Friday, October 19

Roundup of "merit pay" opinion

As the Times notes today, reaction so far on the city's new "merit pay" program has been mixed. The Times article talks to a cast of reformers, teachers, and former teachers who think the plan is interesting but may not be effective in the way the DOE hopes. For now, I'm going to turn now to what parents and teachers are saying online.

One parent leader told us he sees the agreement as a victory for the UFT because it reduces the retirement age, unheard of in any field. And the UFT's own blog, Edwize, is predictably thrilled about the agreement, saying, "The agreements create positive, pro-active programs that address two major issues which face our schools: attracting and retaining quality educators in our schools, and creating collaborative learning environments where teachers have real voice."

But other teachers are more skeptical about both of those claims. I've seen many comments expressing skepticism that teachers will actually influence the way the money is distributed given that the the principal and his or her appointee make up half of the four-member school-based committees. In the comments on Edwize, a teacher writes, "I sit on a few different 'committees in my school.' The meetings all follow the same formula. My principal tells us what she/he plans on doing and we get to nod approval."

NYC Educator
, who opposes the current UFT leadership in general, writes that teachers have paid twice for the change in pension structure, which the UFT indicated was on the horizon when the union's contract was signed in 2005, but only gotten it once. Some, such as Jim Horn on School Matters, have picked up on the line in the original Times article that said the plan would "allow [UFT head Randi] Weingarten, a potential candidate to lead the national American Federation of Teachers, to cast herself as a reform-minded union leader" to support their claims that the new deal is not necessarily good for teachers, even though it was negotiated by the woman charged with advocating for them.

And some teachers are simply speechless.

What do parents think? Again on Edwize, the head of ACORN's education committee, a parent, writes, "The plan isn’t merit pay. It’s $20 million for 200 of New York’s lowest performing schools." She also writes that the program is a "savvy investment" that will pay off big in terms of teacher retention for good teachers.

But NYC Public School Parents criticizes the plan's dependence on test scores as practically the only determinant of bonus eligibility, saying it will lead to corruption at the school level. The parents' blog also weighs in on the pension issue, noting that the agreement will give an incentive for the most experienced teachers to retire.

From the policy angle, it's a question whether the plan is actually a form of merit pay at all. Judging from the language in today's article, the Times appears to have concluded that it is not, drawing on merit pay proponent Eric Hanushek's quote in the Post, where he said, "This is just group rewards." (The Post and the Daily News, however, enthusiastically continue to call it a merit pay plan, leading NYC Educator to write sarcastically, "If the Post and the News both like it, it must be great for teachers.")

On the internet, big questions seem to be getting lost a little in the pitched discussion over contract details and philosophies of education. Will the plan make a difference in spreading good teachers across the city? Will it entice good teachers to move to low-performing schools? Will it make bad teachers leave the field? The folks quoted in the Times article think it's too soon to tell, but that the amount of money probably is not large enough to encourage teachers to change their place of work and quality of life. One reformer told the Times the biggest benefit is that the bonus plan "sends a signal that your performance, your effort, your talent, is recognized and rewarded in this industry."

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