Do the right thing, Baltimore teachers

This Wednesday, Baltimore's public school teachers have a chance to make a historic, positive statement about the direction of our school system by approving a new landmark contract. With this contract, Baltimore will lead the nation in making the necessary changes to improve academic achievement. If approved, the agreement represents a huge step forward and is an opportunity for our school system to shine as a beacon of hope for families in Baltimore and for urban school districts throughout America.

A quiet storm of education transformation is under way right here in Baltimore. African-American males are now a driving force behind our improving high school graduation rate. Elementary and middle school Maryland School Assessment (MSA) test scores are on the rise. Increasingly, students are not just scoring "proficient" but are scoring "advanced" in both reading and math. This year, overall achievement on the math MSA test has reached its highest level ever. The stubborn achievement gap between elementary and middle school students is getting smaller.

Our zoned schools have improved significantly. Twenty-nine charter schools and 13 "transformation" schools are up and running, with four more set to come on line next year. In the 2008-09 school year, 90 percent of all eighth-graders chose their high school for 2009-10. Baltimore's families now have more choices to meet the needs and interests of students. And, for the first time in decades, enrollment in Baltimore City Public Schools has increased two years in a row.

None of this progress would have been possible without the dedication of the teachers working in our classrooms. Baltimore's schoolteachers are not "Waiting for Superman" to make our schools better. We have super men and women in the classroom every day, making a real difference in the lives of our students.

But positive trends alone are not a cause for celebration. This is a call for further action. The statistics and the progress demonstrate that Baltimore's school system can succeed and can compete, even with school systems in wealthier jurisdictions in Maryland. While this contract has the necessary and innovative underpinnings to lead our school system forward, we cannot continue to make progress without the support of our teachers. Education experts and advocates across America have their eyes on Baltimore and are waiting to see if city teachers are willing to take the next step by approving this agreement.

As mayor, as a public school graduate, and as the mother of a student in Baltimore's public school system, I know that we all share a fundamental belief: A quality education starts with excellent teachers in the classrooms. Together, we can achieve excellence by providing teachers the tools and flexibility they need, by rewarding them for professional growth, and by respecting their awesome contribution to a child's learning experience with higher starting salaries and a more competitive pay scale. Baltimore City public schools can continue the progress if we continue to attract and retain excellent teachers.

The proposed contract stays true to each of these simple principles and advances our entire school system to the vanguard of public education transformation in America. I believe in my heart that the contract represents the very best effort of city school administrators and the Baltimore Teachers Union. The eight-month effort was undeniably collaborative, and the product both respects the hard work of teachers and honors a sacred truth: Our students deserve the best.

Today, I'm asking Baltimore's teachers for their support in improving academic achievement in our public schools. I thank our teachers for their unending dedication and hard work and for carefully considering the contract over the past several weeks. No contract can be perfect, but it can be fair, honest, and pursued in good faith for the parties involved and for the greater good. We should be proud to have come this far, poised to make yet another leap toward excellence. Now, it's time to move forward and approve the contract because, as the 17th Century French philosopher and social reformer Voltaire noted, perfect is the enemy of the good.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is mayor of Baltimore. Her e-mail address is

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