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Career Advancement in the Classroom

By Walt Gardner — September 05, 2014 1 min read
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For too long, teachers have been paid solely on the basis of their years of service and degrees held. Proposals to amend the system have met with stiff resistance by teachers who believed that favoritism would unavoidably taint the process. But what is happening in Baltimore should assuage their concern (“Baltimore’s Teacher-Pay Experiment Gains Foothold,” Education Week, Aug. 27).

Under an agreement between the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Baltimore City Public Schools, teachers can earn Achievement Units based on both in-school and out-of-school activities. I liken these AUs to credits that students earn toward graduation. The contract establishes four career paths: Standard Teacher, Professional Teacher, Model Teacher, and Lead Teacher. Each designation carries increased compensation.

The first question that came to my mind about the Professional Practices and Student Learning Program, which is the official name, was how the evaluations were to be carried out. In other words, is the mere amassing of AUs (quantity) enough, or are the AUs given different weight (quality)? I was glad to learn that multiple criteria are used by a governing panel composed of both teachers and administrators. I’m particularly gratified to know that teachers are on the panel because I’ve long supported peer review as the sine qua non of professionalism in any field.

But equally promising is the way the new strategy allows the best teachers to remain in the classroom rather than move into administration to earn higher salaries. Not all teachers in the past wanted to leave the classroom, but family responsibilities required greater compensation. Teachers are now given the opportunity to take more ownership over their careers.

Diehards will argue that the new policy does not fully eliminate favoritism and subjectivity. They assert that only years of service and degrees held can do so. But nothing is perfect. I think Baltimore will serve as a model for other school districts across the country. The fact that the Baltimore Teachers Union approved the agreement is further evidence that teachers’ unions are not obstructionists.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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