Wrongheaded tactics

October 03, 2007

Baltimore's teachers union is calling for a vote of no confidence in schools CEO Andres Alonso and is picketing at selected schools over the issue of preparation time, the last major stumbling block to a new teachers' contract. Since the union has already asked members to "work to rule," meaning that they should not do anything more than is required under the old contract, these additional actions are obviously meant to ratchet up the pressure. But Mr. Alonso and the school board should stare down the union and stick to their demands.

At issue are non-class periods that teachers use to prepare lesson plans, complete paperwork and perform other related tasks. In Baltimore, high school and middle school teachers get five planning periods each week, while elementary school teachers get three 45-minute periods a week. Union officials argue that the city's prep period allotments for teachers are the stingiest in the state.

But teachers and administrators should be focused less on counting minutes and more on using those minutes as productively as possible for the benefit of students. Studies of effective schools have shown that joint planning sessions, among teachers in a certain grade or in a particular subject area, are important elements in improving student performance. And that's why the school board and Mr. Alonso are right in wanting to give principals the discretion to require teachers to spend one session a week working with their colleagues on a coordinated plan to boost achievement of individual students as well as schools.

Instead of taking a collaborative approach, union officials are being openly confrontational.

After coming to agreement on major issues such as salaries and benefits, the union has drawn an unnecessary line in the sand on the preparation periods. An official impasse has been declared by the Maryland State Department of Education, opening the door to a possible arbitrated settlement. But the call by union leaders for a no-confidence vote in Mr. Alonso, whose tenure began after the school board called for the shared planning sessions, is wrongheaded.

Teachers should be more concerned about doing what works for their students, and it's perfectly clear that collaborative planning is one way to get there.

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