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Liz Bowie reports today that the Baltimore Teachers Union has effectively forced layoffs and schedule changes at the city's highly successful KIPP Ujima Village Academy in an effort to make the charter middle school conform to the same salary scale for teachers in the rest of the system. KIPP teachers work nine hours and 15 minutes a day, plus every other Saturday, compared to seven hours and five minutes (and no Saturdays) for teachers at other schools. KIPP teachers are paid 18 percent more than the normal salary scale, but the union insists (seven years after the school started) that they should be paid 33 percent more. KIPP can't afford that, so it's cutting staff and hours instead.

That is the worst possible outcome for the students, and it's not great for the teachers either. Students at KIPP have been highly successful -- it ranks at the top of city middle schools in test scores, and some 80 percent of its alumni go on to college -- and it's hard to imagine that fewer hours and less opportunity for arts and music education, among other things, won't hinder that. As far as the teachers go, the union says it's responding to some complaints. But many other teachers at the school are more than happy with the tradeoff -- they get more money for more hours (if perhaps not proportionately as much as the union wants) and work in a functioning school. I'd bet if you offered that chance to all city middle school teachers -- work longer than seven hours a day (which most probably do already), get paid a little more and know you're really making a difference in kids' lives -- you'd be stampeded with applicants.

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The issue speaks to a broad question about the purpose of charter schools and the extent to which they should be freed from the same rules that apply to other schools. That's something the legislature should take up. But in the meantime, how about this: Find opportunities elsewhere in the system for any KIPP teachers who are dissatisfied with the tradeoff, and open a door for good teachers elsewhere in the system who want to work there. But don't mess with a model that's actually working.

(Sun photo)

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