Extra Pay for Great Teachers: Newark's Simple Idea Is a Breakthrough

This month, teachers in Newark voted for a plan that would pay teachers rated "highly effective" in hard-to-staff areas an additional $12,500. Teachers unions across the country will feel the impact.

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Reuters

In the battle for better K-12 education in America, the endless back-and-forth between teachers and school districts goes something like this. Teachers demand higher wages, schools demand linking it to higher performance, and both sides hit a wall. But something remarkable happened in Newark this month. A deal.

In early November, the teachers of Newark voted in favor of a new contract agreement where teachers rated "highly effective" in hard-to-staff areas would receive an annual $12,500 bonus. It is a more comprehensive plan than similar programs in places like Denver or Washington, D.C., and it represents a major shift away from the traditional union opposition to merit pay.

WHAT IS MERIT PAY?

Teachers' salaries are usually based upon experience and education, regardless of subject or ability. For example, gym teachers typically earn as much as science teachers. Teachers with a fabulous rapport with students and who stay up until the wee hours preparing a new lesson are typically paid the same as teachers who put in minimum effort. Teachers must wait until the tail-end of their careers to receive the fattest salaries.

For many in non-education jobs, this system seems starkly unfair (shouldn't people who work harder receive more money)? Yet, teachers themselves have continually opposed any changes in their system for determining salary.

Harry Brighouse, a professor of philosophy and education policy studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, explains that most teachers and their unions oppose merit plan proposals because they do not trust the evaluation process. First, they don't trust aministrators and principals to properly distinguish good teachers from bad. Second, they don't trust standardized tests to measure excellence any better. Finally, there is a culture of solidarity among teachers, which has resisted any proposals by administrators or politicians to drive wedges between them.

But Brighouse says that merit pay can be fair and effective if teachers are rewarded for teaching in areas that are difficult to staff, if the evaluations are not based on test scores, and if school leaders are trained to evaluate teachers properly.

This is exactly the plan that Newark schools have cooked up.

NEWARK'S INSIGHT

The Newark Teachers Union, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers and Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, worked out a system of performance pay with a peer review component. Earlier this month, teachers voted to approve this plan 1,767
to 1,088.

Under this plan, teachers will be evaluated by a panel composed of teachers, the principal, and an administrator. An oversight committee will adjudicate all disputes. During class observations, the evaluators will use a rubric to grade teachers based on their ability to put together a compelling class lesson and students' response to this lesson. These rubrics are still being designed with the help of consultants and the usage of existing models. Test scores might be considered part of a whole portfolio of assessments.

Joe Del Grasso, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, said that he wanted to make sure that teachers have a voice in the process. "Teachers should be treated like other professionals, like doctors or lawyers," he said. "Doctors sit in on process for reviewing doctors. Teachers should also be reviewing their peers." He thought that teachers would prove to be tougher evaluators than administrators and offer more valuable feedback of performance.

Teachers will be evaluated as highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective. Teachers who are highly effective will receive bonus money, while those on the other end of the scale could lose tenure.

Presented by

Laura McKenna is a former political science professor who writes regularly at Apt. 11D.

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