Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Daily Merit Pay

The Luftwaffe got merit too. But only a chintzy medal.

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.


Anonymous said...

I heard Diane ravitch speak at 52 B'way on Tuesday, at a meeting of the Governance Committee to which she was invited, and was impressed by the conciseness of her responses to questions. However, in this piece she misses an important point that fundamentally weakens her argument about the UFT getting over in this deal: she underestimates the degree to which test scores are likely to be the basis of the merit pay - yes, I insist on calling it merit pay - benchmarks. We all know that,.UFT rhetoric aside, test scores will be the basis for these benchmarks, and that constitutes a victory for the mayor. This deal institutionalizes test scores as the basis for judging school success, and officially brings the nation's largest teacher union local on board with that. And while it may not explicitly pit teachers against each other, except possibly when it's time to divvy up the blood money, it certainly pits schools against one another, with ELL's, special ed students and others left out in the cold.

Given the strong possibility that private and foundation money may become less available for this type of thing in the coming months and years - Eli Broad and another of his ilk had to provide an emergency injection of a BILLION DOLLARS into a Goldman Sachs hedge fund not long ago, and the city's ability to continue to fund this in a climate of investment banker layoffs and declining tax receipts based on rising real estate values- I think it's quite possible the whole thing may die on the vine.

However, the fact that the UFT would participate in something so antithetical to basic trade union values, and so destructive to the fabric of public education, is reprehensible.


Michael Fiorillo

Anonymous said...

It's seems that in this post that you are fundamentally agreeing with the Shanker - Bloomberg - Broad view of education:

That it all comes down to the teacher doing "more."

Many would disagree with that view. You usually do, but not in this post, it seems.

The very shameful and limited goal of higher test scores by a given school's children is essentially out of anyone's control.

Any good classroom teacher knows full well that education is not piece work. Nor is it linear even with the "better students." With some kids even if they tried "harder" they still don't "get it" right away for one reason or another. Realistically, some may never "get it."

Perhaps their cognitive abilities haven't developed enough yet. How many adults still have trouble with reading comprehension, and / or writing, and / or mathematics, etc. How many times do we run into the more active learners years later and they say things like "I don't know why I did such stupid things when I was your student, but now I am doing much better?"

Besides numerous gross and subtle developmental factors, very few dare to consider what should be taken seriously -- IQ, or if you prefer their "nature" is an important determinant as to whether a given child is ever going to be capable of a given skill set.

Further, let's not forget what we all know and pretty much agree on these days:
that there is a host of environmental factors: familial, economic societal, and cultural.

Bottom Line: I think Woodlass said it best in her Blog UnderAssault. Teachers are most like emergency workers. We are certainly not like salesmen. Bonus or no bonus moment after moment in our classrooms we are already doing the best we can to meet the needs of our students. Offering incentives just shows how distant the capitalist mindset is from the teacher mindset.

Now if Bloomberg had said something nice like "NYC teachers you are doing such a great job given the horrid conditions you have to work under so have an extra $3,000.00 this year courtesy of the Broads, et. al.," we would say "thanks, Mayor Mike."

But instead there is something seriously wrong with him, perhaps some traumatic childhood experience, that makes him think so poorly of teachers. Who knows.

When is his term up?

ed notes online said...

I'm not sure where you get that sense. The stuff I wrote dealt with the school climate. I am not advocating that this plan should be in effect anywhere but when Ravitch tries to make the case it is not merit pay she is talking about a different angle than I am. It is not merit pay in that the principal will funnel the money to loyalists.

Anonymous said...

FYI --

I do not not disagree with your implementation argument but believe it is a tertiary argument against Merit Pay for the education of children. It seems to me that by moving on to the less important arguments you are agreeing with the essential premises that Merit Pay is not destructive to public education, is not highly destructive to unionism, and that it can work if implemented "fairly."

Education is not piece work. Further, longer hours does not mean a better education (or even higher test scores).

ed notes online said...

I see your point. I agree with you - Merit pay is part of the fabric of destruction of public ed - add the entire ball of was from the bus community. The secondary arguments should be made as they still count for some people.

If you have a good piece or want to write one making your point strongly send it along and I'll post it.