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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Matter What You Call It, It's Still Merit Pay

Folks, considering my record on merit pay, I think I have been more than fair regarding the Newark contract. I've been laying out the facts and what I believe are the long-term consequences - that's it. While I believe this contract has ramifications for every teacher in New Jersey, I haven't called for rejecting the deal outright because it's not my place to make that call. And I understand as well as anyone that in negotiations you sometimes have to take what you can get.

I also appreciate the work AFT president Randi Weingarten and Newark Teachers Union president Joe Del Grosso did to get this deal done. I am a union guy - I am on your team.

But this is not helpful:
This is not a merit pay system,” said Weingarten. “This is a full compensation system where the work you do and the compensation you have are tied in together.” She said the new contract is “aligning the evaluation system with experience” while offering “significantly higher salaries for teachers all throughout their experience. … When you have all of those components, that’s a professional compensation system." [emphasis mine]
I'm sorry, but there's just no way you can call this anything but a "merit pay system." From the NTU's own joint statement with NPS:
The agreement includes rewards as well. In addition to step movements for teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective," the new universal salary scale offers ways to earn annual bonuses funded through philanthropic monies. For example,

- A teacher can earn a bonus of up to $5,000 annual for receiving a High Effective rating on their annual evaluation.
Of course that's merit pay. Of course teachers will be paid for what the district and the state considers "merit." Everyone knew that Mark Zuckerberg's money would come with strings attached: this is one of them. Teachers get the money if they play by the district's rules. Del Grosso admits it:
The Newark deal was also shaped by a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg designated for Newark schools. Under the tentative agreement, step increases will be paid for with taxes, but the performance bonuses will be paid for with Zuckerberg cash. Del Grosso said that at first the Zuckerberg money “didn’t really motivate me, because they offered it in the way of ‘merit pay’…I said well keep the money.” But on reflection, “I said what happens if I don’t use the money? I bet some charter school will take it.” Instead, with the new contract, said Del Grosso, “I figured out a way” to put it to use.
Well, OK then: it's merit pay. Maybe NTU negotiated some other aspects to it, but it's still merit pay. Why deny it? In fact, I applaud NTU and Del Grosso for bringing this deal to the teachers: it should be their decision. If they think there is enough money in play that it's worth it to take their chances with merit pay, they will. They certainly understand that this may be a "use it or lose it" situation; let them make the choice.

But don't tell them this deal is something that it's not. It's merit pay - end of story.

I ain't the "Full Compensation System" Fairy, for cripes sake!

ADDING: Read the whole article. I think Diane Ravitch has a good take on the entire deal:
Ravitch, a prominent critic of the mainstream education reform agenda, offered a mixed take on the deal’s reported contents. She said there’s “a very good possibility that the Newark Teachers Union, and Randi Weingarten, is taking Chris Christie to the cleaners,” in that “a lot of money is going to flow to the teachers in Newark.”
Ravitch also described the introduction of peer review as a union victory, and as the best way of actually evaluating teachers’ effectiveness. She said that the union appears to have extracted hefty raises from the school district as the cost of introducing performance pay: “The ideologues win one thing, and the union wins $100 million dollars.” [Emphasis mine]
I think that's exactly right: this is a deal. The teachers are giving up something and getting something else in return. The only question is whether it's a good deal.
But Ravitch expressed concern that, once the state law requirement that test scores shape evaluations kicks in, this contract will mean that test scores play a role in shaping teachers’ pay. Paying teachers in part based on test scores, said Ravitch, is “treating them like donkeys rather than professionals.” She cited a three-year study by Vanderbilt University and the RAND Corporation that showed no difference between teachers paid under merit pay and a control group.
Ravitch, who keynoted AFT’s national convention last year, said she’s already heard from teachers in other school districts who say, “How are we going to be able to fight this off if they agreed to it in Newark?” In cities without Zuckerberg philanthropy, or in future Newark contracts, Ravitch noted, performance pay is more likely to come at the expense of other raises. She also faulted NTU for not taking a page from the Chicago Teachers Union and using their contract fight to push broader education issues like class size and integration. 
Well, Chicago had an advantage: they could go on strike. For all intents and purposes, striking is illegal in Jersey (I'll save the explanation for later). It's hard to know if NTU could fight the same fight as CTU.

In any case: if anyone tries to bring merit pay into any other district in Jersey, I think the local there is well within its rights to say: "Show us another check from a West Coast billionaire, and we'll talk."

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

I'm with Weingarten: it's not merit pay.

It's worse.

It's a discretionary one-time bonus: not repeatable, not positively affecting earnings going forward, and not sustainable by all accounts.

In industries where "discretionary bonuses" are paid--think Financial Services or IT--there is an instantiation assumed: if you got one in Year One, you have a good idea that you can get the same one (all else equal) by putting out the same, or marginally greater, effort the next year.

Effectively, you know the same performance will lead to the same pay.

For Newark, you don't know that. What you do know is that, at the end of three years--barring another rainmaker--some people will have received annual raises and some will have received discretionary bonuses but no raises. Pari passu, the ones who received the bonuses will lag the rest in salary for the rest of their career.

Taking the bonus-eligible route may make sense if you're near retirement--but even there it doesn't affect pension benefits and the like. It's a chimera.

Merit pay would at least have carryover effects; the Newark offer is Gambling Against the House.