Friday, August 17, 2012

Albert Shanker on Merit Pay

Shanker says some interesting and contradictory things in these statements. I raise the issue here to support my theme that in any ways Randi Weingarten has not shifted the position of the AFT/UFT far from where Shanker was coming from, though later in this post you will see Shanker say something that you won't hear from Weingarten.

Meet the Press, May, 1983
Shanker said he was urging all teachers to keep "an open mind" about merit pay. He praised elements of the plan pro-posed by Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander that was blocked by strenuous lobbying by the NEA's state affiliate. Shanker said Alexander's plan would provide "very large rewards" to a large number of Tennessee teachers, who would have a voice in determining who got the bonus pay. He said the plan had some shortcomings, but "meets many of the objections which teachers traditionally have raised."

The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, March 30, 1982
MacNEIL: Are you saying that a teacher cannot by himself or herself make himself better by an act of will in order to gain more pay?
Mr. SHANKER: That's right. If you pay me more money I will not sing any better than I usually sing, and whenever I sing I sing as well as I can, and whenever I teach I teach as well as I can.
MacNEIL: Well, why, if extra pay is an incentive for good performance everywhere else in the American system, should it not be for teachers?
Mr. SHANKER: Well, there are some things where extra pay is an incentive and works, and there are other fields -- for instance, I doubt very much that if you gave a soldier in the middle of a battle more money that that soldier would do any better. And I don't think anybody has ever proposed it. I think that people in battle generally fight as well as they can because they're fighting for their own lives. And I think a teacher in a classroom is fighting for his or her self respect, professional life, and that the -- I would add one other thing. You know, I don't know of any other field where people get punished for being satisfactory, and that's part of this proposal. If you're satisfactory you're punished. I also feel that, you know, whether you're viewed as being satisfactory or superior largely depends on how you stand in relationship or in comparison to your colleagues. And if I'm in a school, and if I know that my evaluation and rating is going to depend on not only how well I do, but [how] everyone else in that school does, I'm not going to help other teachers if I have some professional talents. Instead of cooperating with my colleagues and helping them solve prob-lems, the first thing I'm going to think of is, "Gee, if they've got this same ability that I do, I'm not going to look like I'm superior, because they all have it." So one of the things that this sets up is, instead of setting up a cooperative and mutu-ally supportive atmosphere, it sets up very destructive competition.

This discussion came out of an email from James Boutin, our former NYC colleague now working in Seattle.

Hi NYCers,

It seems we have something similar to E4E sprouting out here in Seattle. The guy below says Al Shanker endorsed merit pay. Anyone know if this is true?

Teachers United is an interesting development to me. They work with Stand for Children, support charters and merit pay, tell stories about how their TFA members raised test scores dramatically at all the schools they ever worked at, and say they support the Washington Education Association and people in the WEA while suggesting that teachers consider working outside the union to get things done....

James Boutin

Public School Teacher
, www.anurbanteacherseducation.

Pat Dobosz suggested some sites:

Ed Notes Online: Merit Pay, the UFT, TJC, and NCLB
Shanker Blog » Revisiting The Merits Of Merit Pay
What Albert Shanker Said About Merit Pay « Diane Ravitch's blog
Jeff Kaufman found some interesting items
Like many issues Shanker’s views on merit pay were nuanced and at times appeared contradictory. I have attached two articles (SEE PDFs BELOW). One, a transcript from the MacNeil Lehrer News Report in 1982 seems to be emphatic in his opposition to merit pay and the second article is about an appearance less than a year later on Meet the Press (but after a then Tenn. Gov Alexander proposal to teacher distributed merit pay) in which he speaks in favor. I have not reviewed hundreds of other statements and articles he is either quoted or wrote about this issue but I am sure there are more nuanced positions in there.
John Lawhead followed up with:
Shanker's openness to merit pay in May '83 followed his endorsement of the Nation at Risk report which was released a month before.  Merit pay was one of its recommendations.  In supporting the report he reversed himself on a number of issues.

In the Kahlenberg biography Sandra Feldman is quoted saying, "We all had this visceral reaction to it. You know, 'This is horrible.  They're attacking teachers.'  Shanker's shift shocked everyone.  He obviously didn't bother waiting for consensus from the rest of the AFT leadership.  For him it didn't work that way.
Here are the pdfs from 30 years ago. Wow. Really interesting stuff. Thanks Jeff.

The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, March 30, 1982
Meet the Press, The Associated Press, May 29, 1983

Here is something Shanker said that some might wish Weingarten/Mulgrew would repeat:
Shanker, asked if his union would defend incompetent teachers against firing, said, "We'd defend them, but we defend murderers in our society, too, and rapists and everybody else. The fact is that you're innocent until proven guilty."

Reagan's Attacks Hurt Teaching Profession, Meet the Press, Al Shanker

Grading Teachers the MacNeilLehrer Report M

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