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February 14, 2008

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.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:01 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Study, study!


I find it interesting that a state as small as Maryland with 1.84% of the nation's population has 5 of the 50, or 10% of the largest school districts in the country.

Not really sure what to make of that information but found it noteworthy.

Hi Corey,
It's worth noting that some states don't create school districts along county lines as Maryland does. Many establish school districts by city. For example, Wisconsin has a comparable population to Maryland (according to the Census Bureau's Quick Facts chart for 2006, Wisconsin's population was about 5.5 million people). But Wisconsin has nearly 450 school districts --- one of those districts, Whitnall, has four schools (two elementaries, a middle school and a high school).

-- Gina Davis

Thanks Gina that's interesting. I wonder if having smaller school districts tends to increase or decrease bureaucracy. It seems oversight jobs might be increased, but that those jobs are actually specific and meaningful?

I've never covered schools in such a small district, so I'd only be guessing at what the dynamics are like. But I'd venture to guess that you'd see a lot more micromanaging.

I realize micromanaging is a loaded word, but when you're that close to the action and in that much smaller setting, I think that's what you'd naturally expect to see --- whether it's good or bad would be for folks on the ground to judge. I'm sure you'd find people with opinions on both sides of the equation.

I imagine you'd find people who think it's better to have a smaller school district, that it enables the leadership to be more focused on children's needs and not the layers of bureaucracy that come with a large district such as Baltimore County's school system. On the flipside, does a larger school system have greater resources because it has more people, and more money? I'm guessing as with most things, you can find pros and cons until the cows come home.

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