Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Merit Pay and the AFT

I seem to remember a certain union offering Obama's support for merit pay as a prime reason to support his Democratic opponents in the primaries. Oh the times, they are a changin'.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A teachers union said it is open to President-elect Barack Obama’s effort to tie pay raises to student performance.

Many teachers dislike the idea; Obama was booed when he mentioned it at union meetings in 2007 and again this year.

Yet Randi Weingarten, the newly elected president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Monday there is a role for teacher raises based on how pupils are learning.

“Of course there is,” she said in a speech at the National Press Club.

She described the teacher pay system in New York City, where schoolwide bonuses are based on overall test scores in high-poverty schools. Weingarten, as head of the New York teachers union, negotiated the system last year with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The new system is working, she said: Teachers already are getting bonuses for improving pupil achievement in 128 of 200 eligible schools.

“If an innovation is collaborative and fair, teachers will embrace it, and it will succeed,” she said.

Monday’s speech was the first major address for Weingarten as newly elected president of the 1.4 million-member AFT.

It came at a time of great anticipation by the two big teachers unions — AFT and the larger National Education Association. Both were effectively shut out of the administration of President George W. Bush. Bush’s first education secretary, Rod Paige, once labeled the NEA “a terrorist organization.”

As Obama seeks education reform, “no issue should be off the table,” Weingarten said, with just one exception: Her union opposes publicly funded vouchers for parents to send kids to private school.

In her speech, Weingarten avoided serious controversy. Though she mentioned the New York system — and was introduced by Bloomberg — she said nothing about the thornier issue of pay raises for individual teachers, as opposed to schoolwide bonuses.
Actually, I have no problem with this, as we should always be up for ideas that are collaborative and fair; but as our friend Han Solo once said, that's the real trick, isn't it? Management doesn't like to give up control and they'd have to give up a lot to make sure merit pay didn't just become "raises for ass-kissers." It would probably also be good for teachers unions to make this a bargaining, rather than electoral, issue.


Stevie said...

I'm all for accountability in education, don't get me wrong. And there are a LOT of bad teachers out there...but there are a lot of good ones as well.

And I'm not sure those good ones will get the recognition (read: PAY) they deserve unless they are forced to teach to standardized tests, which is already a problem thanks to NCLB. But right now, the only way they have of rewarding said pay is to go by test scores. And there's a shitload of problems with standardized tests and how they measure achievement/knowledge.

Add in merit based pay, and you will struggle to find good teachers who want to bust their asses teaching to tests that will determine whether or not they are financially compensated. And students are not really inspired by standardized tests nor by the teachers who frantically teach to them...bringing down morale, interest in school, and, consequently (and ironically) test scores.

It's a pretty vicious cycle. And believe me, it IS very, very challenging to find creative and engaging ways to teach to specific benchmarks that are going to be measured by standardized tests. And what about the kids who have other shit going on and struggle with testing? Should they be penalized? Should their teachers?

Not really a fan of merit based pay...I booed Obama too when I found out about this. It was enough for me to really stop and think...but who was I gonna vote for, McPain? I hope they can find a more supportive, less standardized test-based method of incorporating merit based pay.

Off my soapbox now. Back to surfing the web.

lex dexter said...

" It would probably also be good for teachers unions to make this a bargaining, rather than electoral, issue. "

from your (precious) lips to God's ears, wobs.

Mike3550 said...

I seem to remember a certain union offering Obama's support for merit pay as a prime reason to support his Democratic opponents in the primaries.

It's easier to say that than, "We all know who the candidate we are going to endorse is going to be because she happens to be from a state that has a vice-grip on our national federation."

As to merit-based pay, there is one big issue that I think every person who cares about education needs to holler for. Any kind of merit system needs to reward teachers for student improvement, not overall improvement in the school, not test score at the end of the year, not how many kids pass to the next grade. If we are going to base everything on standardized tests, then please, please, please for the love of any higher power, at least let them use standardized tests correctly by rewarding teachers and schools who improve students the most.