Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another Bad Idea: Merit Pay for Teachers

"Teacher unions should not be such willing partners in the merit pay group-speak coming out of Washington."

Teacher unionists are abuzz with the new found attention their profession and their schools are getting from the Obama camp. However, there’s much to raise our concerns, especially the idea that merit pay will make a difference in the quality of teaching and the improved academic achievement in our students.

Over the last generation of teacher unionism, no issues have provoked union leaders more than threats to tenure or the idea of individual merit pay for teachers based on the performance of students. However, because the President said that he would include teachers and their unions in the policy decision-making process, union leadership is giving him a green light on the merit pay concept and AFT/UFT President Randi Weingarten eagerly portrays how her union has embraced a performance-based bonus system in 200 New York City schools.

But teacher unions should not be such willing partners in the merit pay group-speak coming out of Washington, because the concept of merit pay for teachers is fraught with more danger than benefit. If the concept became the norm in our schools, it could set the stage for a Ponzi scheme of supposed academic excellence, in which only a few would benefit, while the rest would find themselves bankrupt.

First of all, Obama is wrong about the research. There is no valid replicable scientific social research out there that proves that individual merit pay will make a positive dent in an objective measure of the overall quality of teaching in a school or school system. It’s mostly intuitive supposition that is based on the “carrot and stick” meme of Western culture. It’s not necessarily a given that the promise of monetary rewards when a goal is reached will improve the quality of the process used to get there.

Secondly, the concept of merit has inherent in it that only a few will benefit. The effect of the promise of financial reward may skew the Bell Curve slightly upward, but most will be in the average range and few will be at the top or the bottom. That’s automatic and it is antithetical to the idea that we must raise all the boats in the harbor. Merit pay is an elitist, anti-union concept that belongs in the tool box of CEO’s, but not in the hands of school systems and governments. Take a look at the stock market, or at our iconic corporate giants, and see where merit pay and bonuses have gotten us.

Embracing a business model for our schools is an idea that’s as defunct as many American businesses and as backward as the 19th Century factory model used to educate our youngsters. Stakeholders, corporate and social, should reconsider the processes used by businesses to achieve their goals and then rethink the ideas behind why we educate our children in the first place. Once we do that, the concept of merit raises for teachers will be a thing of the past.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rally: City Hall Rumble for Fair Budget Funding

Send your state legislators this letter before April 1, urging them to pass a fair budget.

The Rally for New York on March 5, 2009 brought thousands of New Yorkers out to City Hall Park in an effort aimed at forcing Albany and City Hall to produce a fair budget for schools and other public services.  It is estimated that more than 40,000 concerned citizens, union workers and parents came out to protest what is perceived as an unfair budget that will ultimately punish the most vulnerable in our city—children, the elderly and the infirm.

But as large as the demonstration was some say that this is only the tip of the iceberg as dissatisfaction about the proposed budget cuts is causing a rumble of outrage in all sectors of our society.  Albany is accused of unfairly distributing stimulus funds and shorting various localities like the city.  While lawmakers haggle over the amount of the cuts, funding for schools, hospitals and other services will be held hostage as the state tries to resolve its economic crisis by cuts to education, childcare and healthcare.

Noting that the proposed budget plan places a greater burden on the working class, support for a fair-share tax reform movement is also growing as it is estimated that a modest rise in the income taxes of those who earn more than $250,000—the top 5 percent—could produce revenues of as much as $6 billion per year.

The rush-hour demonstration packed lower Manhattan from the tip of City Hall Park along Broadway up past Worth Street as New Yorkers came out to make sure that the federal stimulus funds are spent in a way that protects communities, schools and the other vital social services that keep the city running.  

While most city workers were represented at the rally, members of the UFT from all five boroughs showed up in force to voice their concern for children and schools. They held placards calling for fair budgets with slogans like "Don't be fools, support our schools," and reminders that "Our children deserve better." Some of the demonstrators are pictured here and while others will be showcased in the following edition of the New York Teacher.

Send your state legislators this letter before April 1, urging them to pass a fair budget.