Thursday, December 13, 2007

Merit Pay in Ed Notes: April 2001

In 2000/2001, I had tried to bring a resolution at the Delegate Assembly calling for the UFT to reject all forms of merit pay. Suddenly, after years of being able to get the floor Weingarten avoided calling on me for months.

It was the way she handled this issue – by refusing to have an open discussion in the union – along with her support for mayoral control that led me to lose faith in her as a union leader and ultimately took me from trying to convince her to move the UFT in a more progressive direction to putting me in opposition mode, leading to the formation of ICE in November 2003.

Here are 3 articles Ed Notes ran in April 2001 on merit pay.
ICE original core members Paul Baizerman and Vera Pavone wrote the first two.

The third, "Weingarten Heads AFT Task Force Recommending Merit Pay" includes excerpts from the Feb. 12 edition of Education Week : AFT To Urge Locals To Consider New Pay Strategies
AFT To Urge Locals To Consider New Pay Strategies


By Paul Baizerman
This article is a companion piece to the Ed. Notes reprint on merit pay, p. 5-6. Paul Baizerman taught for 32 years in an elementary school in District 16 in Brooklyn. A former Chapter Leader and delegate, he retired in 1999.

Destroying Unity Among Teachers
Within a school the prospect of merit pay will cause teachers to pressure their colleagues to toe the line in order to get higher scores or whatever else the powers that be decide will be the "objective criteria" to determine merit. Teachers who don't pound away drilling their students in test-taking strategies or short term test-driven learning will find themselves outcasts from both administrators and colleagues. What will happen when a teacher gets a U on an observation report, or a U rating at the end of the school year as punishment because his or her students didn't score high enough, didn't spend enough time teaching for the tests, or for not following prescribed teaching methods? With such high stakes at "succeeding", the union will be hard-pressed to defend teachers who do not conform.

Although the issue is being posed as a competition between schools, merit pay will also foster negative competition among teachers within a school. Principals will set up competitive strategies in order to get teachers to violate their contract, especially when tasks are dictated by district mandates, programs, facilitators, monitors, etc. Teachers will be come under greater pressure to look good in comparison to their colleagues. Even without merit pay there are already abuses: schools where principals post standardized scores over the time clock or reward teachers with higher scores with better classes. Also, there are other favors: distribution of resources, reassignment of difficult students, room designations, programs, timing of prep periods, out-of-classroom assignments, etc. These inequalities will only be aggravated when money enters the picture. If teachers are competing now for the better classes and better programs, imagine how things will be intensified.

Again, an important question here is the role of the union in addressing the competition and inequalities. We have already seen that in some schools the chapter chairperson has one of the better jobs and often identifies with and is close to the administration. Won't these leaders be "justified" in turning their backs on the "failing" teachers? Won't those union leaders who do fight back have their hands tied even more in defending their chapter members against rigid and vengeful administrators?

Harmful to Education
Without getting into the question of the role of standardized tests, it should be pointed out that this is a controversial issue. Arguments for and against the use of these tests fill the pages of educational journals, popular magazines and union newsletters. Many educators make the argument that exclusive use of these tests for judging students and educational institutions has created gross imbalances in the way we now educate children. With merit pay introduced into the equation, this distortion will be even greater. How will a teacher ever be able to introduce anything into the learning process that doesn't produce an immediate measurable outcome? How can anyone stand up to the heavy hand of so-called proven strategies and programs? How many times have we seen these same programs that are so highly touted tossed out after failing to pay off in test results? How many times have we heard administrators say: "Studies have shown...."?----End of argument.

This is a very sensitive issue. In an effort to defend teachers (which it should do) against a witch-hunt, the union leadership has buried its head in the sand. Yes, cheating has been rampant for years, but nobody feels comfortable talking about this in public, because they know that the wrong people will get hurt. In most cases, it is not the teachers, but the administrators who are not to blame. How many of us haven't heard the stories or seen it first hand? Administrators who tell teachers they will lose their job if they don't get the scores. Or who dole out class assignments based on score. Or who give test packages back to teachers to make the answers "conform better to the abilities of the children". Or who have teachers assign certain reading passages, vocabulary words, etc., with the knowledge that it will appear on the test. Or who close the door to the office and erase. What happened after the erasure scandal a few years ago, where some schools were discovered to have a statistically significant difference in answers changed from incorrect to correct? A slap on the wrist for one principal, a general warning to districts and principals, and on with business. The loss of tenure for principals certainly generates an incentive to find creative ways to cheat on the test.
We should ask both the Board and the union: Why do the standardized test scores of students go down markedly from one school level to another? If almost half of the children are scoring on grade level citywide in elementary school, why do the scores drop so much in intermediate school? And why are so many high school children deficient in basic skills even though they received grade level scores in elementary school? We think that the prime culprits are teaching to the test and cheating. How will merit pay affect this? By making this discrepancy even wider.

School vs. School
Every few months, we get to see the charts and read the rhetoric that is passed off as being analysis of why some schools succeed and some fail. But, those of us who work in the schools know how deceptive these statistics are. We know that we don't start off with a level playing field. That success and failure has to take into account many factors that are not under our control. It is not true that the higher achieving schools do better because they have more dedicated and talented teachers, and the lower achieving schools do worse because they have less qualified staffs who don't work as hard. There are no simple answers or solutions. (Anyone who has ever been a teacher knows that smaller class size is one big step in the right direction.) Teachers who work in higher achieving schools already have been rewarded by being able to work there. In fact, there are some schools and districts whose hiring policies are dictated by rewarding relatives and friends of administrators and politicians. Additional rewards and incentives will only further these corruptive practices.

And, for the "failing" schools, the number one strategy will be to be as selective as possible. The competition for better students has been in effect for a long time, but in recent years has been put into higher gear through the creation of mini-schools and magnet programs. In one school building, you may have several mini-schools, some "highly successful" and others "failing". Do we really believe that the principal difference between these mini-schools has to do with the quality of the teaching staff or the existence of a given learning program? How will merit pay affect this situation? Will it lead to greater balkanization, more extreme inequalities, fiercer competition for scarce resources, as well as more desperate favoritism and nepotism? A vote for merit pay will enable us to see how this will be played out. It's a tremendous risk for the children, the NYC school system and the union.

The Case Against Merit Pay For School Performance
by Vera Pavone
Originally published in March, 2001.

Vera Pavone has worked in the school system for 25 years as a school secretary and teacher. She retired in 2003.

The possibility that our union leadership is considering merit pay a negotiable issue is something we need to respond to as educators and unionists concerned with the future of education in New York City. In the last few years I have worked in three different schools in three school districts and I also have close friends who work in other schools throughout the city. I would like to share my observations based on my experience as well as the experience of others in both so-called successful and failing schools.

In every school there are teachers with a range of talents, most of whom work extremely hard, both during the school day and before and after school hours and on weekends--preparations for lessons, marking, decorating, mandated paperwork. New teachers attend graduate school classes and go to workshops. In my present school, it would be fair to say that most of the teachers, especially the young ones, have very little time for anything in their life beyond their job.

Merit pay? If it could mean that all these hard working and dedicated staff members would be rewarded, then who could be against it? But, unfortunately, any merit pay scheme will necessarily shortchange those who are not in the right school at the right time.

To begin with, who will decide what constitutes merit? Standardized test scores? Absolute scores? Improvement in scores? Pupil portfolios? Attendance? Principal evaluation? Evaluation by a team of monitors? District Office evaluation? Percentage of up-to-date and properly labeled bulletin boards? Learning centers? Percentage of holdovers and graduates?

How can we compare the merit of teachers in an upscale neighborhood school with 98% attendance, where 80% of the children score on grade level with a school in a poor neighborhood where attendance is around 85% and where 80% of the children score below grade level? How to compare a school with a limited sight special ed. classes vs. a school with MIS 2 classes? How to compare a school with 27 first year teachers (half the staff) and a school with none? How can we compare a school that shines academically because of a gifted or magnet program with a school that has lost its best students to this program? By what justification could we reward teachers who work in schools with a supportive administration and penalize the demoralized staff that work for the various "principals from hell"? Is it fair to compare the performance of a school whose administration has failed to purchase enough textbooks with a school whose administration has seen to it that there is an abundance of books and other materials?

In sum, what is the rationale for rewarding and penalizing teachers differentially when they have so little influence over their school environment?

This is not to argue that teachers don't make a difference through their individual efforts and by organizing within a school for schoolwide improvements. In the past the union has supported efforts to give teachers more power and responsibility through school-based management and other initiatives. However, we have seen that both the Board and the community school districts resisted any real power sharing with schools and these programs are mostly window dressing.

Much has been made recently about schools that make a remarkable turnaround through the efforts of administrators, teachers and successful programs that emphasize basic skill development. However, when we strip away the flowery rhetoric and look beyond the often miraculous statistics what we most often see is schools that have sacrificed long-term educational goals for short-term performance on standardized tests. We also see schools that have incorporated special programs that attract better students and screen out the children that challenge the school in both academics and behavior. An intermediate school that closes its doors once it has enrolled 150 selected children has a real head start in the race to look good. What about the schools that have to deal with the hundreds of children with poor records? What can we offer teachers to volunteer to work there? And once they are there, what can we do to make sure that they will stick around and that they will get the reward that all good teachers hope for: seeing their children turn into better students?

Weingarten Heads AFT Task Force Recommending Merit Pay
Excerpts from the Feb. 12 edition of Education Week
AFT To Urge Locals To Consider New Pay Strategies
By Jeff Archer

The American Federation of Teachers is encouraging its affiliates to explore the use of new pay systems that include some forms of pay for performance and differentiated pay for teachers in high-demand areas.

By a unanimous vote this month, the union's 39-member executive council approved a resolution stating that "we must enhance the traditional compensation schedule using approaches that contribute to more effective teaching and learning."

Although it includes several provisos, the document represents a significant break from the past for the 1 million-member union, as well as with the National Education Association.

While a growing number of AFT locals are experimenting with new pay plans, the national union had yet to make an official statement of support for specific kinds of compensation that go beyond typical salary schedules. Such schedules are based almost exclusively on the level of education a teacher has attained and her years of experience.
"It really does take us into a very forward-looking process on making some significant changes in the way teachers are compensated," Sandra Feldman, the president of the AFT, said last week. "This is, I think, revolutionary."

The statement comes at a time when many performance-related pay plans still draw mixed—and often hostile—reaction from many teachers. Last summer, delegates to the annual meeting of the 2.6 million-member NEA shot down a resolution that would have opened the door to some NEA support for experiments in the way teachers are paid.

"It's important that [the support] is coming from a union, because for so long the unions were standing against these sort of common-sense solutions," said Marci Kanstoroom, the research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington think tank. "But the AFT has shown a lot of spunk in taking on issues where the rest of the education establishment has had its head in the sand."

But the AFT stresses that it won't accept every new pay plan to come down the pike, and that it's up to each local affiliate to decide what, if any, changes to embrace.

The new resolution suggests several forms of alternative compensation as worth considering, including: bonuses for schoolwide improvement on test scores; incentives aimed at attracting teachers to schools that traditionally have had trouble recruiting and into shortage areas such as mathematics and science; and extra pay for teachers who demonstrate that they've acquired new knowledge and skills.
But the document also argues that such supplements should add to, rather than replace, the traditional system of paying teachers for their seniority and education. And it withholds support for attempts to link the salaries of individual teachers to their students' test results.

A task force headed by Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT's New York City local, drafted the resolution. During ongoing negotiations for a new teachers' contract there, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has argued that educators' pay should be tied to the progress that their students make on standardized tests, a provision the UFT pledges to continue resisting.

"We're willing to do incentives and differentials that make sense and that are not destructive to the educational process," Ms. Weingarten said.
Ed. Note: bonuses for schoolwide improvement on test scores is not destructive to the educational process?

Randi Weingarten Responds [in an email to Ed Notes]:
Randi Weingarten insists that the AFT task force recommendations are just that: recommendations for locals to follow it they fit their needs and do not necessarily mean she is leading the UFT in the direction of merit pay for schoolwide performance. She maintains that the full task force report is fairly mild and has promised to make a copy available to Education Notes. Look for further reports.

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