New teacher contract in the Queen City

After a year of “tedious” negotiations, strong recommendations from The New Teacher Project,
and a considerable amount of hype (mostly from board members or union
officials, so consider the source) that the contract was “historic” and “the most progressive home-grown reform” in the country, a new teacher contract for Cincinnati Public Schools has been ratified.

The draft agreement between Cincinnati
Public Schools and the 2,300-member Cincinnati Federation of Teachers
makes some positive steps in the right direction, yet falls short in
several areas – specifically those related to personnel policies. To be
fair, the blame for this shouldn’t fall squarely on the Queen City; Ohio
law prevents Cincinnati – and any other district seeking reforms – from
going the distance on groundbreaking policy ideas.  

As far as this contract, goes, here’s a
breakdown of positive elements and areas that fall short, as well as
components for which success will depend on implementation.

The good

Performance-based awards are available at
the school, team, and individual level and are based partially on
student achievement and growth, as well as available to teachers taking
on increased workloads (e.g., teacher evaluators).

An additional two days have been added to
the school year. Among schools designated as high need, there may be
opportunities to further increase the school year, lengthen school days,

As Superintendent Mary Ronan noted, parts
of the contract are “fiscally responsible” – at least more so than
before. Teachers made serious concessions for healthcare and will pay
roughly twice as much. The contract also puts a freeze on cost-of-living

Despite the fact that state law prescribes a
minimum step-and-lane salary schedule (and rewards credentials and
years of experience over effectiveness), the contract stipulates that
teachers on intervention can’t move on the salary schedule until being
removed from intervention. Whether intervention status will be applied
in a meaningful way will depend, but at minimum, the poorest performers
will have their compensation frozen. Further, teachers in intervention
can’t apply for a school transfer unless approved by a peer review panel
(decent attempt to mitigate the “dance of the lemons” trend).

The good-ish (but ultimately could go either way)

A new teacher evaluation system will be
co-designed by the district and CFT (we’ll learn more about how it’s
developing this spring). The contract promises that student achievement
will be a factor in evaluations, although to what degree remains to be
seen. And the criteria and procedures for attaining tenure have yet to
be mapped out. Hopefully the new evaluation system will be bold in these

Treatment of schools is differentiated and
based on performance (exemplary campuses may need “less monitoring”
while other campuses targeted for redesign might be required to adopt
specific interventions). It lays the groundwork – at least conceptually –
for performance-based, portfolio-type management of schools that has
been successful elsewhere.

Language specifying maximum student-teacher
ratios and caps in various grades has been removed. The new contract
attempts to give greater flexibility to schools and teams to determine
appropriate class sizes. The contract is still riddled with language
about the benefits of small class size, and the schools may continue
pushing class sizes down. But the contract at least allows for greater
freedom in this realm. 

The bad

Though the concept of designating schools
for redesign/turnaround is a good one, teachers displaced from one of
these poorly performing schools still have “surplus” rights over other
teachers – in other words, they can “bump” other qualified teachers who
are applying to open positions.

Seniority-based reductions-in-force, and
forced hiring (instead of mutual-consent hiring) still remain intact
(though to be fair, the former is an artifact of state law which ties
Cincinnati’s hands). However, the contract could have eliminated
seniority-based hiring or bumping without running up against state law.

Comprehensive evaluations will only happen
every five years. If the overhauled evaluations are robust and
innovative, they will be limited in their usefulness in part because of
infrequency. Annual evaluations still exist, but at minimum only one
classroom observation is required for one of these interim performance
review evaluations (PREs).

No consequences for poor evaluations. While
the CFT and district will be fleshing out criteria for tenure in the
coming months, the contract doesn’t create a necessary route for
dismissing ineffective teachers.

Overall, the contract has some positive
elements and opens the door for an innovative new teacher evaluation
system, meaningful performance pay, and changes to tenure. Until we see
these components fleshed out fully, it’s premature to call it the most
“progressive” contract in the nation (though in Ohio, maybe).

A version of this article first appeared on Flypaper, Fordham’s blog.