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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teachers Stand Up Against Merit Pay

Back when we were debating the Newark teacher's contract, I warned everyone that if the Newark Teachers Union accepted a deal that included merit pay, all other districts in the state would be under pressure to accept a similar provision in their contracts.

And so has come to pass that the teachers in Paterson - another district, like Newark, that is under state control - are being pressured to accept merit pay. But the latest reports show that the reformyists at the NJDOE and in Paterson are willing to push a plan that goes even further than the Newark contract:
In Newark, teachers are being given the option of shifting into the merit pay system. Those who do will be given up-front bonuses simply for making the change, according to NJ Spotlight. The Newark plan calls for teachers themselves to be part of the teams that would evaluate teachers for merit pay. Teachers deemed effective in Newark’s worst-performing schools would extra bonuses.

The Newark teachers are represented by a different union umbrella group. They are affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, while the Paterson union is part of the National Education Association. The education association has taken a much harder line against merit pay, union leaders said.

Tirri said Paterson Public Schools’ merit pay proposal would only provide raises to teachers passed on performance assessment. No one would get annual, across-the-board increases, he said. [emphasis mine]
Is this true? The school board says it isn't:
Some school board members say that’s not true. Board President Christopher Irving and Board Finance Chairman Errol Kerr said their understanding was that the district was offering the teachers merit bonuses in addition to regular raises.
But is this contract something the school board negotiates - or the state? After all, it was Irving himself who said that he and his board have little say over the operation of Paterson's schools:

It wouldn't surprise me at all if the union was getting pressured to accept contract terms and the board president knows nothing about; after all, by his own admission, Irving is out of the loop.

And no one seems concerned about where the money for merit pay bonuses is going to come from:
Tirri said there’s one major factor that sets the Newark merit pay initiative apart from any such proposal in Paterson. “We don’t have a Sugar Daddy,’’ he said.

In Newark, city school officials plan to tap into the $100 million donated by Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg to pay for the raises. In Paterson, there’s no special account like the Zuckerberg contribution to use for merit raises, and budgets have been so tight that there have been layoffs two of the past three years. Union leaders say the fiscal situation in Paterson indicates that any merit raises would be given out in miserly fashion. 
[emphasis mine]
Not only that: it's clear that, since Paterson doesn't get any of Zuck's Bucks, the bonuses will have to come out of another line in the district's budget. Which is why I'll bet Tirri and his union are right: the district negotiators probably want to fund merit pay bonuses by freezing across-the-board the pay raises for all teachers.

I have a little thought experiment that I've proposed before to test the sincerity of those who push for merit pay:
  • Merit pay, under reformy schemes, would only go to "great" teachers.
  • But every child deserves to have a great teacher, right? 
  • So aren't we eventually talking about raising the overall payroll for teachers?
  • How are you going to pay for that?
In the three years I've been cranking out this blog, no one has stepped up to address this point. And yet I contend the logic here is inescapable: if you don't set aside enough money for every teacher to earn merit pay, you are acknowledging it won't work. It appears, however, that this is exactly what the negotiators want to do in Paterson: limit merit pay bonuses to a select few at the expense of the many.

And the worst part is that the evidence shows merit pay won't work anyway. Believing in merit pay is like believing in fairies; we've tried it over and over again and it's always failed. Merit pay runs contrary to modern research into motivation, which is why it is so rare in the "real" world, and why even professions that have traditionally relied on incentive bonuses are moving away from them in favor of seniority-based pay.

But the teachers of Paterson are supposed to ignore all this and take what they are given - simply because the state managed to get the merit pay deal they wanted in Newark. Good for the Paterson union for standing up to this garbage and saying "No."

If the Newark union wanted to make a deal for Zuck's Bucks, so be it. But there's no way Paterson's teachers - or teachers anywhere else - should have to take money away from each other to fund a cockamamie scheme that won't help them or their students in the slightest.

You mean I ain't gonna be visitin' Paterson?


Mrs. King's music students said...

So the staff members in each building will decide who gets the merit pay? What could possibly go wrong there? Kind of like giving merit pay to principals in Trenton for high teacher attendance which miraculously resulted in 100% teacher attendance in every school...on paper.

ad77 said...

Which all brings us back to the Mike Miles, (Broad Graduate) Focal Point, Paterson $7,500 a day contract for ed consulting! (perhaps a pre-cursor to contract negotiations?)

So, the Board President says that the BOE has little say over the operations of Paterson's schools.
Also, claims the district doesn't have a "sugar daddy".

Sure looks like Focal Point had one somewhere.

So did the Board visit the Money Tree when it voted for the Focal Point Contract at $7,500 a day?

Hiring a contract service at $7,500 a day for any public school seems like a "BIG" say!

Mrs. King's music students said...

Obviously, there are reasons other than merit for introducing merit pay into an already overly complicated situation. And I have to laugh because if I didn't I would cry. There is a vacuum of leadership here and I have an old Army saying that applies. It is human nature to do what's easiest. Knowing that, it is the task of leaders to make doing the right thing easier than doing the wrong thing. As a relative new-comer to the arena of public school education, I'm appalled at the time and resources we waste on half-baked initiatives like this and even more appalled that we don't retain anything we learned 10 years ago when these things didn't work either. That's why I say necessary reforms will only come through us. If we're prevented from making them, they aren't going to happen. And to Mr. Christie and Ms. Rhee I would say if you want to fill our schools with better teachers than me, try paying them what you're making.

Galton said...

$7,500 a day for a BROADIE to do consulting!

That is outrageous. What is he telling them? Don't they have a Supetintendent, 5 Assustant superintendents, 5 Executive Directors, 4 Executive Principals, 18 Directors, 60 Principals, 80 Vice Principals, and 60 Supetvisors?
And no money for the poor dumb souls who do the teaching.
Great job of the NJDOE in supporting teachers.
Failure by design...

Mother Crusader said...

Hot DAMN! That's an amazing video....

Unknown said...

My wife is a teacher, and here we are in 2013 and she still hasn’t gotten the raise she deserves. Not sure it will ever come honestly. I agree just as much as anyone that New Jersey needs a change. Christie had his chance to increase employment and failed on several promises to bring more jobs to NJ.

Unknown said...


good points on the Paterson $7,500 a day consulting contract

add that with the fact that at the time the contract was up for bid, the superintendent's contract had long since expired

so much for the power of powerless in Paterson

question: since Paterson is a state controlled district, who did approve this contract?