Unionized reform

New Haven’s new teachers’ contract, lauded as a reform model, is “loaded with union giveaways that will hamper reform, not advance it,” argues the New York Post.

While the contract allows performance pay for teachers, the bonuses must be paid to the entire school, which puts less pressure on individual teachers to raise student scores, the Post complains.

New Haven is taking the baby step of allowing district schools to be converted into charter schools . . . (The contract) mandates unionization, guarantees no layoffs, preserves grievance procedures and keeps in place full transfer rights of staff.

. . . Even worse, the New Haven contract requires the approval of 75 percent of teachers in a school to opt out of the master contract’s work rules (66 percent in a failing school slated for “turnaround”). This means that a minority of teachers could block important changes such as a longer school year or school day. Plus, the contract includes a bizarre provision that allows the New Haven union to veto work-rule reforms even if 100 percent of the teachers in that school approve of them.

Awarding performance bonuses to an entire school’s staff encourages teamwork and makes it possible to reward teachers who teach untested subjects and support staff.  However, New Haven won’t have effective charters if the new schools have to employ teachers by seniority and can’t write their own work rules.

Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Gist has told superintendents to eliminate seniority hiring when contracts come up for renewal this year.  The unions are not on board. Via Teacher Beat.

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  1. Don Bemont says:

    The impact of any such scheme (group merit pay or individual merit pay) depends upon the measurement of performance.

    If performance is measured by school administrators, then you will end up with a farce. In a comparison of stakeholders — students, teachers, other staff, building administrators, district administrators, parents, community, and employers — district administrators will be the most concerned with personal power and prestige and the least concerned with student education, at least in a very large percentage of public school districts. Building administrators will tend in the same direction. Pay based on performance as seem by administration would mainly consolidate power with the group which has done the most to bring about the current fiasco, and who would welcome this new tool to stifle dissent.

    If on the other hand, performance pay were to be based on measurable results, the devil would be in the details: Which results? and Who would do the counting/grading?

    If you use classroom grades, then the pressure rises on teachers to grade more leniently. Ditto if you use standardized tests scored in-school (or by individuals under the control of the school).

    If you use graduation rates, how will you measure that? Remember that schools already divert significant resources to getting likely drop outs off their own rosters and onto other schools’ rosters, prior to the dropout occurring. Remember that, if you measure graduation rates as the percentage of students graduating on time, school administrators will put enormous pressure on teachers to pass students who don’t even attend, and they will invent phantom credits and strongarm teachers to lie, in order to achieve these “graduations.”

    If you use standardized tests, take a close look at exactly what those tests call for students to do, because you can be sure that that is exactly what teachers will be required to have students spend a huge portion of their time practicing… at the expense of anything else that might be motivational or useful for the student or essential to a student’s general education.

    However, something to keep in mind is this: As long as the merit pay for performance is individual, quite a few teachers will put principle before greed and do what they think is right, rather than what is expedient. For one thing, such teachers are admired by their peers, and it is human nature to value the good opinion of others. However, if merit pay is by building, the teachers who put principle before greed will earn the scorn of many coworkers. So, if your goal is deeply cynical, to simply make teachers shut up and pretend education is going great, group merit pay is your ticket. For that reason, I would be extremely wary of the motives of any administrator type strongly in favor of building merit pay.

  2. I agree that the Post’s objection to New Haven’s pay for performance plan is misplaced. It reveals rather limited knowledge of what’s currently possible in merit pay.

  3. Why is it not possible to devise a merit pay plan that is a “pie” of various steps teachers can take to prove their (additional) worth to a school? Many teachers are taking part in rigorous professional development, advising clubs, tutoring students (outside of the 37.5 x 4 required here in NYC), writing and developing curriculum, participating in inquiry teams…you name it. I can think of a number of teachers with whom I work who consistently go above and beyond in this way. If merit pay is supposed to be about professionalization, about challenging teachers as much as challenging students, why not a merit pay plan that is both rigorous and fair? Why not a plan that is composed of factors that teachers can *directly influence and control*?

    If the “reformers” can’t answer that question in the affirmative, then we know their real agenda. The plan I sketched out above is one that I think most teachers could be on board with and, I suspect, one that would truly advance learning in individual schools. So if it’s “too hard” or “too expensive,” then we know what reformers really care about; i.e. reform on the cheap and on the backs of teachers and students.

  4. For a merit pay system that’s been in place for a few years, look at Ladue, Missouri.

  5. While I respect Miss Eyre’s desire to give credit to people who put in real effort, I do not have confidence that participation in professional development or inquiry teams will lead to any real, worthwhile improvement. A big part of the problem in the field of education is that there is too much focus on procedural things like continuing education (often rewarded with pay increases) and being in professional learning communities and in-service training in teaching fads. It is not clear to me how any of that translates into students getting better educations.

    As far as I can tell, most teacher evaluation is based on a handful of in-class observations during the school year. I think those are important, but need to be supplemented by some evaluation of how much real learning is going on. A fun, well-organized lesson, documented in a lesson plan that shows mappings to state standards and best practices looks like a home run during the observation. That’s fine, as far as it goes. The question that rarely gets asked, though, is, “Over the length of the course, how much did students learn?” I understand the concern about teaching to standardized tests, but somehow the question about learning accomplishment has to be factored in.

  6. How do you propose to measure that, Dan? I’m not barbing; I’m asking. As a teacher, it sure would be great to know. Does it count as learning if a student gets 100 on the test and forgets everything a week later? What if a student fails the test but remembers some crucial nugget a year or two later? What kind, and how much, learning should count–and is that 100% in the teacher’s control? Or even 90% or 80%? I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m asking.

    I don’t think anyone knows, which is why I think trying to measure long-term learning is well-nigh impossible. What is possible is looking at what teachers are doing right now to try to meet their students’ needs, which has to include work like inquiry teams and tutoring. These teachers are working incredibly hard at an incredibly cumbersome task.

    My 11th grade precalculus teacher, by the measure I think you’re proposing, was a terrible teacher. I failed her class twice and barely made it out of the year alive. I remember absolutely nothing from precalculus except my running contest with a friend of mine as to who could make the most intricate graph on her graphing calculator. Yet I have classmates from that class who are now pharmacists, opthalmologists, financial analysts, and nuclear submarine commanders (true story). Is she a terrible teacher? Clearly she was quite the good teacher if you look at those success stories, and quite the terrible teacher if you look at me.

  7. Looks like the contract is a stiff-necked bow to the inevitable.

    The union, seeing that it can’t stop changes that aren’t particularly to its liking is trying to find a means of mitigating the on-coming damage.

    The union can’t stop the establishment of charters so they’re trying to arrange to saddle the charters with the same contract provisions the districts have agreed to but they’ve only got the clout to do that for conversions of district schools to charters. That may buy the union a couple of more years before the charters collapse but a defeat delayed is a victory. Of sorts.

    Trouble is, New Jersey isn’t the only place charters are being established and sooner or later someone’s going to observe that district schools are inevitably more expensive to run then charters, with no off-setting educational benefit, and conclude that the utility of the district has come to an end. Given the economic state of affairs it’s reform whose time may have come.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    The reality is, any effective system of reform must involve teachers on the ground floor, which implies the participation of unions. I don’t see that building-wide, as opposed to individually targetted, merit increases or rewards is at all a bad thing. It tends to develop a team, rather than every person for themself, atmosphere–really sadly needed in many toxic schools today. It also tends to heighten the damage done when slackers are over-protected–and may motivate some more careful evaluation systems and the means to get folks to who need to move on to actually move on.

  9. The union is not on board with changes being made absent any discussion with the union. No group that negotiates a contract would be on board with changes to the agreement that did not inlcude them in process. An attempt to make changes and cast he union as the “bad guys” is a great way to make the people in the union feel even more opposed to the ideas. The change sounds reasonable to people outside of the process and encourages the belief that the union does not have the best interests of students in minde. It helps to inforce the belief that a large part of the problem with public education is teachers unions.

  10. Oh Michael, give it up.

    There are union ideologues who’ll inevitably spring to the defense of the union but outside that group most people have a pretty good idea that the union exists to further the interests of the membership and any claims beyond that are generally seen for what they are, self-serving.

  11. Indeed the union does represent the self-interest of its members. What else is it supposed to represent other than its dues-paying members? You can argue that teacher unions, for their own good, should support broader professionalization of teaching and so forth, and you’d probably be right. But vilifying a union for representing its members self-interest is a bit like vilifying a tiger for having stripes.

  12. Who’s vilifying? Not me. I appreciate the tiger for its perfect adaptation to the situation in which it exists as I appreciate unions for their adaptation to the situation in which they exist.

    But just as the lion who lays down with the lamb is a pretty unusual lion a union that strays from getting all it can for its membership without much regard to anything else except the law, and maybe not even that, is a pretty unusual union.

    The above being the case the only circumstance under which a union can be expected to partner up to embrace changes that improve education is if those changes also improve the lot of the teacher. Whatever individual teachers may want the union will make sure that the answer to the question “what’s in it for me?” is satisfactorily answered.

  13. Teachers unions have poorly positioned themselves because there is no management in education that is accountable. Higher ed profs and other professions have unions, sometimes called “associations” but they don’t allow themselves and their members to be bashed for alleged shortcomings which they did not create and don’t maintain.

    As Dan K. has pointed out, Ms. Eyre’s notions address teacher accomplishments, not student accomplishments. The fair way to get at student accomplishments is to make the accomplishments transparent. At the elementary level for matters like reading and math as Margo notes, this is a school team rather than an individual teacher matter.

    When instruction is defined in terms of courses, then a structure of minimum student prerequisites and patterns of
    instruction can be established, The InfoTech sector and many large corporations offer models that are directly applicable.

    It’s really not necessary to reinvent the personnel compensation wheel starting from scratch. The limitation is that there is so little differentiation in the role of “teacher” So teachers are treated as having the interchangeability of “widgets.”


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