« Baltimore County school board passes budget | Main | Ten states to get NCLB waivers »

February 9, 2012

Updated: After Alonso PIP letter went out, teachers' PIP stories rolled in

Just before our story about the rise in PIPs among city teachers posted last night, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso sent out a letter to teachers explaining the district's new approach to evaluating teachers, which many are decrying as a way to cut down on union contract costs the district can't afford. And we've also learned that city principals are also experiencing a surge in PIPs, which their union leader believes is a strategy for the city to more easily fire principals. 

 Updated: February 9 at 8:19 a.m.

After this letter went out, the PIP stories began rolling in. I thought I'd share some since, despite my best efforts to include as many teacher voices as possible, many couldn't speak on the record for fear of retribution. Though rare, The Sun granted teachers anonymity for this story, given the position many were in. So, I thought I'd share some feedback to my story.

One teacher wrote and said that they discovered Wednesday they had retroactively received unsatisfactory ratings--having never been observed or gone through the mid-year evaluation process.
The teacher never sat or signed anything, they said, and the evaluation was submitted after the due date. Consequently, they was placed on a PIP without anyone ever even informing them.

"Generally improvement plans tend to only work if we know [we] are on them," the teacher wrote.

Another, a veteran teacher, said they were informed from the city's benchmark MSA scores, that their 'interventions' weren't working for 34 percent of their students, half of which had never shown up to school.

"They just said my data shows my interventions aren't working," the veteran teacher said. "I thought: How do you know? And if they haven't been working since October, why are you just telling me in January?"

One veteran teacher, who said "the system doesn't need us anymore," wrote in and put the interventions in perspective: 

"Just imagine, a 14 or 15 year who walks out of you class cursing you," she wrote. "This same student makes no effort to complete any class work. Part of your interventions is to communicate with a student's home. Some parents may curse you out or call the principal and make a false report about you nagging them."

Another wrote in and said that she tried to present evidence to challenge her unsatisfactory ratings, and was told that 'it wasn't necessary,' because it was going to be in place anyway.

"A lot of us showed up to a meeting, and my principal broke the meeting, telling us there was no point," she said.

A parent also wrote in yesterday, asking if I had any school-by-school percentages, because she was interested in knowing if her student's school was experiencing the PIPs. When I couldn't provide it--the school system declined to provide data, calling it a "shifting number,"--she had one response: "Disturbing."

Below, I've posted the letter sent by the system explaining its take on the angst the PIP situation has caused.

Update on Professional Support for Teachers
February 7, 2012
Dear City Schools Teachers,
Thank you for all that you have done—and continue to do—for our students. In so many ways you and City Schools are at the forefront of the national effort to strengthen student success in big-city public school districts. And as we all know, along with the thrill and satisfaction of being innovators come plenty of challenges and hard work.
Your contributions have been invaluable as we roll out new standards and assessments for students, build new evaluation systems for employees and continue to improve how we support schools. With our new teacher contract, and our current participation in a state pilot with six other Maryland school districts to explore different ways of evaluating teachers, we in City Schools have a unique opportunity to dramatically improve our teacher evaluation system. But a shift of this significance is complex, and important work takes time.
We have reached significant milestones in the implementation of the new teacher contract to date, especially in the development of processes and criteria for teachers to advance within and move across pathways. The team of union and district representatives leading the contract implementation have established a peer review process for, and articulated roles and responsibilities for Model Pathway applicants; they are now working on the same for Lead Pathway applicants. And perhaps what is most gratifying about this work so far is that we are hearing from teachers about how the application process has improved their practice—helping them to be more self-reflective and partake of new supports available to them at the district level. One art teacher’s students wanted to help her produce a video as part of her application, and that spurred her to create a whole new Digital Filming/Mixed Media unit for them. She saw what they could and wanted to do, and created the learning structure to make it happen.
Because building a new teacher evaluation system takes time, we are doing what we can to move the work forward with tools we already have in place. Professional development is the most important of these tools, and we as a district are committed to providing teachers with professional development that is rich, relevant and ongoing. We have redesigned our professional development model, replacing one-off workshops with multi-session courses, and created an office of Teacher Support and Development within the Office of Teaching & Learning dedicated to overseeing this work. We are also committed to providing strategic professional development tailored to specific content areas. For example, we are providing for a first time this year professional development around early learning and adolescent literacy.
And we are committed to professional development that is tailored to the particular needs of individual teachers. The performance improvement plans we currently have in the district (popularly known as PIPs) are an important way to achieve this targeted support. I know PIPs have carried a negative connotation in the past; because City Schools was, for many years, a district where teachers received little feedback on how they could grow in their profession, performance improvement plans were often seen as negative, or even punitive. But as their name implies, they represent a tangible agreement between supervisors and staff that identifies both areas for improvement, and the necessary supports needed to help ensure that that improvement occurs. Many of you have heard me say this before and I’ll say it again and again: Every single one of City Schools’ 10,800 employees has room for growth—including me. Whether formally or informally, every one of us should be on a performance improvement plan—as a way to make sure that we are striving to be the best we can be for our kids.
As a district, we have worked hard in recent years to ensure that evaluations are completed on a regular and timely basis. We now require schools to report whether mid-year evaluations are occurring, and on the content of those evaluations. And as part of this renewed focus on evaluations, there is a sense that there are more teachers on performance improvement plans than in the past. Because performance improvement plans are a school-level activity and the number varies from day to day as plans begin and end, and because we do not require information on performance improvement plans as part of the evaluation reporting that principals do, we cannot quantify an exact number. And we should keep in mind that the common assumption that these plans are always tied to unsatisfactory evaluations is unwarranted. A teacher with a satisfactory evaluation might still have a performance improvement plan.
As teachers, you are at the heart of real progress for our students and our schools. I appreciate both your ongoing input and your patience as the evaluation system gets developed and refined. I also appreciate—and ask for—your continued patience with the implementation of the teacher contract overall. But mostly, I thank you for your work each day in the classroom to help our students succeed. Please keep an eye on our employee website, City Schools Inside, for latest updates on the development of the evaluation system and the contract implementation.
I look forward to continuing to work together, as we advance our shared goal of providing great schools for all 85,000 of our great kids.
Posted by Erica Green at 8:27 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City


This is wonderful. The famously impatient Alonso counsels patience while he and his highly paid lieutenants mess around with teachers' livelihoods.

I'd like to know who among the richly rewarded top brass dreamed up the communication strategy of scaring & confusing people first and then offering a (very weak) explanation. Was it the brilliant Sarbanes? Or Santalises? A truly confidence inspiring maneuver.

Where is the letter of explanation. I have seen no such letter. What contract are we using? A little bit of this. A little bit of that. Teachers should sue the union. We were lied to and sold out! I only belong for the legal insurance. How much does it cost elsewhere?

How can a nationally certified teacher suddenely get pipped? How can a teacher who has been rated highly by several principals over the years suddenly become not proficient? How can a new teacher receiving no support be pipped? How can some principals do no evaluations at all? How can an educator be evaluated on a snapshot moment doing something that is not even their job to do? How can evaluations be changed after being signed? Where is any meaningful feedback at all? How can an evaluator really judge a lesson and the responses of students when they sit there writing verbatim everything that is said and done. Impossible, The whole evaluation system is a joke. Truly, an administrator should be in and out of classrooms everyday and evaluations should be a composite picture. How can evaluators use the wrong forms? How does the average administrator judge specialized postions which they know nothing about? What a shameful mess.

Have read the AAA letter.Pure jibberish! The Siun needs to seriously get into the trenches and stop being the mouth piece of North Avenue. I need to stop readng any news or blogs and just do my job. I can't stand reading nnonsence and being powerless to refute any of it .

Despite the email Alonso diligently sent out this morning to BCPS employees explaining that the "sense that there are more teachers on performance improvement plans than in the past" cannot be proven because PIP data is not collected and that the "common assumption that these plans are always tied to unsatisfactory evaluations is unwarranted," ask any teacher at any school and they will tell you the number of PIP's have risen dramatically for a reason.
I unfortunately work at a school where teachers were not observed at all, but thanks to the convenience of the online system, the need for signatures to prove meetings took place has become obsolete, which has led to teachers being put on PIP's without prior warning. It should tip someone off that after several teachers were given PIP's out of the blue and contacted administration, the principal explained that people were "mistakenly" put on PIP's due to a glitch in the system.
BCPS is a huge CF due to the administration in this system; unfortunately, the widespread nepotism and political ties prevent effective people from taking over. Alonso might have trimmed some fat off of North Avenue, but I recommend evaluating the people in charge rather than the teachers that are working too much to try and survive in such an ineffectual and backwards environment.

This should be such a wonderful recruiting tool as Baltimore moves into teacher recruitment season. "Come to Baltimore and get randomly dinged, hon!" Excellent way to attract the best & brightest! Brilliant!

Thank you for updating this story! Hearing teachers stories from across the city is really powerful. This situation is terrible, but I'm not 100% sure that we need to sue the union, as wise educator says. I remember there being a provision in our contract that if the number of unsatisfactory evaluations increases rapidly from year to year, a staff can take the issue up with the union and have the Joint North Ave/BTU panel approve it. Of course, that panel's been pretty terrible at delivering on this contract in general (model cohort 1 notification was supposed to happen 2 months ago), so I'm not entirely sure that they'd really be able to deliver results quickly. We need a real union that is actually competent and can stand up for teachers and enforce the specific parts of our contract that are meant to protect us.

Why has our union been so silent on this issue? Isn't this why they exist? I don't remember much of a quote from them in the article, and I certainly haven't gotten any email or information from them in my mailbox of late. The union's exec board better step up their game - elections are coming soon, and now more than ever, teachers need a strong voice. We pay our union's salaries - we need to push them to respond to this. Union dues are $700 a year - are you getting your money's worth?

Thank you Nadine for pointing out the Union's responsibility here, (and that we PAY HANDSOMELY for that responsibility.)

Unfortunately, the contract does not protect us against heightened PIPing or even heightened 'Unsatisfactory' ratings. The fine print allows, as you say in your post, that for any complaint to be upheld, a "Joint North Ave/BTU panel [must] approve it." This means Alonso has the final say over whether a mass PIPing is appropriate or not. He is in his letter admitting that he thinks the mass-pipping is appropriate. We therefore know how half the joint panel will approach these PIPs. Marietta English at a BTU building rep meeting explained her own lack of Thursday and Friday lesson plans as an admission that she thought all teachers including herself needed improvement, and that therefore the PIPing might be a good thing. This coupled with her silence in the face of this scandal gives us good reason to believe the BTU half could well side with North Avenue.

Also, I'd like to point out that Alonso is blatantly lying when he says that PIP information is not being collected at North Avenue. If he did not feel it was necessary to collect, his administration would not have made it electronic. Anything that a teacher can access online can also be accessed by administrators at North Avenue, by design making a PIP much more public and 'collectible' than it was previously.

Alonso carefully avoids stating that 'Proficient' teachers could be on PIPs. What is the policy on giving a teacher a Proficient rating after they have been PIPed? This seems more a matter of ensuring North Avenue does not have to give everyone raises than it does seem about improving performance. If this was really about improving performance, wouldn't we see some mentors or obvious efforts at support around here before slamming everyone with these?

Principals are told that the number of PIPs that are in place should be determined by the percent of students who are not proficient or advanced. So if 34% of your students are not making AYP then 34% of your teachers should be on PIPs. That is then reviewed at North Ave and if you do not have enough teachers on PIPs, you get a call from North Ave telling you that you do not have enough teachers rated unsatisfactory. Every principal in Baltimore knows this to be true!

It has been eleven days since a Sun education writer has posted to this blog.What has happened? Did your editor or AAA dislike something? I hope not!

It has been eleven days since a Sun education writer has posted to this blog.What has happened? Did your editor or AAA dislike something? I hope not!

I had been thinking the same thing, but I noticed some new posts on the Ed page. I guess the blog address has been changed:
It doesn't look the same anymore and there's no recent comments (my favorite feature), but it continues. I noticed that other Sun Blogs have changed to this format. I would guess it's a Sun standardization issue.

And how interesting in your story today ("City schools face $35 million shortfall in 2013 budget") we learn that they don't have money to pay for the "landmark" contract, after all.

Well! Who could have possibly known?? I was certain legislators from other counties would have voted to have pay additional millions for another ornament on Alonso's resume. Why wouldn't they?

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Please enter the letter "l" in the field below:

2011 Valedictorians and Salutatorians
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Education news
• InsideEd's glossary of education jargon

School closings and delays's school closings database is designed to provide up-to-date, easy-to-access information in the event of inclement weather.

Find out if your school is participating and sign up for e-mail alerts.
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Spread the word about InsideEd
Blog updates
Recent updates to news blogs
 Subscribe to this feed
Stay connected