There is still lots of fur flying on the school-based merit pay plan.
Leonie Haimson on the NYC public school parents blog has a summary of yesterday's action, highlighting some of the great work being done by Eduwonkette on this issue in her week-long series. (While at Leonie's blog, make sure to check out Gary's satire on Klein's resignation over merit pay - I picked Bobby Valentine for the next chancellor.)
Leonie focuses on Diane Ravitch's piece in the Daily News. Diane scored this one for the union - it could be a UFT PR piece. And probably will be used by the hordes of Unity hounds inundating the schools to win the hearts and minds of the members.
Leonie raised a few questions on her listserv:
Good oped by Diane in the News. One question; the variable conditions that she observes between classes at particular schools that might make teacher merit pay unfair vary even more between schools – esp. as regards class size and overcrowding.
So can anyone answer my question; how can this proposal be fair – if the measures for school improvement don’t take these differential impediments to success into account?
Also, I predict that the measures to determine which schools will receive these bonuses will primarily rely on test scores – like the school grades, with survey results and attendance relegated to a minor role at 15% -- really nothing more than a fig leaf. I’ve heard nothing so far that will effectively counteract the fact that, as Diane points out, “tests now in use are imperfect measures of children's learning.”
There were a few reactions to Diane Ravitch's piece on Leonie's NYCEducationNews listserve and on ICE mail. I posted this:
Diane's piece is based on theory, not the reality of most schools in NYC.
It also doesn't address the points made by Leonie and others on this list that the school-based merit system will only exacerbate the high stakes testing craze. I find it hard to believe that somehow the union outfoxed or "beat back" BloomKlein. Like, what did they have to gain in this? Since they've violated just about any agreement with parents and teachers, they must feel it was worth it to get the camel nose in the tent, as someone commented on NYC Educator.
You see, BloomKlein know full well what is going on at the school level, something the UFT is either blind to or chooses to ignore - That is the weakness of the UFT at the school level.
Thus, Diane's article doesn't account for are the objective conditions in the relationship between staff, especially younger staffs, and the administrators of many, if not most, schools.
So this "victory" for the union has to be seen in the context of empowered principals even beyond the classic czars that existed before the union came into existence.
Rubber rooms with trumped up charges, U-ratings, unfair observations, letters in the file that cannot be grieved due to the 2005 contract, dictatorial rules, fear on the part of staffs where an often helpless school union tries to make a stand, retaliation against school union reps who try to make a stand - -I could go on.
The name of the game in most schools is "intimidation." And the union just has no answer.
A teacher in one such school posted this on ICE mail:
"I like Diane Ravitch's views a lot, but I think she's missed it when it come to this "Committee" thing, for shares in any school "Bonus. Principals who are crazed, and who intimidate their staff, will forfeit the "Bonus" rather than vote to have teachers who they don't like share in the Bonus. What's more likely is that this kind of principal will intimidate the two teacher members of the committee into voting shares to teachers that are in the Principal's own network, in the school. So much for merit. Just another tool for crazed principal academy grads to wield even more power."
I faced a similar situation when I ran for one of the 2 positions on the teacher/parent group who chose the Assistant principal in the mid-90's. My principal spent 2 full days going around the school trying to intimidate people into voting for her candidates. When I won anyway (the other tied between one of hers and an independent) her efforts elected her person to counter me and she also packed the committee with parents of her choice.
Training in how to do these things are part of the Leadership Academy curriculum.
The same occurred in my school with the school leadership team. The "strength" of the union barely exists at this level and is weaker than ever.
So that is why we are seeing the visceral response and revulsion by teachers at this "merit pay" that Diane says is not merit pay from teachers who have faced these principals (what is your guess as to what % of all principals fit this model vs the truly collaborative principal where the plan could theoretically work.)
Of course it is not merit pay. Just as principals do not use money they have to reduce class size, they will act the same here. Reward their sycophants. Any objections? You'll be receiving a visit from a supervisor to observe you.
Teachers will find any attempt to get the union to do something will be met with "file a grievance" or "keep a log and when it grows to 15 pages give us a call and THEN we'll file a grievance."
An objective look at the pension winners and losers (the unborn teachers are real losers here, not the best ad for recruitment) as James Eterno has pointed out on the ICE blog.
Diane says about the pension issue: "This change was one of the union's top priorities."
Class size reduction was part of the same clause as pension and merit pay in the 2005 contract. Supposedly equally with the other clauses. In UFT-land all clauses are not equal.
Unfortunately, Diane's piece will be trumpeted far and wide by the UFT PR machine to counter the teachers who have been critical of the plan.
Diane may "score this one for the union." Maybe for the union leadership.
For the teachers in the classroom it is a loss.
Woodlass posted a more visceral response to Diane's piece:
There is so much to disagree with in Prof. Ravitch's Oct.24th editorial in the Daily News that I had to look up her biography to see if she had any public school teaching credentials. I couldn't see any (Wikipedia says she began her career as an editorial assistant at the New Leader magazine, then became a historian of education in 1975). I hope someone can say she has at least some experience in a classroom, particularly an inner-city one, because I am not at all sure she understands the dynamics of a school building, or the classroom, or the balancing act that each of us face period after period, day after day, maneuvering between the needs of the kids, admin, and other staff. Prof. Ravitch is called an education historian, in much the same way, I guess, that I was early on a musicologist, or music historian. I couldn't compose music and I couldn't play it at a professional level. I just studied it, wrote about it, and cataloged it.
When Ravitch says about this new Merit Pay cum Pension scheme: "Score this one for the union," perhaps she's not referring to the teachers at all, but rather to the union leadership. Yes, they did score one -- politically. But, alas, the rest of us did not.
Her statement in paragraph 8 is the most naive piece of writing I have ever seen from someone so thoroughly versed in this subject: "When a school receives a bonus, the decision about how to divide it will be made by a committee in each school, composed of two administrators and two teachers. They may decide to give every staff member -- including not only teachers, but paraprofessionals, counselors and secretaries --an equal share, or allocate the money by title, or give extra money to the teachers with the highest score gains; the decision is theirs to make. If they are deadlocked, the school will forfeit the bonus."
Where is the "win" for teachers here? The whole scheme is subject, as many have already said, to the possibility of stunning abuse: admin to staff, teacher to teacher, major subject to minor one, tested subjects to not-tested subjects, etc.
She doesn't mention the veiled threat -- yes, threat -- that if a selected school doesn't opt in, it might get itself closer to being phased out. Here is the UFT's exact wording: "A school's agreement to participate in the bonus program shall be considered, along with other criteria, as a positive factor in determining whether the Participant School is to be phased out....." That impurity alone in the procedure nullifies any good in it at all.
And not everyone involved in making a school successful would be eligible for this bonus. Only "UFT-represented staff" would get it, yet I know many other categories of people who are equal partners in making it a good place: supportive parent teams for one, custodians for another (Prof. Ravitch, have you ever tried to teach in a filthy room, or one that is not kept in good repair? Chaotic backgrounds make for all kinds of instability and wild behavior.) And I can't tell you how helpful the aides are in my school, who wouldn't get a share in the bonus either. They are frequently the softer and friendlier figures that make things run smoothly: the helpful, goodnatured women and men who man the offices, halls, gyms, and locker rooms. They are the wonderful authority figures that take a lot of the burden of crowd control out of our hands and a very welcome antidote to the sometimes overly aggressive security forces. We can't say thank you enough to these people when they do their job well. And the APs, do they get a bonus from the principal's share, because they aren't in our union.
With regard to the pension scheme, there is much to read on the blogs about this, but James Eterno's analysis on the Ice blog would be a good start. He lists the Winners, the No Gainers, and the Big Losers for the pension scheme; for the merit pay, he gives the The Winners (nobody), and the Grand Losers (the whole lot of us).
Lastly, whereas each of these two schemes were benchmarked in the 2005 contract in separate clauses (and thus voted upon by the membership), union leadership negotiated their linkage without our knowledge. There was no discussion in the schools, and we had no idea they were going in this direction. An exec. board meeting was called a half an hour before it was announced at the Delegate Assembly. The board voted on it unanimously, and poof! a done deal. That was an extremely undemocratic and immoral thing to do to the membership.
So, I just can't understand where Prof. Ravitch is coming from in all of this, esp. where she says "The union won both parts of the negotiation and gave up nothing in exchange."
You can't win anything if you abandon some pretty core values of public education, democracy, and morality.