The Baltimore Teachers Union new contract could set a national standard for implementing education reform. If ratified after the member vote on October 14, teacher salary would be lilnked to student acheivement, and some teachers could make over $100,000 per year. Kojo explores Baltimore’s new agreement, and how it was able to reach a nuanced agreement while similar goals in neighboring Washington DC provoked extreme controversy in Washington DC.


  • Lorretta Johnson Executive Vice President, American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO


  • 13:06:38

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, downsizing the federal government, to be or not to be and that's not the only question. But first, Baltimore accomplished something last week that is making national headlines. The teacher's union came together with the school administrators and agreed, in principal, to a new contract. One that ties teacher performance to student achievement, one that rewards good teachers and identifies low performing ones and one that supposedly will avoid any perception of draconian decision making, like that which hangs over the teacher firings in Washington, D.C.

  • 13:07:35

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISo how did charm city accomplish something so new, so radical, so controversial, apparently without a great deal of controversy? We thought we'd ask. And so joining us by telephone is Lorretta Johnson, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFLCIO, she was a member of the negotiating team that reached agreement on the pending contract. Lorretta Johnson, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:01

    MS. LORRETTA JOHNSONGood afternoon and thank you for asking me.

  • 13:08:03

    NNAMDIIt is my understanding that there are three key elements agreed upon in the new contract. One, it ties teacher compensation to evidence of effectiveness in the classroom. Is that correct?

  • 13:08:17

    JOHNSONYes, it is.

  • 13:08:19

    NNAMDIExactly how is that effectiveness to be determined?

  • 13:08:23

    JOHNSONWell, we're gonna have a new evaluation dealing with student achievement. As you know, Baltimore is getting raced to the top money and Maryland has a race to the top law that talks about student achievement being tied as part of the evaluation process. And so we thought we'd get ahead of that and sit down with the school board. And through collaboration and work and these negotiations, we have set a process in place. In the contract, the teachers can have a voice in their movement and career ladders and a pay for performance.

  • 13:09:10

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding that this contract will allow teachers to tailor their working conditions to the students needs, meaning, apparently, that principals and teachers have the freedom to make class-specific or school- specific rules like charter schools can.

  • 13:09:28

    JOHNSONWell, yes, in terms of setting up and having a vote by the teachers, 80 percent vote by the teachers, that could happen, yes.

  • 13:09:39

    NNAMDIAnd third, there is a mechanism in place to work out the issues that will come up while these changes are being implemented. Is that correct also?

  • 13:09:48

    JOHNSONThat's correct. We have two committees that are going to be working alongside of the implementation of the contract. That is a governing panel that the CEO and president of the union will be working together. And then, we're gonna have what we call a peer review that is made up of teachers.

  • 13:10:09

    NNAMDINo surprise a lot of the news focused on the fact that teachers could now make over $100,000 per year, under certain circumstances. The controversy here in the District of Columbia as a contract was being negotiated was that on the one hand, teachers could make a great deal more money. On the other hand, they had to give up tenure as the track to making more money. How is that compromise reached in the Baltimore situation?

  • 13:10:35

    JOHNSONIn the Baltimore situation, teachers did not have to give up due process. That's what collaboration is. You sit down and you work out whatever steps that you're gonna take, but certainly you shouldn't have to give up due process. And so what we did is looked at what the needs of the students was, what the needs that the board was talking about and we put together a program. A career ladders, a pay for performance. We have a career ladder set in place that teachers can choose their own steps and their own destiny.

  • 13:11:10

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Lorretta Johnson. She the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and was a member of the negotiating team that reached agreement on the pending teachers' contract in Baltimore. If you have questions or comments, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can also send e-mail to or send us a tweet at kojoshow.

  • 13:11:35

    NNAMDIBefore we go any further, Lorretta Johnson, it's important for our listeners to understand exactly who Lorretta Johnson is. It's my understanding that you got involved with collective bargaining almost as soon as you started your career as a teacher's aide decades ago. Tell us about that.

  • 13:11:52

    JOHNSONWell, in 1970, I negotiated the first contract for the para-professionals in Baltimore City. And I've been steadily in negotiations from '70 to 2010. The teacher's negotiation and the early on negotiations in '69, '68 and I've been at every bargaining session for teachers up until 2010. I think I missed one bargaining session in 2006.

  • 13:12:22

    NNAMDISo from 1966 to 2010, you have been involved in most of the bargaining sessions. Who was at the table in Baltimore in this particular session and how did you manage to accomplish what so many other cities either can't seem to get done or get done with a great deal of controversy?

  • 13:12:42

    JOHNSONWell, the board came to the table in terms of what their needs was. We came to the table also. Our president, Marietta English, had taken a survey of teachers. And in that survey, teachers had talked about having more freedom, had talked about some of the kinds of things that they wanted to see at the table. And so those things that we'd taken from the survey and put on the table. And then, the board and us sat down and we worked for eight months, from January up until just last week, when we settled a couple of weeks ago. So it was a long process, but it was a process where we sat down in collaboration and worked together. It's not nothing that's forced on us. It wasn't anything forced on us and it wasn't anything forced on them.

  • 13:13:42

    NNAMDIHow did you...

  • 13:13:43

    JOHNSONIt was sensible sitting down, working our way through. Our test scores have been rising. Our teachers in Baltimore have been improving kids' learning all along and we want that to continue.

  • 13:13:55

    NNAMDIHow did you deal with the suspicion among some of your union members, a suspicion certainly among union members in Washington, that the whole point of school reform is to break the teachers union? How did you get rid of that suspicion, both among your members and maybe among some of your leaders?

  • 13:14:12

    JOHNSONWell, how we got rid of that suspicion is be honest with our teachers and talk with them. I mean, a lot of them is like they're doing some of the things right now that is being -- that's gonna be requested of them in the future. They're doing it volunteer. We didn't do anything new. Teachers have been giving and doing and staying after school, doing the kinds of things that we're talking about. They've been doing it anyway and not getting any recognition for it.

  • 13:14:42

    JOHNSONAnd under this plan, they will get recognition for all the things that they do. You know, we always talk about the money that they take out their pocket and spend on materials and supplies. Teachers do tremendous amount of things in schools that go unrecognized. And under our plan, they will be recognized because they'll get what you call AUs for it and be able to use those AUs to move in intervals. We no longer have steps...

  • 13:15:10

    NNAMDIAUs are achievement units

  • 13:15:12

    JOHNSON...move into intervals.

  • 13:15:14

    NNAMDIAU's being achievement units, correct?

  • 13:15:15

    JOHNSONExactly. Here is Clark in Mount Vernon, Va. Clark you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:15:20

    CLARKGood afternoon Kojo. Question for you. I'm a retired Air Force Officer, retired school teacher in Fairfax County. My concern, among other things, is that you can determine who is making adequate yearly progress and excellent progress in core courses. What about physical education, art, music, electives, foreign language? How are those teachers…

  • 13:15:44

    NNAMDIHow do you evaluate teachers, Lorretta Johnson, in subjects that aren't on standardized tests, like the kinds of subjects Clark is talking about?

  • 13:15:51

    JOHNSONThat's what our committees are gonna be working on. We are working on the support personnel that help instruction. We have in place what's gonna happen with teachers, but that's why we have this joint board and that's why we're not implementing until next year, to deal with all of the different classifications that we have that impact education...

  • 13:16:18

    CLARKDo you have any idea...

  • 13:16:18

    JOHNSON…and make a difference for a student, but make sure that they have the same process that a classroom teacher would have.

  • 13:16:24


  • 13:16:25

    CLARKYeah, my question, again, is, though, how are you gonna determine whether those teachers who are -- and they're not support teachers. They are classroom teachers achieving the same progress goals that your core courses are. Core courses are being measured by high stakes tests. The non-core courses, electives, foreign language, PE, art, science or, excuse me, music are not being evaluated in that manner. And what about government?

  • 13:16:56

    NNAMDIAnd that's what the committee is meeting to determine, you're saying...

  • 13:17:00

    JOHNSONRight. We have...

  • 13:17:00

    NNAMDI...Lorretta Johnson, exactly what standards would apply.

  • 13:17:01

    JOHNSON...we have those classifications gonna be working in the committees to come out with their program in the same way that we've done with classroom teachers.

  • 13:17:12

    NNAMDIAnd you're saying they have a full year in which to do that?

  • 13:17:14

    JOHNSONYes. They have a full year in which to do this.

  • 13:17:17

    NNAMDIClark, thank you very much for your call. Here is Dan in Carroll County, Md. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:17:25

    DANGood afternoon. My question to the guest is, exactly what is the union's idea of what student growth looks like? I mean, how are you gonna measure it?

  • 13:17:34

    NNAMDIHow do measure student growth? You mean how do you measure student performance, Dan?

  • 13:17:40

    DANYeah, right. Exactly. I mean, is it gonna be driven solely by tests. This is a very nebulas term that many have worked hard to define. And since it's what's driving the entire package, that's my question. How do you arrive at this answer?

  • 13:17:53

    JOHNSONWhat we talked about at the table and our concept is, it's gonna be the students that teachers teach in that their movement in my class, the very students, not tests, but based on their achievements in my class. So if I get a pre-primer and I move the pre-primer to primer level, then this student has show achievement in my class. It's achievement in the teacher's class, not equal to what's going on tests or tests around the state.

  • 13:18:35

    NNAMDISo the measure of a student's progress will be a measure within the context of that school and their class, rather than a measure based exclusively on standardized tests?

  • 13:18:45


  • 13:18:46

    NNAMDIWhat role -- what was the role of the Baltimore school chief, Andre Alonzo, in this?

  • 13:18:52

    JOHNSONAlonzo had his representatives at the table and his representatives supported what the final plan we came up with. And he supported it. We had a joint board and teacher union press release just last Thursday.

  • 13:19:13

    NNAMDIThe vote for rank and file members is set for October 14. Anything to worry about?

  • 13:19:19

    JOHNSONI don't think so. We had a meeting with our building representatives that are over 200 on Thursday night. They seem very happy with what we had gotten, but they don't have everything. We are hoping for ratification on the 14th. We have not heard anything negative our members, from the newspaper or articles that have gone out, at this point, but you never know.

  • 13:19:46

    NNAMDIWell, the fact that D.C...

  • 13:19:47

    JOHNSONIf you're gonna take it to them, it's gonna be the membership that makes this decision.

  • 13:19:50

    NNAMDIWell, the fact that D.C.'s much more controversial contract was overwhelming approved by teachers might be a good sign for you. Lorretta Johnson, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 13:20:00

    JOHNSONAnd thank you, Kojo.

  • 13:20:03

    NNAMDILorretta Johnson is the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. She was a member of the negotiating team that reached an agreement on the pending contract in Baltimore. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, downsizing the government. Doable or not? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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