Big strides and bigger challenges in Baltimore

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Baltimore, home of Cal Ripken, The Wire, and NCTQ president Kate Walsh, is the latest city to go under the NCTQ microscope for a look at its teacher policies. In addition to these cultural icons, Baltimore's got a lot going for it as teacher contract negotiations heat up this summer.

The district's efforts are backed in part by new reforms passed by the state board requiring student performance to account for at least 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation rating. With student achievement factored in, it is highly unlikely that the district will again see 98 percent of its teachers rated satisfactory.

Baltimore has made big strides hiring more talent, thanks in large part to its feeders Teach For America and The New Teacher Project, now filling half of the district's vacancies. But the district is doing a poor job in keeping these teachers. Teach For America's teachers are most likely to exit first, followed by traditionally trained teachers. Teachers recruited from other countries (primarily the Philippines) have the most staying power.

While New York, Chicago and Austin have gotten a lot of attention for eliminating seniority-based forced placements by the central office, Baltimore has also done so quietly and importantly without having to negotiate the deal with the local union. Baltimore may well be the only district in Maryland to recognize that it retains the authority--stemming from a decision by the state board--for all teacher assignments. What made Baltimore so smart? Perhaps its new legal counsel, who switched sides to work for the district after retiring from the Maryland State Education Association.

However, two years into this new policy, Baltimore hasn't quite figured out what to do with the teachers that no principal wants to hire. The number of teachers being paid full salaries even though they are not in charge of classrooms is beginning to pile up, with no legal solution in sight--a problem that New York has had similar trouble resolving. It will take a change in state law to take such teachers off the payroll, a change that would no doubt be tough to pull off in Maryland's union-friendly legislature.