I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Merit Pay Fairy Sighting in Newark?

Oh, my:
Newark and its teachers union on Thursday are expected to sign a tentative contract deal blessed by Gov. Chris Christie that would overhaul teacher pay, introducing lucrative merit bonuses and giving teachers a role in grading each other.

The contract, fueled by about $50 million from the foundation started by Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg, covers the next three years and would offer a compensation system that removes lifetime pay increases for those who earn advanced degrees and blocks poorly rated teachers from receiving automatic pay raises for years of experience, officials said.
Let's stop right here and remember the tale of Michelle Rhee's merit pay scheme in Washington. She brought in plenty of money for merit pay from private donors - at first. But when she left, the donations dried up.

How do Newark's teachers know the same thing won't happen here? When Mark Zuckerberg gets bored and moves on to the next shiny plaything, who is going to step in and provide the bonuses?
Teachers could, however, choose to stick with the current pay scheme, which offers small, annual pay bumps for years served and for advanced degrees earned, officials said. They wouldn't be eligible for some bonuses.

"It's bold," Newark Teachers Union President Joe Del Grosso said. "The teachers are really—if they vote [yes] on this—they're showing a lot of courage. And they're the heroes. I just brought it to a point. The rest is up to them."

Union members will hear about the contract's details on Tuesday and take a vote later this month.
So will the rest of us - this is important. I'm not going to pass final judgement until I hear more details. For now, Lisa Fleisher - who does good work, so I'm inclined to believe this is accurate - reports this:

Mr. Del Grosso said a key part of the deal was giving teachers a say in evaluating each other under the new system. That will be a portion of the overall grade, which will label teachers in four categories: highly effective; effective; partially effective; and ineffective.

Nothing can be done about that, as it's written into statute. Doesn't mean there's any research to back it.

Under the contract, teachers could receive up to a $12,500 annual bonus for qualifications such as working in a school that has traditionally struggled to attract good teachers; teaching understaffed subjects; and scoring "highly effective" on their annual evaluations.

The complex system allows teachers to stack bonuses.

Meanwhile, teachers who don't make the grade could lose a pay bump based on years of experience that traditionally has been seen as automatic. They will, however, have the chance to get some of that back if they improve, Mr. Del Grosso said.

Under the new system, teachers also would get a $20,000, one-time bonus for receiving an advanced degree from an approved institution. Currently, the contract gives teachers a lifetime bump in pay for additional degrees.
Hmm... a lot to digest. I really don't have a problem with teachers working at difficult to staff schools getting bonuses if there's a process in place to determine which schools are hard to staff, and who gets those jobs. But what will that process be? Cami Anderson's say-so?

And the bonus for being rated "highly effective" bothers me - a lot. This is a large topic that's going to take multiple posts to work through, but the basic gist is that even the people who developed the evaluation systems admit that "highly effective" is a transient state:
I love the fact that we "live in effective, but visit highly effective."  I'm not type A; I'm type AA.  If I was told I had to be highly effective all of the time, I'd probably bow out rather than set such unrealistic expectations for myself.  Teaching is such a difficult profession and it requires  many components to come together for a "highly effective" lesson.  
Yes, it does. And what happens if you happen to be a great teacher who just wasn't "highly effective" on the day(s) of your evaluation(s)? If no one is consistently "highly effective," it makes no sense to make high-stakes decisions based on whether a teacher happened to hit it out of the park on one particular at bat.

And if test scores are going to be used... well, don't get me started.

As to the masters bump... well, maybe. I guess it would depend on looking at the short-term gain against the long-term cost. And this only makes sense if the change will be funded over the long haul; again, if Zuck's bucks skip town, what then?

Newark is the largest district in the state. What happens here sets the tone for all the other districts, whether they are represented by AFTNJ or NJEA. So we need to watch this very carefully and see what happens.

Newark teachers, if you can shed more light on the contract, let us know in the comments.

Hey, who took away da Nets?

ADDING: If scores on state tests lead to the "highly effective" rating and subsequent bonuses, watch out: New Jersey does NOT try to disentangle teacher effect from growth in test scores. We could be heading down a path that brings a lawsuit storm the likes of which schools have never seen.

I want to hear more specifically about this. It's really, really important.


giuseppe said...

"....a key part of the deal was giving teachers a say in evaluating each other under the new system...." That sounds crazy, nuts. Teachers will be at each other's throats; there will be a lot of tit for tat actions. This would open the door to all kinds of fueds, backstabbings and revenge seeking. Administrators and principals get PAID to evaluate teachers, that IS part of their job description.

giuseppe said...

Whoops, that should be feud.