Baltimore School Celebration Ends with Union Rules Imposed on Charter

Alexander Russo at This Week in Education reports that the city of Baltimore threw a party to celebrate some dramatic improvements in student achievement:

No doubt, the city has pulled things together in recent years. The number of students exceeding the state reading standard increased by 92 percent over the last two years, and the number of students exceeding the state math standard increased by 107 percent. All this apparently without any of the standards-lowering that other states have engaged in.

The district still ranks near the bottom of Maryland’s 24 districts. But it’s worth celebrating.

Academic performance in Charm City must have been pretty bleak before, if after such improvements the district still ranks last in the state. But then you see what’s happening to a charter school that’s been the shining light in Baltimore, and you wonder about the level of commitment to continuing the improvement process they’ve started to celebrate:

Baltimore’s most successful middle school is laying off staff and shortening its school day to meet demands of a teachers union contract in what is one of the first major disputes over teacher pay between a charter school and a union.

KIPP Ujima Village Academy, based on a model that has forged a successful track record among poor students in more than a dozen states, has been violating a contract requiring teachers to be paid more if they work extra hours, school and union leaders acknowledge.

After seven years of ignoring the issue, the Baltimore Teachers Union told the charter school earlier this year that it must pay its teachers 33 percent more than other city school teachers because they were working nine hours and 15 minutes a day, as well as every other Saturday. The standard workday for teachers is seven hours and five minutes. [emphasis added]

Two years ago Baltimore charter schools won a court case guaranteeing them equal funding with other schools. Otherwise, the layoffs and cutbacks might be even worse for KIPP Ujima Village Academy. But I thought the idea behind charter schools is that they weren’t supposed to operate under the same district and union work rules as other public schools. Am I missing something?

If Baltimore charter schools have to use the same ineffective salary schedule to determine compensation, then they, their students, and their top-notch teachers are all getting a raw deal. That’s not charming, and it certainly isn’t something to celebrate.

Memo to Baltimore: The Colts didn’t celebrate until they won the 1958 NFL Championship. And Cal Ripken, Jr., didn’t celebrate until he actually played his 2,131st consecutive game. Be careful about breaking out the chocolate cake too soon.