‘The Orlando Sentinel article below discusses merit pay provisions of Obama’s “Race To The Top.” Such “merit” plans or “pay for performance” schemes have been discussed for quite a while. Some school reformers argue that merit pay will improve teacher performance, and education as a whole. One education writer, and former AFT union negotiator, (Liberman 2007) claims that said reformers are naive or misguided for five reasons:
1) School administrators don’t want merit pay because it means more evaluations of teachers. Negative evaluations will almost certainly be challenged and be subject to union grievances, an outcome most administrators want to avoid. Merit pay will also mean more work for administrators, and in the case of negative evaluations, will sour personal relationships between principals and their faculties. Many blame the unions for merit pay opposition, but there is substantial opposition by school bureaucrats as well.It should be noted that in states that do not have collective bargaining (teacher unionism), merit pay implementations are weak, again suggesting administrator opposition, even where there is no “union” to battle.
2) Teacher’s unions don’t want merit pay because it will mean additional scrutiny of union members, and trigger discontent within the ranks from those who feel they have been unfairly denied the extra cash. It is much less hassle to go by a seniority system.
3) Few school board want the hassles of merit pay, because the bulk of public school teachers are represented by unions that fiercely resist it. Implementing merit pay would mean renegotiating multi-year workforce contracts and trigger bruising battles with local unions, a process few school board have the stomach for.
4) Merit pay calculation formulas have several problems, especially if test scores are used as the grand measure of performance. There are so many factors that may cause test scores to vary that their use as a sole measure are fraught with instability. Yet another problem is how different subject areas are to be weighed- should high demand math and science teachers get more money, or would this be “unfair” to other teachers? Will merit money be distributed evenly among all teachers, or will those with seniority get first claim on the cash? Is seniority is the guide, then those with less seniority lose out, compared to what they would have gotten under an even distribution. Just such a scenario happened in the Los Angeles Unified School District in California, in the early 2000s.
5) Interestingly enough, in some countries that outperform the US academically, such as South Korea, or Japan, there are few significant merit pay plans for teachers. If high performers are doing well without merit pay, why should lesser ranked nations like the US undertake merit pay?
Given the immense structural problems of implementing merit pay, including opposition by both school bureaucrats and unions, Liberman argues that it is indeed naive for conservatives to keep betting money on this losing horse. He is especially critical of the Bush administration “shoveling” money into assorted merit pay plans. If he is right, Obama’s “Race to The Top” scheme, will merely be another cosmetic exercise, that allows cash to be funneled forward. A second possibility hinted at by Lieberman is for standards to be eased by various states and/or districts depending on jurisdictional powers, allowing more students to be graded as “Proficient.” This allows additional “merit” monies to be pocketed by both districts and teachers, without some of the hassles above.
Excerpt- Orlando Sentinel:
Racing to the top: Now the hard part begins for unions, educators
Hashing out a merit-pay plan for teachers is the biggest challenge, as the state tries to meet federal deadlines
September 05, 2010|By Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel
Florida’s victory in the federal Race to the Top education competition was barely a day old when school superintendents learned the grant program’s clock was running down — and fast. If they wanted their share of the money, their first chunk of work needed to be wrapped up within two months. That blueprint for carrying out Race to the Top reforms must include at least a conceptual plan for overhauling how Florida’s more than 167,000 teachers are evaluated and paid so that student performance, for the first time, becomes a key factor.
“The real fun begins now,” said Andy Ford, president of Florida Education Association, the state teachers union.
Florida learned two weeks ago that it was one of 10 winners in the second round of the national reform competition. The state expects it will get about $700 million. Half of that is to be shared among the 65 participating school districts, if they can work out their local plans — and, mostly notably, deal with merit pay — with their teachers unions.
Merit pay for teachers is a contentious issue across the country, and especially in Florida, where unions have battled past attempts to change how teachers are evaluated and paid.
Despite that history, and the short timeline, Ford and other key players sound confident — with notable qualifiers — Florida can make needed headway. “I think we’re going in the right direction, that’s for sure,” Ford said. Florida’s second effort to win millions of dollars in Race to the Top money was accomplished with union help absent the first time.
That change itself breathed new life into an idea once dead on arrival.
“I’m pretty optimistic that we can, over a period of a couple of years, make this thing work,” agreed Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.
School districts must hash out the preliminary plans by Oct. 12. They can then take the next year to fully plan and phase in their reforms during the last three years of the four-year grant.
Still, no one thinks getting that will be easy, and local educators still have lots of questions and plenty of reservations.
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