June 26, 2005

Is Merit Pay for Teachers a 'Crazy Idea'?

Stan Greer comments on the debate about merit pay for K-12 teachers:

...Needless to say, assessing the performance of [higher education] faculty members is not an exact science...Yet, somehow, universities make overall assessments and reward faculty accordingly, because the various players in higher education understand that the alternative of rewarding faculty solely on the basis of seniority and/or paper credentials is far worse.

The fact that merit pay is already the norm in higher education is somehow overlooked in most media reports concerning current efforts to implement merit pay in K-12 education. How can it be that most private and public colleges and universities, bastions of socialist ideology that they are, are positively Randian in their compensation philosophy by comparison with public schools? The primary reason is the extensive monopoly power to speak for K-12 teachers wielded by union officials. Were it not for this factor, the practical difficulties of rewarding public school teachers according to their performance wouldn’t be greatly different from the routinely overcome difficulties of pay-for-performance in higher education.

Most university faculty are union-free...But K-12 teacher unions are both pervasive and radical. Under state policies that either explicitly authorize or tacitly sanction union monopolies, roughly two-thirds of K-12 public school teachers nationwide, including union members and nonmembers alike, are forced to accept an "exclusive" union agent as their sole spokesman in contract negotiations. Effectively, that means teacher union officials dictate what the compensation policy is.

And for decades, teacher union officials have manifested a marked hostility toward outstanding teachers. The example of world-famous math teacher Jaime Escalante, while especially outrageous, is instructive. According to Escalante (the subject of the 1988 Hollywood movie Stand and Deliver), who over the course of many years of hard work developed the most successful inner-city math program in America, teacher union officials chastised him for attracting "too many" students to his calculus classes. When Escalante finally resigned from the high school he and his students had made famous, local teacher union officials circulated a celebratory note that read: "We got him out!"

Delegates to the summer 2000 convention of the National Education Association (NEA), which now has 2.7 million members, made their union’s contempt for "uppity" teachers explicit policy. They declared their categorical opposition to "any . . . system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee’s performance." Up to now, the bosses of the NEA union and the likeminded men and women who run the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) have had their way when it comes to teacher compensation, with only a handful of exceptions.

But now change seems to be in the air. A number of elected officials are saying publicly that teachers should be rewarded when they do a superior job, just like university faculty. For example, GOP Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.) and Don Carcieri (R.I.) are advocating merit pay for teachers...

...to propose that teachers be rewarded based on merit, as Schwarzenegger did in his January 5 State of the State speech, is simply insane, according to teacher union officials.

"It’s a crazy idea," sneered San Diego Education Association union President Terry Pesta. "That’s la-la land," chortled United Teachers Los Angeles union President John Perez...

...Experience with merit pay in K-12 education and federal employment is extremely limited because union officials have opposed it tooth and nail, and worked to sabotage it when they couldn’t stop it flat out. But in the occasional cases where teacher union bosses have been unable to block or undermine merit pay, teachers appear to appreciate being treated as individuals...

..."Just rewarding people for having put in a lot of years, that’s one of the things the public gets upset about – and justly so," said high school English teacher Kris Sandy. It’s "perfectly reasonable" to tie raises to fulfilling performance goals, as long as teachers are given a clear presentation of what they need to do, Sandy continued. Former California public school teacher Arana Shapiro was more blunt in recently explaining to journal editor Naomi Riley why she switched to a private, nonunion school in New York City: "[I]n public schools there are teachers who have been there for ten years but haven’t changed one thing they’ve done . . . and they’re making a high amount of money. Yet teachers who have been there five years but are constantly improving on their practice are stuck" at a low pay level.

The real obstacle to the successful implementation of merit pay isn’t teachers or federal employees, it is the monopoly-bargaining system imposed on public education and federal employment by politicians acting at the behest of union officials. Discussions about teacher merit pay in California, Rhode Island, Minnesota and the 31 other states that have laws authorizing and promoting monopoly bargaining in public schools will be fruitless unless their basic labor-relations policies change. To have a chance of succeeding, merit-pay proposals must abolish monopoly bargaining or, at the very least, sharply restrict its scope...

For a perspective on how some Rhode Island teachers view merit pay as well as more on the dynamic that arises out of union monopolies, go here. With attitudes and restrictions on excellence like those described in that posting and the article featured above, is it now clear why we have a performance problem with public education in Rhode Island and across America?

Another part of the problem is here.

It is a structural problem with only one viable solution: The monopoly bargaining rights held by teachers' unions must go away. Our children deserve so much better and the unions stand between today's status quo of mediocrity and tomorrow's possible shot at a globally-competitive excellence.

Why do we tolerate what amounts to a form of child abuse?


In a nutshell, here is what I think the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should be on some of the key financial terms of the contract.

Other postings include:
Background Information on the East Greenwich NEA Labor Dispute
The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
East Greenwich Salary & Benefits Data
More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
The Debate About Retroactive Pay
Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?
The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?
Will The East Greenwich Teachers' Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?
You Have To Read This Posting To Believe It! The Delusional World of the NEA Teachers' Union
So What Else is New? Teachers' Union Continues Non-Productive Behaviors in East Greenwich Labor Talks
"Bargaining Rights are Civil Rights"
The NEA-Rhode Island's Pathetic Attempts to Manipulate East Greenwich Residents

In addition to financial issues, management rights are the other big teachers' union contract issue. "Work-to-rule" or "contract compliance" only can become an issue because of how management rights are defined in union contracts. The best reading on this subject is the recent report by The Education Partnership. It is must reading.

Other editorials and postings include:
ProJo editorial: Derailing the R.I. gravy train
ProJo editorial: RI public unions work to reduce your family's quality of life
ProJo editorial: Breaking the taxpayer: How R.I. teachers get 12% pay hikes
Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids
Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
The NEA: There They Go, Again!
A Response: Why Teachers' Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
"A Girl From The Projects" Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream
Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box
Debating Rhode Island Public Education Issues
The Cocoon in which Entitled State Employees Live
Are Teachers Fairly Compensated?
Warwick Teachers' Union Throws Public Tantrum
Blocking More Charter Schools Means Hurting Our Children
RI Educational Establishment: Your Days of No Vigorous Public Oversight & No Accountability Are Ending

The Deep Performance Problems with American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?
Now Here is a Good Idea
Milton Friedman on School Choice
Issuing a Call for a Higher Quality Public Debate About Education

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Who Will Get “Merit” Pay?

How about . . .
those who have the largest class size? Guess Phys.Ed. wins that one!

those whose kids have the best scores? The gifted & AP teachers go straight to the bank!

those whose kids make the most progress? That lets out all who report “normal” progress!

And what about kids who aren’t good test takers? And Special Ed classes?

those who create the most application based lessons? Right on for tech. ed. and consumer science! Look out Social Studies.

those who offer the most “one on one”? Special Ed. / resource has that one hands down!

those who have the most degrees? Our district fired one of them few years ago.

those who pass the most tests? We thought we were moving away from thinking “tests tell all”.

those who are in favor with administration? We don’t want to go there!

those who produce the most effective lessons?
Are we moving into video taping every class, and then following the kids around to see if they use the information or skills?


If we thought merit could make a difference, believe us - we would have kept it when it was tried last time. Tenure can work, merit can’t. Tenure means administration has to prove incompetence. We know it exists, as it does in every profession.

We know from research that our children learn in many ways from teachers who teach in many ways. There is no one way to teach or learn. Plus if we had a product that we could quality control, we could be run like a business. But we don’t.

MERIT PAY DIVIDES STAFF AND DECREASES MORAL. Talk to people who have been through it. It turns the classroom into a political WAR ZONE.


Someone who knows from experience on the East Coast

Posted by: Sheri Czerwiak at July 12, 2005 9:31 AM

I completely agree that there definitely needs to be something done to change the way we pay teachers. High performing teachers should definitely be paid accordingly and teachers that have continual poor review from faculty administrators need to be reprimanded and dealt with appropriately. Great point with how the university system works!

Posted by: Mat at July 14, 2005 3:52 AM