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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

No Love for the Merit Pay Fairy in Newark

As I wrote before, merit pay in Newark is turning out to be a big, fat scam imposed on the teachers who bargained in good faith to accept it into their contract. The teachers aren't getting nearly what they were promised, there is little reason so far to believe that merit pay has increased teacher effectiveness, and there's plenty of reason to believe that much of the merit pay bonus money is not coming from Mark Zuckerberg's vaunted $100 million Facebook grant like it was supposed to.

But leave it to the Newark Public Schools and its state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, to try to spin this mess into reformy gold:  
A year after Newark overhauled its teacher compensation system – replacing automatic salary increases with a performance-based model – the school district said it paid out $1.3 million in bonuses as part of $51 million in additional compensation.
But the majority of the new money, about $31 million, went to 4,500 teachers and other staff members in one-time payments for agreeing to the contact, the district stated yesterday in a report commemorating the contract’s one-year anniversary.
Additional stipends and one-time payments were also made in exchange for longer school days, to bridge the gap between the old and new systems, to teachers with advanced degrees who elected to remain on the existing pay scale and for those opting out of the district health care coverage.
When the accord was first announced, it was hailed as “ground-breaking” for linking classroom performance with pay raises. But the $1.3 million in bonuses is pennies on the dollar spent on across-the-board increases in the first of the three-year deal.
Superintendent Cami Anderson celebrated the anniversary of the contract by detailing the changes it required for the city’s 71 schools and 37,000 students.
“The District and the NTU (Newark Teachers Union) have come together to create accountability in our classrooms and successfully implement real change,” she said in a statement accompanying the report. “In less than one year, Newark has basically reinvented the wheel.” [emphasis mine]
Yeah, uh... it's generally not considered a good thing to "reinvent the wheel" - doing so indicates a waste of time, which is what this contract, according to the Newark Teachers Union, is turning out to be:
Anderson credited union president Joe Del Grosso for his work in hammering out the details.
“While we continue to have robust debate over the future of our city, I want to credit Joe Del Grosso for his vision and leadership on this issue,” she said. “His help during the last year of implementation ensure a new system focused on putting great teachers in front of our children.”
Del Grosso joined several hundred teachers, students and community members Monday night in a march protesting Anderson’s “broken promises.”
Del Grosso described Anderson’s report as a publicity stunt intended to downplay Monday’s demonstration.
Despite the $51 million increase, the contract is not “being fully implemented,” he said.
“It leads me to wonder if I’ll every negotiate a contract with them again,” Del Grosso said. “They are not keeping up their end, their word.”
I guess this is what passes for a "robust debate" in Anderson's eyes. And it's telling that, in responding to Del Grosso's complaints, she sent her spokesman out to play bad-cop to her good-cop:
District spokesman Matthew Frankel asked for specifics from the union president.
“As we learned from his excuses for not signing the Race to the Top application, which would have brought $30 million of high tech computers into our schools, what Joe says and the actual facts are two very different things,” Frankel said.
“If Joe actually believes there are parts of the contract that have not been implemented, he should state specifically what they are and back them up with fact, rather than throwing smokescreens.”
Joe, allow me, will you?

Mr. Frankel, when this contract was announced with great fanfare, Newark's teachers were told that there would be $20 million available for merit pay bonuses over three years. It was a reasonable expectation that most, if not all, of that money would be spent over the allotted time period. How's that going?

Well, look at the report itself (which is mostly a mish-mash of corporatized consultant-speak and spin, rather than a serious program evaluation; more on that in a second). Right there on page 6 is a confirmation of what press reports have already told us: only $1.3 million has been spent on bonuses in the first year, when teachers had reasonably expected over $6 million would be spent.

Further: while Anderson and NPS are happy to tell us about the money they paid out to "highly effective" teachers, they haven't told us how much money they've withheld from teachers who were rated "partially effective" or "ineffective." 4% of teachers were rated "ineffective"; according to the contract, their pay must be frozen. The 16% of teachers rated "partially effective" may have had their pay frozen. How much money has NPS withheld? What are they doing with it? Is it in escrow?

It is quite possible that not one penny of the $20 million pledged to NPS from Zuckerberg for merit pay will be spent. Given the slow rate of bonus pay disbursement and the freezes in pay for those who got poor ratings, the amount won't even be close to $20 million in the best of circumstances. But suppose it is; suppose, in the next two years, the amount of money paid out skyrockets. That would tell us that the system for giving out bonuses is so capricious and arbitrary that it is subject to huge swings - and that wouldn't do much to bolster its credibility with Newark's teachers.

Now, back when this contract was announced, I made my misgivings quite clear. Other analysts felt the same, and we weren't alone: a group of teachers within NPS, the NewCaucus, banded together and stated their objections (for their trouble, the ill-informed Star-Ledger editorial board called them "liars"; nice, huh?).

But, whatever the past, the fact remains that the contract was approved. Del Grosso and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, went out on a limb with their members and trusted NPS to do the right thing. It's now clear, however, that they have been sold out by NPS and the Christie administration, the real power behind Newark's schools. This is how Christie deals with an opposition that believes he is an honorable man; this is how little the idea of keeping your word means to the front-runner in the Republican presidential race.

Let this serve as fair warning to every other teachers union local - indeed, every other public employee union - in New Jersey: you cannot trust Chris Christie to bargain in good faith. His contempt for teachers and their unions, coupled with his own personal lack of ethics, simply makes him too untrustworthy.

Right now, Christie is trying to shove merit pay down the throats of teachers in Paterson, another state-controlled district. You can be sure that merit pay will be part of negotiations in Camden and other districts. But no local should acquiesce to accepting merit pay as part of a contract until all the facts about the program in Newark are made known. Which gets us back to the NPS "report":

NPS may have done a serious interim program evaluation - but this"report" is not it. There are no tests of the validity of the evaluation system. There is no accounting for the freezes in pay. There is no polling of teachers about their attitudes toward the system.

Yes, we're in Year One, so we probably can't yet ascertain an effect on student outcomes. But there's plenty of other information that could and should be released. Even though merit pay has been thoroughly tested and has never worked - meaning it almost certainly won't work in Newark - there's no reason for us not to have a complete accounting of the program. Save the spin and release the facts, NPS.

No teacher's union in New Jersey, or anywhere else in the country, should accept any agreement containing merit pay unless and until the Newark district releases as much data as possible about the state-run program.

Don't you all agree?


Er...

Um...


Well...

Hmm...

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "Dem facts is stupid things!"

ADDING: From the press release accompanying the NPS report:
“Over the last year, the District and the NTU have come together to create accountability in our classrooms and successfully implement real change,” Newark Public Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson stated.  “As the report details, in less than one year, Newark has basically reinvented the wheel.  There is still work to be done, but we are demonstrating to our families and community that we are committed to implementing bold plans that keep kids at the forefront of our decisions. While we continue to have robust debate over the future of our city, I want to credit Joe Del Grosso for his vision and leadership on this issue.  Contract or no contract, his help during the last year of implementation ensures a new system focused on putting great teachers in front of our children.” [emphasis mine]
I've been asking the following question for years; I'll ask it now of you, State Superintendent Anderson:

If "great" teachers deserve more pay, and we want a "great" teacher in front of every child...

Doesn't that mean we eventually need to raise the overall pay of the teaching corps?

If so, why not start now with the starting salaries of entering teachers? Oh, and maybe come up with a plan to pay for it; I mean, aside from hoping there are more internet moguls who want to drop cash on Newark to avoid bad publicity...

ADDING MORE: Hey, let's screw over Newark teachers even more with school closings! Bob Braun reports.

1 comment:

Bob Wilson said...

No merit pay? Why should The merit pay system be used when the teachers did a great job of getting a whopping total of 3 kids ready for college. What a joke you are Jersey Jazzman.