Sunday, November 4, 2007


Updated with additional material on merit pay, Sunday AM

By Michael Fiorillo

Like a land mine buried and forgotten but still active, merit pay exploded in the faces of UFT members attending the October 17th Delegates Assembly. Jamming the membership with a deal that was embedded in the discredited 2005 contract, President Randi Weingarten welcomed the delegates and chapter leaders with an agreement that pits schools and UFT members against each other. In so doing, she once again showed by her actions that she agrees with the use of high stakes test scores for judging school success, and has helped further the privatization and corporate control of our public schools, and the weakening of the union.


Despite the PR spin and semantic contortions, this agreement will further entrench test scores as the basis for judging student, teacher and school success. They may claim that other benchmarks will be factored in, but the reality is that those who are setting the agenda for education are only interested in what can be counted, measured and controlled in their interests. And it will be an all-powerful executive, free of any checks and balances, that will define what is worth measuring, and how. The end result will be the removal of all programs, methods and individuals that do not further the testing/control/punishment regime. Randi Weingarten makes eloquent noises about the distortions and injustices created by this, but her actions demonstrate her basic support for it.


Financial incentives for increased test scores will inevitably lead to cheating and gaming the tests. Just as corporate executives, through stock options, were given incentives to manipulate their companies' accounting, principals and schools will now be further tempted manipulate who takes the tests and how they are scored. While many, if not most, schools will try to resist these temptations, it is a statistical certainty that others will, and be rewarded for it. The resulting scandals are predictable, and will be used to intimidate and discredit teachers further.


Although pitched as a way for school staff to collaborate, this program will pit schools and teachers against each other. This has been the Mayor's intention all along. The fantasy that cooperation will magically appear in schools that do not currently enjoy it is typical of the market fundamentalism that governs urban education today, which cannot imagine that people are motivated by anything other than greed or fear. This program will worsen the epidemic of schools screening and cherry picking students based on how they'll make their test scores look, and will diminish services for ELL's, special ed and other high needs students. It will be divisive within communities, creating a two-tier educational system modeled after the two-tier labor markets that corporate America is imposing across the nation. Within schools, it will enable unscrupulous principals to pit UFT members against each other.


For generations, unions have struggled to institutionalize the practice of equal pay for equal work. They've done this for ethical and practical reasons: because it's the right thing to do, and because employers have always tried to use divide and conquer schemes to destroy the cohesion and solidarity of their employees. This is simply another version of that timeless game. Distrust and resentment within and among schools will be the inevitable result, with non-participating schools and those that "fail" to meet the benchmarks essentially being told that they don't "count."


Perhaps the worst quality of this plan is the professionally and personally insulting message that without merit pay, teachers and other educators will withhold their best efforts. While all educators need to make (more) money, they are motivated by things that transcend marks on a ledger. Bloomberg, Klein and the other privateers who've targeted public education cannot conceive of this, but the disgrace and danger is that our own union president shares their blindness and values.


The timing and manner in which this came about reek of an underhanded deal between the mayor and Randi Weingarten. Consider: the language leading to merit pay was quietly embedded in the controversial 2005 contract, only to be sprung on the DA without any real debate or opportunity to bring it back to the chapters for discussion. Consider: in the weeks leading up to the DA being presented with this fait accompli, RANDI WEINGARTEDN WAS SOUNDING THE ALARM ABOUT INDIVIDUAL MERIT PAY IN A RE-AUTHORIZED NCLB WHILE SHE WAS SIMULTANEOUSLY NEGOTIATING THIS DEAL IN SECRET. She now claims that this "closes the door" on individual merit pay, a transparent falsehood, since any federal law would trump this agreement. Either she was exaggerating the likelihood of individual merit pay to prime the members for a deal she was secretly negotiating, or she negotiated a deal that will become moot. Either way, the membership has been bamboozled.


This episode once again raises questions about the values, direction and tactics of the UFT leadership. Members must ask themselves what kind of system they want to work in, and what kind of union is to represent them. Will it be a two-tier, de facto privatized system with rewards and punishments based on invalid, arbitrary, divisive and politically-motivated criteria, enabled by a union leadership that agrees with the fetish for numbers, numbers numbers? Or will there be a membership that recognizes and fights for public education as a foundation of our democracy, and its union as a guardian of that democracy within and outside the schools? The time to begin that discussion is now.

Michael Fiorillo is the Chapter Leader at Newcomers High School in Queens and a founding member of the Independent Community of Educators.

Merit bonuses elude top teachers
WARNING from Susan Ohanian:
Read this at your own risk. It is likely to make anyone who cares about teacher professionalism ill.

By Rachel Simmonsen

Palm Beach Post 2007-11-02

Of about 400 Martin County teachers and administrators awarded bonuses recently, one name was conspicuously absent: Carol Matthews O'Connor, the district's teacher of the year.

Fewer than half of the teachers of the year at the district's 22 schools earned a bonus under STAR (Special Teachers Are Rewarded), a controversial merit pay plan that was approved reluctantly last school year by the school board and teachers union.

"I'm just as disappointed as those who didn't get the money," school board member David Anderson said.

"I don't even know where to begin," teachers union chief Jeanette Phillips said of the program's faults.

Full article posted at Susan's web site here and at Palm Beach Post here.


  1. Unity Caucus hack comment deleted. They have their own special blog set up for them at so everyone can read how intelligent they are all in one location.

    Another comment deleted called Randi a nasty. Not allowed here either.


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.