Fordham grades school districts on their labor agreements

Remember that planning time dispute between the Baltimore Teachers Union and Andres Alonso? No, it hasn't gone away, and rumor has it that a decision from the arbitrator will be out sometime soon.

Meanwhile, the Fordham Foundation -- a conservative think tank -- releases a new report today in which researchers analyzed the union contracts in the nation's 50 largest school districts to see how much freedom the contracts give principals to run their schools with autonomy. The report finds that most of the nation's largest districts have ambiguous agreements, giving principals and school leaders more autonomy than they actually use.

In Baltimore, giving principals autonomy in exchange for accountability is at the heart of Dr. Alonso's plans for school reform. In a meeting with The Sun's editorial board yesterday, Alonso talked about the need to give principals training in how to use their autonomy once they get it. Next year, principals are expected to have considerably more authority in deciding how to spend their school budgets. The dispute with the BTU centers on whether principals should have the discretion to be able to require teachers to spend 45 minutes a week on collaborative planning.

Fordham's report includes analysis on Maryland's five biggest districts: Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, plus Baltimore City. Since this is a conservative foundation, it naturally views autonomy and flexibility as good things and rates the districts as such. Each district is given a "GPA" rating its labor agreement and its compensation package, rewarding such factors as pay for performance and increased pay for working in needy schools. Guilford County schools in Greensboro, N.C., ranked highest. Fresno Unified School District in California ranked last.

The results in Maryland are surprising. Read on to find out what they are ... and for a copy of the full report, "The Leadership Limbo," go to Fordham's homepage.

Anne Arundel County: seventh place out of 50. Labor agreement earned a 2.28 GPA, called "somewhat flexible." Earned a 3.75, or A-, for compensation, the highest score among the 50 districts. The report mentions the county's flexibility in giving teachers credit for previous experience.

Baltimore City: eighth place out of 50. Labor agreement earned a 2.18 GPA, called "somewhat flexible." Earned a 2.75, or B-, for compensation. The report commends the policy of rewarding teachers for working in shortage-area subjects and needy schools.

Montgomery County: 10th place out of 50; tied with Cobb County, Ga. Labor agreement earned a 2.11 GPA, called "somewhat flexible." Earned a 2.0, or C, for compensation. The report says Montgomery County is in the middle of the pack for all areas studied.

Baltimore County: 22nd place out of 50; tied with Chicago. Labor agreement earned a 1.86 GPA, called "somewhat restrictive." Earned a 1.63, or D+, for compensation. The report criticizes the district for failing to reward teachers for working in subjects with shortages.

Prince George's County: 47th out of 50. Labor agreement earned a 1.18 GPA, called "highly restrictive." Earned a 1.63, or D+ for compensation. The report criticizes the district for failing to account for student test scores in teacher evaluations.

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