Most Teachers Who Qualify Opt For Merit Pay;
14% Vote No, Saying Program's Intent Is Misguided
By MEREDITH KOLODNER
Dec. 28, 2007
About 86 percent of United Federation of Teachers members in roughly 240 schools voted in favor of a school-wide merit-based bonus program that could net members an average of $3,000 each.
Test Scores Key Factor
Schools will be awarded the bonuses if they meet the goals outlined in the progress reports issued last month, which based about 85 percent of their evaluation on standardized test scores.
UFT members at McKinney Secondary School of the Arts voted 46 to 4 in favor of participating in the program. "If Teachers are working in a collaborative environment together with parents and students and achieving results," said Jerrick Rutherford, the McKinney chapter leader, "then we support the principle of recognizing that effort."
Mr. Rutherford emphasized that the fact that the program was a joint effort by the Department of Education and the UFT was a significant factor in the school's approval. Before the vote, he met with the Principal to discuss the school's participation, and they jointly presented it to the entire staff. He then met separately with UFT members to answer questions and distributed a fact sheet on the pilot program.
School compensation committees, comprised of two elected UFT members, the Principal and a designee, have been created to determine how the bonuses are awarded. The committee could decide to reward only the Teachers they believe have excelled, or distribute the bonuses evenly among all UFT members. Decisions must be made by consensus or the school forfeits the money.
The schools were chosen randomly from a pool of high-needs, low-performing schools, based on incoming test scores for middle and high schools, and student demographics, poverty level and the number of English Language Learners and Special Education students in elementary schools.
'Insult' to Brandeis
At Brandeis High School, 46 UFT members voted in favor, 41 voted against and about 100 members did not vote, so the measure was defeated. The chapter leader had distributed flyers that encouraged members to vote yes and warned them that failing to cast a ballot would contribute to the no-vote count.
"I kind of took it kind of as an insult," said Kerry Trainor, a social studies Teacher who voted no. "It makes the assumption that we don't already work as hard as we can. I'm doing my absolute best. I'm leaving it all out on the field."
He added that he thought that it was misguided policy to think that paying Teachers extra money would improve students' learning, especially given all of the problems caused by poverty in students' lives. "We're the biggest Teacher union in the country," he said. "If we say yes to this, that's going to set a precedent."
The Brandeis chapter leader saw things somewhat differently. "What we had heard was that in Washington, they're going to pass something related to merit pay, and these are the Democrats who are supposed to be our friends," said Skip Delano, referring to the re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation. "This is a compromise that could prevent the individual merit-pay proposals from going through."
UFT's Change of Heart
The UFT has traditionally opposed individual merit pay, asserting that it would cause detrimental competition inside schools and pit Teacher against Teacher.
Mr. Delano added that there were so many rumors and bad feelings about merit pay in general that he felt that the six weeks given to prepare for the vote, with the Thanksgiving holiday in the middle, did not give members who favored the proposal enough time to dispel the misgivings and misinformation.
"The good thing is that this offered a real opportunity to see how people think," the chapter leader said. "It will come back. Next year most likely we'll get another chance."
The Department of Education plans to expand the program to 400 schools next year, about 30 percent of the system. It is being funded by $20 million in private contributions this year, $15 million of which has been pledged already by the Broad Foundation, The Robertson Foundation, and The Partnership for New York City. Schools will find out in September 2008 whether they made enough progress to receive the bonuses. Next year's program will use public money but cannot supplant funds available for collective bargaining.
Other Staffers Eligible
If schools meet the progress goals, they will receive an average of $3,000 per UFT member, including Teachers, Guidance Counselors, Paraprofessionals, School Nurses and School Secretaries. If they meet 75 percent of the goals, they will receive an average of $1,500 per member.UFT President Randi Weingarten said that she hoped the program would promote collaboration and motivate Principals to provide the support necessary to all staff members so that students could succeed. "The program provides an opportunity to demonstrate what can be achieved when educators are encouraged to work together," she said.