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, November 14, 2012

The Merit Pay Fairy Lands in Newark

The Merit Pay Fairy has landed in Newark:
The 4,700-member Newark Teachers Union approved the state’s first teacher contract that offers bonuses based on classroom performance.
The three-year pact, which will award merit pay to teachers who earn ratings of "highly effective," was approved by a vote of 1767 to 1088 after a day in which educators lined up at union headquarters to cast ballots.
The contract would be the first in the state, and one of the first in the nation, to base teacher pay on classroom performance, including student progress.
Only 37% of the members approved the contract. And please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as if many of those voting for the contract will not be eligible for merit pay bonuses anyway because they are not teachers:
On Wednesday, a steady flow of teachers, teacher’s aides and other union members lined up at the storefront union offices on Broad Street to vote on the contract. A big rush came at about 3:15 p.m., after school ended for the day. Lines formed at the four voting machines. [emphasis mine]
Seems to me that you should only get a say about whether to accept merit pay if you have a dog in the fight. In any case, teachers can opt out of the merit pay system if they meet the qualifications. So there are basically two different pay scales now in Newark; we'll see how that plays out.

Of course, we'll also have to see what the evaluation system looks like. This is sure to be a sticking point going forward, especially when it's revealed in the first year who got bonuses and who didn't. Teachers who are judged by test scores are sure to be misclassified due to the high error rates. Teachers who rely on observations for their evaluations will be at the mercy of a system that will likely suffer from false precision.

No matter what, I'm going to wager that three years from now, merit pay will not have done much of anything to close the "achievement gap." Merit pay has never worked before, and it's done nothing for Washington D.C., where Michelle's Rhee's IMPACT system was supposed to yield such large, positive changes. Adults understand that the Merit Pay Fairy sounds lovely, but she just doesn't exist.

One more thing, and this is a little scary: more members didn't vote on this contract than voted for or against it.* That's not just a rejection of the contract; that's a rejection of the process. I think this vote speaks more to the morale of Newark's teachers than anything else.

Obviously I had problems with this agreement, but I continue to stand proudly with all of my brother and sister teachers in Newark. I believe in the union movement in part because it's one of the few democratic institutions we have left in American life. I won't blame anyone for voting in their own self-interest, as long as that vote was well-informed. I hope I contributed to the discussion productively.

But I will not accept the notion that this contract is replicable anywhere else in New Jersey, or the nation. This contract was fueled by a large pot of private money; unless and until similar funds are available to every district, I won't even enter into an argument that Newark's contract should be copied. The agreement is sui generis, just like the Merit Pay Fairy herself.

Hey, doofus: my name ain't Sue!

ADDING: I really can't let this go without saying one more thing: there was no reason for the Star-ledger's Tom Moran to call the teachers who opposed this contract "liars." That was a cheap shot against a group of people who had serious concerns about their careers.

I once went too far in a criticism of Moran. I regret that, and I apologized. If I can do it, so can he: man up, Tom, and tell these teachers you're sorry. Trust me, you'll feel better.

ADDING MORE: One wag's take in the comments of the S-L article:
Let the cheating commence.

* ADDING EVEN MORE: OK, that's a little unclear. 1767 voted for it; 1088 voted against it; about 1845 did not vote. More did not vote than voted for it; more did not vote than voted against it.

Blogging is hard...


Unknown said...

There were only four voting machines; Del Grosso said we'd have the results shortly after 7 PM last night. Why did it take 24 hours to report the vote? Are these machines electronic? Have they been impounded? Will there be an audit?

Unknown said...

Strike that last - wrong date - sorry

Anonymous said...

So, now that we are stuck with it, I have a new question to ask. What are we supposed to be teaching? The new CCSS are great, in my opinion. I teach math, and the new focus on true mastery is great. Each year we will get better-prepared students. Here's the rub, though: NJ ASK. Cerf was quoted as saying that the students would only be tested on the standards we are required to teach. We knew this was coming. This year is it. We have all been told we MUST teach to the CCSS. What we used to teach at our respective grade levels, or what we know the old NJ ASK covered,may not correlate with the CCSS.

Ok, so this year the NJ ASK will be aligned to the CCSS? Ummm, not necessarily. We are told they are doing their best to get it in line with the PARCC, but that some old NJCCCS questions will remain.

I have always believed that teaching to the standards is what is best for the kids. That is different from teaching to the test. I always knew I could ignore the test if I was teaching the standards. Now I am concerned. If I only teach to the CCSS, as I have been told to do, my kids may not fare well on the NJ ASK. Skills that have been moved into later grades' standards could still be on the test, and I won't have covered them! But if I cover them because I anticipate their existence on the test, then I am teaching to the test! Not to mention, then I would also be doing exactly what I was told not to do.

Ok, so if I do as I am told, and my kids don't do so well, will I be labeled ineffective? Or if I am "caught" teaching NJCCCS, will I be labeled ineffective? I feel as though I am damned if I do, damned if I don't! The message is different in every district. I have teacher friends in Saddle River, Wayne, Rockaway, and Randolph, as well as in Patterson and Camden. We all have different ideas of what we are to teach this year!

I feel doomed...