Perhaps we are reading too much into a press release from a school district. But we are encouraged by the tone and the word selection in District 97's update on the lengthy contract negotiations taking place between school officials and the teachers union.
Normally teacher contracts are "settled." Both sides admit to "giving a little" in order "to get it done." You know, "settled." Like a bad divorce. A truce in battle. Clearly the tradition is that teacher contract talks are business pacts. And that's fine except that it doesn't allow for the powerful truth that teacher contracts (which should also be seen as school board contracts) are central to how we go about educating our children.
So the District 97 release last week talks about "the creation" of a new contract. While it expresses hope that the creation is nearly ready for birthing, the release also notes "we will not compromise the long-term success of this critical endeavor for the sake of expediency." Good for them.
But beyond positive words this is also the moment for clear action. The two negotiating teams released a memorandum announcing they'd agreed to work together over the next two school years to forge a model on how to link student academic growth to evaluating the performance of teachers. The first year will be spent formulating a model. The second year will be testing that model, and likely tweaking that model, to find out if a genuine connection between those two complex topics has been made.
This has the potential to be huge. But only if it is linked to a funding source that allows our best teachers to be rewarded for excellence. That source ought to be the end of steps and lanes, the retro concept that hands out pay raises – beyond the negotiated pay raises – simply for years of service and for accumulating added education credits that are completely unproven as a measure of improved teaching.
That the discussions have come this far suggests a good will between the parties. Push on negotiators into the possibilities that exist in public education if we are authentically open to them.