Notes from Baltimore: Don’t leave before the last out…
I made my first trip to Camden Yards a few weeks ago. Sunday day game, Pettite’s return. Yankees up 3-1, but the Orioles chip back with one in the bottom of the 8th and there are playoff implications and one of the guys I’m with is itchy to go back to New York. What? Man, was I annoyed, and you forgive it eventually, but… I mean I’m glad I saw the park, and it was as good as everyone had told me, best in baseball I’d warrant, but these are the Yankees and I hate leaving early, even when the game is out of reach. We were in the car when the Orioles tied it against Mariano in the bottom of the 9th. We were halfway to Jersey when the Orioles opened the 11th with a single and a double and the win…
Don’t leave before the last out.
We, teachers and students, have been taking a beating against the reform movement. On the defensive all over the place. Race to the Top. Computerized teaching. Deëmphasizing untested subjects (like social studies and phys ed and art and foreign language). Holding back pay increases (merit pay, right? the raise we all would have negotiated for in the 80s or 90s gets held back from the majority and only goes to the few). Temporary teachers. Arbitrary dismissal. Increased workloads. Less recess. Charter schools. Longer hours… We know the idea.
But in the last weeks and months there’s been some signs of a shift. Not that we are winning. But pushing back is better than rolling over. And the AFT, which organizes a far greater proportion of urban teachers than the NEA, has been coördinating one local after another to roll over.
Let’s get back to Baltimore. AFT local negotiates a contract with a few major concessions. Not groundbreaking, just more of the same (shocking and headline grabbing concessions). Click for fair summary. 1) raises based on evaluations (system-wide merit pay). Evaluations based on test scores. 2) Complete rewriting of evaluation system. 3) Allow individual schools to extend the school day or school year. Openly praised by AFT national leadership. No surprise there.
I told Steve Lazar, more reputable blogger than me, a few weeks back, that I would write a bit against the Baltimore proposed contract. But I wasn’t writing, and the time passed. The short version is that 1. I oppose merit pay. I oppose different pay scales for different teachers – that breaks our solidarity. And I have opposed that even when I was likely to be on the high end, with the stupid +pay for math teacher proposals that float around every few years. 2. I don’t think evaluation systems need to be redone. They should weed out anyone who can’t do the job. Improvement is a separate issue from evaluation. 3. Decentralizing the school day and year chips away at our contracts, negotiated out of necessity centrally (strength in numbers), and leaves teachers open to pressure from their direct supervisors and open to significant change in working conditions without protection (right, your school votes to extend your day past when you need to pick up a kid from daycare. Screwed?)
But wait. The teachers voted. Voted no.
Another small shift in the fight against this filthy reform movement. But small.
The vote was about 1540 – 1107. Out of 6,500 members. That’s about 24 – 17, with 59% not voting. Look, that’s not shocking. I’m sure that this turnout is in line with how things have been down there.
But the biggest complaints seem to have centered around the evaluation system not having been agreed to. What will it look like? “We don’t know” is not much of an answer. 125 teachers or 1/12 of the no vote signed on to a facebook page with exactly that complaint. Here’s a non-surprise: art teachers and special ed teachers are especially curious how they will be evaluated. In New York City, when Unity shepherded teacher evaluation based on test scores (advocacy position for state policy) through the DA last Spring, same thing happened. Opposition from opposition caucuses. But a whole lot of confused questions from regular, unaffiliated teachers, about how the thing would affect them (art, phys ed, foreign language, etc etc). Difference was, Baltimore was a contract vote, not an open DA vote, and those who were unsure organized to delay.
So they are back negotiating, with all sorts of encouragement from the media, and the talking heads (and probably more quietly from the oligarchs) and from their supporters on our side to just repackage the same deal. They may seek to define the evaluation process, though I suspect that the lack of definition was intentional, and that they may not want to show their hand. In that respect, the teachers stuck it to them. Even if Baltimore eventually goes for the deal, they’ll have shown us that reform can be slowed, if not stopped, and perhaps that the admonition to “trust us, we’ll work it out in good time” can be entirely rejected. And even those would represent a partial shift. Beyond that? I don’t know. But don’t leave before the last out.