AS CONTRACT talks between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union drag on past 20 months, the urgency for the two parties to agree to fundamental reform to improve student achievement becomes ever more imperative. The losers in this drawn-out battle are Boston public school students and their families.
The contract is not simply about wages and work rules. Its real importance lies in its role as the main instrument for advancing educational reforms to improve the quality of education for the students in all the city’s public schools. This contract is the only vehicle that will bring systemic reform to the vast majority of Boston public schools that are not Pilot, Innovation, Turnaround, or Horace-Mann In-District Charter schools so that they too can benefit from greater school autonomy, flexibility, and extended time.
To achieve meaningful reform, the coalition Boston United for Students is calling for four specific policy changes in the teachers’ contract.
First, a more timely and advanced teacher evaluation system is needed to support effective teaching and establish greater accountability. Research shows that teacher quality is the most important factor determining student learning. In our schools, there are great teachers and those who are less effective in connecting with students. The goal of a more effective evaluation system is to support teachers so they can improve their own performance. Timely evaluation requires contract language that does not interrupt or delay the evaluation process, especially for teachers judged unsatisfactory.
Second, schools need greater control over teacher selection to better ensure a cohesive education team committed to the same school philosophy. More flexibility by schools in hiring teachers is an important factor in the success of Boston’s Pilot and Innovation schools and public charter schools. However, in this school year, 370 Boston teachers were part of an administrative process that placed them in schools with little or no involvement of the principal, based only on seniority and certification, not performance.
Third, parents and students should have a greater voice in school-based decision making. That requires more diverse representation of parents and high-school students on the School Site Councils and personnel subcommittees responsible for hiring teachers.
Fourth, the contract should provide for an extended school day that can help reduce barriers to access and opportunity and help close achievement gaps. Additional time creates the opportunity to engage students with enriching educational experiences in the arts and music as well as academic support in English and math if needed.
Further, these negotiations should focus on changing the current incentives for salary increases to go beyond years of teaching and graduate credits to better position the system and its teachers to succeed. Additional pay could be based on improved teacher and student performance and expanded professional growth opportunities.
Together, these reforms can make a significant difference in the education of Boston Public School students. Now is the time to raise the bar and not to settle for anything less than real systemic reform that is economically sustainable in the new teachers’ contract.Samuel R. Tyler is president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. Jorge Martinez is executive director of Project R.I.G.H.T., INC.