New teacher contract in the Queen City
After a year of “tedious” negotiations, strong recommendations from The New Teacher Project, and a considerable amount of hype (mostly from board members or union officials, so consider the source) that the contract was “historic” and “the most progressive home-grown reform” in the country, a new teacher contract for Cincinnati Public Schools has been ratified.
The draft agreement between Cincinnati Public Schools and the 2,300-member Cincinnati Federation of Teachers makes some positive steps in the right direction, yet falls short in several areas – specifically those related to personnel policies. To be fair, the blame for this shouldn’t fall squarely on the Queen City; Ohio law prevents Cincinnati – and any other district seeking reforms – from going the distance on groundbreaking policy ideas.
As far as this contract, goes, here’s a breakdown of positive elements and areas that fall short, as well as components for which success will depend on implementation.
Performance-based awards are available at the school, team, and individual level and are based partially on student achievement and growth, as well as available to teachers taking on increased workloads (e.g., teacher evaluators).
An additional two days have been added to the school year. Among schools designated as high need, there may be opportunities to further increase the school year, lengthen school days, etc.
As Superintendent Mary Ronan noted, parts of the contract are “fiscally responsible” – at least more so than before. Teachers made serious concessions for healthcare and will pay roughly twice as much. The contract also puts a freeze on cost-of-living increases.
Despite the fact that state law prescribes a minimum step-and-lane salary schedule (and rewards credentials and years of experience over effectiveness), the contract stipulates that teachers on intervention can’t move on the salary schedule until being removed from intervention. Whether intervention status will be applied in a meaningful way will depend, but at minimum, the poorest performers will have their compensation frozen. Further, teachers in intervention can’t apply for a school transfer unless approved by a peer review panel (decent attempt to mitigate the “dance of the lemons” trend).
The good-ish (but ultimately could go either way)
A new teacher evaluation system will be co-designed by the district and CFT (we’ll learn more about how it’s developing this spring). The contract promises that student achievement will be a factor in evaluations, although to what degree remains to be seen. And the criteria and procedures for attaining tenure have yet to be mapped out. Hopefully the new evaluation system will be bold in these areas.
Treatment of schools is differentiated and based on performance (exemplary campuses may need “less monitoring” while other campuses targeted for redesign might be required to adopt specific interventions). It lays the groundwork – at least conceptually – for performance-based, portfolio-type management of schools that has been successful elsewhere.
Language specifying maximum student-teacher ratios and caps in various grades has been removed. The new contract attempts to give greater flexibility to schools and teams to determine appropriate class sizes. The contract is still riddled with language about the benefits of small class size, and the schools may continue pushing class sizes down. But the contract at least allows for greater freedom in this realm.
Though the concept of designating schools for redesign/turnaround is a good one, teachers displaced from one of these poorly performing schools still have “surplus” rights over other teachers – in other words, they can “bump” other qualified teachers who are applying to open positions.
Seniority-based reductions-in-force, and forced hiring (instead of mutual-consent hiring) still remain intact (though to be fair, the former is an artifact of state law which ties Cincinnati’s hands). However, the contract could have eliminated seniority-based hiring or bumping without running up against state law.
Comprehensive evaluations will only happen every five years. If the overhauled evaluations are robust and innovative, they will be limited in their usefulness in part because of infrequency. Annual evaluations still exist, but at minimum only one classroom observation is required for one of these interim performance review evaluations (PREs).
No consequences for poor evaluations. While the CFT and district will be fleshing out criteria for tenure in the coming months, the contract doesn’t create a necessary route for dismissing ineffective teachers.
Overall, the contract has some positive elements and opens the door for an innovative new teacher evaluation system, meaningful performance pay, and changes to tenure. Until we see these components fleshed out fully, it’s premature to call it the most “progressive” contract in the nation (though in Ohio, maybe).
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