While it's great news that Baltimore City teachers and their union have finally agreed to a new contract with some reformist elements ("City teachers OK landmark contract," Nov. 18), it's important to remember that the devil's in the details — and to recognize that one incredibly important reform was left on the table.
Implementing merit pay — i.e., rewarding teachers for how well they do their jobs instead of how long they've hung on to their jobs — is all well and good, but the specifics of how teachers will be rewarded have yet to be determined. Without some sort of objective measure (like value-added testing that tracks student growth) merit can't be effectively determined. And given union opposition to value-added testing in Los Angeles, New York City, and elsewhere, it's fair to ask whether the General Assembly will be able to stand up to union pressure and implement an objective evaluation system.
The most worrisome aspect of the new contract is that it makes no provision to alter teacher tenure, meaning that it is still impossibly hard to fire bad teachers. How hard? According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, the process is so onerous that the BCPS only attempts to fire 20 of their 4,400 teachers in any given year. In a city where one in three students fails to graduate, how can only .45 percent of teachers be up for dismissal?
Sarah Longwell, Washington
The writer is communications director of the Center for Union Facts.