Messing with success

Baltimore’s highest scoring middle school, KIPP Ujima Village, will have to cut its hours and drop Saturday classes to meet union demands for time-and-a-half pay for teachers, reports Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. With a nine-hour school day and Saturday classes, the all-black school has been the best in the city three years running; reading and math scores beat the state average in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Brad Nornhold, 31, a math teacher at Ujima Village, told Mathews the union never contacted the teachers before making the pay demand.

“This is a school of choice for teachers, too. I knew what I was getting into.” Ujima Village teachers were already the highest-paid in Baltimore for their experience level, and the union’s demands seem to overlook the appeal of what Nornhold called “the freedom to teach the way I want to teach.” The union ignores the lure of a school that supports teachers and structures their day so they can raise student achievement to levels rarely seen in their city. “To teach in a school that works, that’s nice,” Nornhold said.

A union leader responds. “Effective teachers can get the same results in a seven-hour-and-five-minute day.”

KIPP has been paying teachers an extra 18 percent to work longer hours. The Baltimore union said that wasn’t enough. In New York City, Mathews points out, the American Federation of Teachers contract with Green Dot accepts 14 percent more for a longer school day and year.

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  1. A union leader responds. “Effective teachers can get the same results in a seven-hour-and-five-minute day.”

    So this is an admission that many or most teachers in Baltimore are ineffective?

  2. imagine a card check law that would let the teachers shed the union with just a card check.

  3. It’s true that effective teachers can do the same amount to have kids at grade level in a 7 hour day–assuming that the kids are at grade level to start with, that they don’t have to put up with sub-standard classroom funding (ie, admin doesn’t take the lion’s share), that they don’t have to put up with a bureaucracy that undermines them at every turn while loading them down with stupid and unnecessary paperwork in triplicate…

    …in other words, assuming that teaching conditions are completely ideal at all times. Something that the unions seem to forget never happens in the real world.

    Besides. As that individual teacher said, the teachers that work those insane hours at that school choose to do so at the level of reimbursement that the school offers, which implies that they are not being taken advantage of. The union needs to butt out.

  4. We wouldn’t want the kids at the KIPP school to be too successful. Their success would make the kids in the lower achieving schools feel bad and their union teachers look bad. Better to have status quo–mediocrity for all.

  5. Independent George says:

    The problem is that the unions are structured under a industrial model, where each factory is assumed to be roughly analagous to the others, and should therefore should operate under the same rules and pay scales. That assumption hasn’t been true of manufacturing in decades, and it has never been true of teaching.

    The thing is, I can easily think of a great example of a union which maximizes benefits for its members while maintaining flexibility in employment: the NFL Player’s Association. After 4 years in the league, players are free agents, and can sign with whomever they wish, for whatever teams are willing to pay for them. There are league minimum salaries, but superstars are free to earn superstar salaries, and mid-level role players can sign with teams whose systems match their skills.

    The situation cited here is akin to a veteran signing for less than he could command in order to play for a contender, alongside his friends, under a favorite coach, be near his hometown, or any of a thousand other preferences not reflected in salary. Teachers are voluntarily working at KIPP because they feel the improved working conditions are sufficient compensation for the difference from union demands. The union position essentially amounts to the idea that either there is no difference in working environment, or that the teachers’ personal preferences are irrelevant.

  6. I know of at least two similar cases in the Detroit Public School district and I’m sure every large, urban school district generates a story like this every couple of years or so. It’s in the nature of public education and these sorts of stories are going to continue popping up as long as education is an unimportant consideration in public education.

  7. Grrr. This is the sort of story that destroys any lingering belief that teachers’ unions care anything about students.

  8. Oh, and what fantasy world does Jay Mathews ( in WaPo) live in:

    “American teachers organized in the last century because of terrible pay and working conditions. They loved kids”

    Really? I’d say that’s completely debatable. Let’s get rid of the notion that teachers, esp. in the past, entered the field because they adored chlidren.