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Baltimore school reform shows Rhee's way isn't the only path to success

Last week, Alonso agreed with the Baltimore Teachers Union on a tentative contract that radically changes how teachers are paid and promoted. The BTU, like the Washington Teachers Union, belongs to Weingarten's American Federation of Teachers.

Previously, Baltimore teachers automatically received raises every year, or for getting an advanced degree, regardless of whether it helped with teaching. Under the new deal, which is expected to be ratified by the rank and file, teachers earn more based on student performance, teacher evaluations and courses they take that are related to improving instruction.

In creating the new pay scale, both sides "actually tried to figure out what are the building blocks needed to help student achievement," Weingarten said. Drawing a contrast with Washington, she said, "The starting point [in Baltimore] wasn't that the teachers are a problem. The starting point was that the teachers are part of the solution."

Rhee's office said she was unavailable to comment.

A Baltimore school reformer who calls himself "a big fan of Michelle Rhee" praised the union there for being willing to move forward.

"That is very encouraging for everybody in Baltimore in thinking of a wholly new way to compensate teachers," said Roger Schulman, chief executive of the Fund for Educational Excellence. He said the deal reflected "a clear movement in this country to ensure that our teachers are being held accountable for what happens inside their classroom."

Our neighbors to the north are on to something. Fixing city schools doesn't have to be black and white. And I can't resist pointing out that the next man overseeing the task in the District is named Gray.

I'll apologize for that outrageous pun and discuss local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM).

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