In the current contract, elected Baltimore Teachers Union building representatives are protected when they speak up to challenge the policies of a principal, a course of action that is sometimes necessary when effectively advocating for students, for fellow teachers, and for what's educationally best at a particular school. Currently, except under very limited circumstances, building reps cannot be involuntarily transferred out of a school. However, the proposed contract takes a significant step backward. It would allow a principal, with the CEO's approval (probably not particularly hard to acquire), to get rid of a building rep.
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 say, even if the investigation finds wrongdoing, that the evaluations must be changed. Let's be clear. Principals are not elected. They are primarily accountable to higher administrative authorities, not to teachers, students and parents. The proposed contract has the potential to allow principals to become quite dictatorial.
Many aspects of the proposed contract are not stipulated with much detail, so it's not certain, but it seems that the proposed contract will actually cause class sizes to become larger. "Lead" teachers, it seems, will be given some leadership responsibilities that may prevent them from having a full teaching load. Similarly, a "Joint Governing Panel" is tasked to "designate the roles and responsibilities that model teachers will assume." This sounds as if "model" teachers may also be partly removed from the classroom.
In addition, it seems that some staff members will be spending time outside the classroom as 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 class sizes will grow.
Class size matters. If it didn't, why are the classes in advanced programs deliberately kept significantly smaller than other classes (even though all classes should be equally small, not just those for a privileged few)? It's simple. Smaller classes are better for teaching and learning. However, it seems that the proposed contract may lead to larger classes.
I strongly urge that teachers vote no to the proposed contract. We can do better for our students and teachers.
Bill Bleich teaches English and drama at Polytechnic Institute, where he also serves as the elected Baltimore Teachers Union building representative. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.