plan and system, but I have to rely on the office for more serious offenses. Yes, I have the power to teach and to put my passion into the classroom. I think that pays off for my students and my classes, but how do you think this affects my whole school? How do you think this is long lasting?

Planning time and meeting time are critical. Grading time is critical. You have a short and unrealistic view of how hard teachers work and how we spend our time. Spend a day in any elementary classroom and I assure you that you will be impressed by how long and how far teachers go. Every K-5 classroom teacher I know works HER tail off.

That being said, I'm off to grade 26 lab reports and to write a science test.

Anonymous said...

You know what, buddy, you're right. Planning time? Teachers don't need any planning time - they're just a bunch of babysitters anyway. So maybe we should start paying them like babysitters, and then all these complaints would probably go away.

I'm thinking the going rate for a babysitter is probably about $5 an hour - I don't think that's even minimum wage now, but it seems like a good number. But that's $5 per kid per hour. So I guess we have to estimate that each teacher has at least 20 kids per class - which is, I think, a pretty conservative number, by the way. But we'll use it for the sake of argument.

OK, 20 kids per class, let's say 6 hours per day, and 180 school days per year, at $5 an hour that comes out to . . . $108,000 a year !?!?!?

And that's just for a starting "babysitter" - I guess we have to pay the more experienced ones more money. And if we bump that class size up to 30 students - which I think is more realistic for BCPSS - then that base salary becomes $162,000.

Hell, I'd go back to teaching if I got paid like a babysitter!

Catherine said...

Wow. You obviously have a very warped view of what teaching truly entails. You have an even less realistic grasp on what it means to teach in a district like Baltimore City. I urge you to spend a week shadowing a dedicated teacher in Baltimore City; walk in their shoes for a while and then tell me if you'd write the same post.

Anonymous said...

I agree with just about everything you wrote, except that it is unrealistic to expect teachers to do all their planning and grading outside of the work day. I wonder if some of those staff development hours wouldn't be better used as catch-up days for teachers.