Yeah: I told you so.
A little recent history: When Facebook founder and Chris Christie supporter Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to Newark's schools, it soon became clear that money wasn't going to go into the classroom. Despite the fact that merit pay has never worked, the state - which, again, controls both Paterson and Newark - wanted to use a big piece of the money to implement an incentive system that was never defined in the Newark teachers' contract agreement.
There is, however, no doubt that the merit pay system will use standardized tests to determine who gets the bonuses. Which makes it even more amazing, to my mind, that the leadership of the Newark Teachers Union and their national umbrella organization, the American Federation of Teachers, supported the use of merit pay in the contract.
Because Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, has gone on record denouncing the use of tests to measure teacher effectiveness as "junk science." She's right - but she still supported its use to determine merit pay bonuses in the Newark contract. She even went so far as to tacitly agree with Chris Christie that the contract was a model for other districts - even if those districts don't have a California internet billionaire willing to drop a pile of money into their district.
So now Paterson's teachers have to reap what Weingarten has sown. What's worse is that the local - like the vast majority of locals in the state - is affiliated with the NJEA, and not the AFT. So Paterson's teachers have to live with the consequences of deal negotiated by labor leaders they didn't even elect.
I said this back when the members of the NTU were considering whether to take the deal that Weingarten and NTU's president, Joe Del Grosso, negotiated for them: despite my many misgivings, I can't blame any teacher in Newark for taking the deal. Those educators had worked without a contract for years, and a big pile of money was put in front of them, albeit with strings attached. I'm willing to give Weingarten and Del Grosso the benefit of the doubt that this was the best deal they could get, and I think it was fine to put the deal in front of the members (although a little more engagement with the teachers opposed to the deal would have gone a long way to help unity).
That said, I do think Weingarten made a mistake in not clearly stating that this deal is not replicable across the state and across the country. I don't see anyone lining up to dump millions of dollars into a contract in Paterson or anywhere else. It's wrong for teachers anywhere to have to feel like they have to take a deal that includes merit pay just because Newark did.
There is another state-controlled district in New Jersey: Jersey City. The local teachers union president, Ronnie Greco, recently stood up and said he wouldn't take a deal that included merit pay and many other provisions that would have been bad for teachers and for students.
That's the kind of solidarity - and, frankly, spine - that teachers unions need right now. We need to let our brother and sister teachers in Paterson know that we stand with them and we will fight to keep them from having to accept a contract based on "junk science." They deserve no less from the rest of us.
We can fall apart, or we can stand together. We can go it alone, or we can understand that agreements we reach in other districts and states have consequences for all of us.
What's it going to be?
This blog proudly supports AFTNJ, the NTU, the AFT, and the Paterson Education Association.