Baltimore has experienced a sharp uptick in the number of applicants seeking teaching positions, a trend that city school and union officials attribute primarily to a landmark contract ratified last fall but that experts say could also be driven by the economy.
Since October, the number of applications submitted by educators vying for spots in city classrooms has surged by more than 100 percent when compared with the same time frame in 2009, according to city school data. The Baltimore Teachers Union and the school system introduced a radically different contract in October that will pay teachers considerably more based on their performance and promote them through a career ladder that will allow some teachers to make more than $100,000.
City schools CEO Andrés Alonso said that he believes the recently ratified contract has, in large part, been responsible for the application surge and for keeping teachers in Baltimore. The district also experienced a 35 percent decrease in resignations over the same time period.
He called the contract a "game changer" in recruitment for the district.
"The contract is drawing teachers, because despite the tone of the national debate on teacher effectiveness, most teachers want to be judged as professionals," Alonso said.
He said that the ability of teachers to make money faster and climb through the ranks at their own pace appeals to both younger and older teachers. According to city school data, more than half of the applicants are coming from other districts or universities.
But experts who have tracked teacher trends in the nation, particularly in districts that have undergone radical reforms, believe it may be too early to tell whether the contract has attracted more applicants or if more teachers are looking for work because of the economy.
"Under the contract, teachers see an opportunity to make more money, and that has a big impact, but I think the economy is huge," said Emily Cohen, district policy director at the National Council on Teacher Quality. "Though the contract was getting a lot of attention, it seems a little premature."
"It's so hard, because these high-profile contracts and reforms have all happened at the same time as the economic crisis," Cohen said. She added, though, that many reforms have taken place because the economic crisis has allowed districts to assert their bargaining power.
Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said that she had not been contacted by teacher applicants about the contract but that interest from other districts has been increasing. She said she believes that an applicant surge could be attributed to the contract and to Maryland being ranked the No. 1 school system in the nation three years in a row by Education Week.
Between October and December of last year, 584 teachers applied for teaching positions, more than double the 268 applicants who sought positions in the district over the same three-month period in 2009. In the past two years, the district has received an average of 3,300 applications a year, with most coming during the spring and summer.
English was astounded by the increase, but said it was welcomed. "Now they'll be able to pick the best and the brightest," English said. "It's nice to have a choice."
Though early, Alonso said, the recent statistics show a promising trend and also reflect a shift in the system, where teachers are beginning to embrace the idea of accountability despite the tense discourse in the nation surrounding evaluating teaching effectiveness. He said he also welcomes the competitiveness that the swelling applicant pool brings to the district.
"I think many teachers resent having ineffective teachers around them, because they make the job harder for everyone," he said. "I think competition is good. The greater the competition, the higher the standards."
It's this mentality that has put Baltimore on the radar of some future applicants.
Caitlin Krebs, a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, had reservations about the first draft of the teachers union contract presented in October, but was more hopeful about being a good fit in Baltimore when the union presented a revised draft with more teacher input about evaluations.
"I've always wanted to work in the city, but I really think that the changes they made are very beneficial and makes it more appealing to work there," Krebs said.
Krebs said she will apply to the district in the spring with a newfound respect for the city's commitment to hire highly qualified teachers and looks forward to competing against those who share the same vision.
"It's not about the pay for me," Krebs said. "They'll be able to get the most effective help possible for students that need it the most."