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

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Merit Pay Virus Spreads

The Camden teachers contract is up for negotiation, just as the state has taken over the district and is ready to install a new, reformy superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard. This young fellow spent his career in New York City forcing charter school co-locations on communities that did not want them; consequently, there here is little doubt he is being installed in Camden to turn the district into a "portfolio" system, where public schools are squeezed out so charters, often run by for-profit managers, can take their place.

This shouldn't be a surprise: the state is following the plan laid out in secret documents authored by a  Broad Foundation intern fellow (and leaked to the press last year). The first step was to disenfranchise the citizens in Camden and allow them no say in the governance of their schools; Rouhanifard's confirmation is the inevitable result.

But the privatization of Camden's schools is only part of the plan. Without question, the other goal is to break the teachers union, starting with the introduction of merit pay. How can I be sure?

Look up north to another state-controlled disrict: Paterson (6/25/13).
After going three years without a new contract, Paterson’s teachers last week voted to give their union leaders the authority to call for a job action, including a possible strike. 
Teacher union president Peter Tirri said it was not likely that any action would be taken until after the current phase of contract talks – known as fact-finding – were complete. Tirri said the last fact-finding session was scheduled for August 1. 
“Our members are frustrated,’’ said Tirri, head of the Paterson Education Association (PEA). “They don’t want to go into a fourth year without a contract."
Tirri said the district offered no cost of living raise to the union members and said the only increases on the table involved a merit pay plan that had not yet been fully explained. 
When asked about the union’s vote, district spokeswoman Terry Corallo said, “The Paterson Public School District is committed to providing a quality education for all of the children of Paterson.” 
“With regard to merit pay, we believe it is no longer acceptable to grant salary increases on seniority alone,’’ Corallo said. “The District’s proposal includes the new Teacher Evaluation Program established by the State. Paterson would use the results from this evaluation system to grant merit pay increases." [emphasis mine]
How badly does the state want merit pay? This badly: the state-run district -- which does not have an empowered school board accountable to the city's citizens and has been controlled by the State of New Jersey for 22 years -- is willing to hold out on its teachers for the fourth year just so it can implement an undefined merit pay plan.

I'll say it once again: merit pay does not work. It has never worked. It will never work. Believing in merit pay is like believing in fairies. And it's become clear over the last few years that the real point of merit pay is to cut teacher wages.

So why would the state think they can get away with this? Why would they think the teachers of Paterson would accept a scheme that has been thoroughly tested and has thoroughly failed?

Here's why:
[District spokeswoman Terry]Corallo pointed out that the teachers in Newark recently signed a new labor agreement that establishes merit pay. Kerr said the merit pay plan was coming from key people in the Christie administration who were overseeing the contract negotiations in the state-controlled district. 
The PEA needs to understand the new reality," Kerr said, “and to try to prepare their membership as best they can to deal with this thing." [emphasis mine]
Yes, it's the "new reality": Newark has merit pay, so now every other teacher in New Jersey has to get in line. Except that merit pay in Newark was financed by Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped his Facebook bucks into the city to deflect attention from the bad publicity of an unfavorable movie, which cleared the way for his company's IPO. No one has come forward in Paterson with millions of dollars in private funds to pay for a ridiculous merit pay scheme; guess where the state wants to get the money?
Tirri says the union doesn’t oppose merit pay in itself. But he said the union would not accept a contact under which merit pay replaced a system for regular annual cost-of-living increases. Moreover, Tirri has expressed concerns that the process for awarding merit pay could result in inequities and favoritism. 
The last raises received by city teacher took effect July 1, 2009, Tirri said. [emphasis mine]
Where will the state get the money for this scheme? Simple: merit pay will be funded by the teachers themselves, by slashing their regular raises. And since the system for distributing merit pay isn't defined -- just like in Newark -- the potential for turning merit pay into a patronage machine is enormous.

When the merit pay contract was being debated in Newark, I warned that this would happen. I warned that the NTU had to make clear that this contract is not replicable across the state, for the simple reason that there must be extra money to make it work, and there are only so many California billionaires interested in dropping $100 million in Jersey's cities to go round.

Mark my words: the next step in the spreading of the merit pay virus will be an attempt by the state to force Camden's teachers to accept it. They should not. And the rest of us need to let them know that we will have their backs as they stand up, just like the brave teachers in Paterson, and resist this reformy contagion.

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "Yo, I ain't no virus!"

ADDING: Paterson is turning over its principals:
About one third of the city's 53 schools will have new principals when classes start next month, a major turnover that district officials attribute to their ongoing efforts to improve the quality of education provided to Paterson children.
New appointees will be filling five high school positions and 13 elementary school slots, according to a list provided by city education officials. In eight cases, the district is shuffling current principals among different schools. Six people have been promoted to principal positions and the district is hiring four others from outside Paterson.
It's easier to deny raises to people who've never worked for you. Long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect are impediments to "reform" in the shiny new 21st century school district.


Mrs. King's music students said...

Merit pay, inequities and favoritism. To improve teacher attendance in Trenton, merit pay was awarded TO THE PRINCIPAL. Make no mistake about it, our principal wasted no time REPORTING increased attendance.

The only difference here is that the monitoring/reporting/awarding of merit pay will be handled by state appointed administrators. There is no reason to believe they'll be more or less inclined to milk the system than the incumbents (sp?)

As always, the real crisis in Camden is the absence of leadership across the board

giuseppe said...

The games that can be played with so called merit pay are endless and definitely not to the teacher's benefit. What will be the standards for measuring merit, who will administer it? Merit pay eliminates tenure, LIFO and the longevity increment if I am understanding this correctly. It's a really horrible idea and has not worked wherever it was tried.

Unknown said...

I know from very reliable sources in Jersey City that the union will be forced to accept a merit-pay pyramid scheme this year....