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Baltimore County teachers file grievance over workload from Common Core

In an unusual move, Baltimore County teachers filed a grievance this week against the county school board saying new education initiatives are forcing them to work long hours beyond their normal day.

Teachers in the county and the rest of the state have had to adapt their teaching this school year to new, more rigorous standards known as the Common Core. Local school districts were expected to have written a curriculum — a detailed road map of lessons — based on the new standards, but the county fell behind in the elementary grades.

The county teachers have complained that they've been working long hours because the lesson plans have not been available until just weeks before they are to be taught and the website to access those lessons has been difficult to use.

"We are looking for solutions to the huge issues that are facing our folks, the issue of workload, the issue of curriculum not being ready," said Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

The grievance, filed on behalf of the county's 8,700 teachers, is uncommon in its scope, according to Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, which represents county teachers. While teachers unions regularly file grievances, they usually are only on behalf of an individual employee or a small group of teachers.

Mendelson said he is not aware of any other grievance related to the Common Core implementation in Maryland. The standards were adopted by Maryland and 45 other states.

The county union documented the extra work by asking teachers to fill out work logs over a two-week period. Beytin said the logs show that teachers are sometimes working 30 to 40 extra hours during that time.

While teachers are normally expected to work additional time outside of their classroom schedule, the hours are much greater this year, according to the union.

The teachers' contract specifies that when teachers are expected to implement a new curriculum or program they must be given training a reasonable period of time in advance. In addition, the contract says the county must provide the materials and texts in advance.

Beytin would not provide a copy of the grievance to The Baltimore Sun or say what the union seeks from the school board.

Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance said Wednesday that the school system received the grievance late Tuesday night. Dance and school board President Lawrence Schmidt said in a statement Wednesday that the system is reviewing the grievance and "it would be premature to comment on its contents."

"We will be looking at the remedy, which every grievance must have, to determine what are federal/state versus local concerns," the statement said.  

Dance said in an email Tuesday, "Abby has shared that there are concerns regarding workload, and I have asked for specifics which to date I have not received."

He noted that the union agreed to the reforms that are now being implemented.

Under the grievance process, the two sides will attempt to negotiate an agreement; if they can't, the dispute will go to arbitration.

Teachers around the country have complained that they are not being given enough time to learn the new curriculum before they present it to students, according to Bill Raabe, senior director of the Center of Great Public Schools of the National Education Association, the national organization that represents the county's teachers.

"The Common Core standards hold real promise, but the implementation is going to be key," Raabe said. The county's teachers, he said, are "standing up for children and saying, 'We need time.'"

The National Education Association and the Baltimore County teachers union support the Common Core but are concerned about how local school systems are putting it in place.

State and local leaders were given financial incentives under the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top competition to adopt and put in place the Common Core this school year. Assessments that match the Common Core will be field-tested this spring and then be given to all students in the spring of 2015.

Each local school district in the state had to take the standards — a list of what students should know by the end of each grade in reading and math — and write its own curriculum. The idea was to allow each district to put its own local imprint on what is taught and what textbooks will be used.

Baltimore County fell behind in its efforts to write the elementary language arts lessons and delivered them to teachers shortly before school started. Teachers were frustrated by technology glitches that didn't allow them to access the materials they needed. While the system is working somewhat better, according to some teachers and principals, the district is still writing the lessons just weeks before teachers are expected to deliver them to students.

The district acknowledged the problems with the curriculum earlier this school year, and Dance apologized to teachers.

A new teacher evaluation system that ties in student achievement has added another layer to the workload because teachers must identify what skills the children will be measured on by the end of the school year. It has also put more pressure on teachers, who feel they will be evaluated by a new set of guidelines just as they are trying to adapt to a new curriculum.

Verletta White, the district's chief academic officer, said in a memo to elementary teachers in September that the district would postpone having principals do formal job evaluations until the second quarter of the year.

"This change will provide both teachers and principals more time to engage in learning the curriculum together in a 'no fault' manner," White wrote to teachers.

Beytin said she hopes that the union will "meet and talk about solutions" with Dance and the school board. "We would like to settle it without going to arbitration," she said.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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