Fordham study shows how labor agreements can thwart innovation

Collective-bargaining agreements can have a tremendous impact on virtually all aspects of school-district operations, yet they pass under the public radar in many communities.

Fordham's most recent report, The Leadership Limbo, nudges the contracts of the nation's 50-largest school districts into the spotlight, analyzing how restrictive these labor agreements actually are and finding that not all contracts are created equal.

The report has sparked debate across the country and in northeast Ohio, where the Cleveland teacher contract came in for criticism. The report raised important questions about whether contracts need to be more flexible, the causes of contract inflexibility, and if it is finally time to move from the traditional salary schedule to a performance-based pay system (see here and here).

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District was found to have the second-most-restrictive teacher contract in the country. But rather than admit that there is room for improvement within its contract with the district, the Cleveland Teachers Union attempted to discredit the study, noting that the union is "open to reform" and pointing to a new program that rewards schools (not individual teachers or even groups of teachers within specific schools) for meeting improvement goals (see here). The Cleveland Plain Dealer responded with a critical editorial of the union's response, noting that this "feather in the union's cap seems beside the point." The contract is out of sync with working Americans, the Plain Dealer opined, and this change is not enough to access the best Cleveland teachers and schools (see here).

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