2007-11-02 / Community

School Scope

It's Merit Pay, It's Not Merit Pay, It's Merit Pay, It's Not…
By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott There is still lots of fur flying on the school-based merit pay plan, where a committee consisting of the principal, assistant principal and two elected teachers will decide on how money is distributed, based almost entirely on test scores. Money most certainly won't be given to the teacher who had the most difficult child in the school and got him/her to function in a classroom setting.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch wrote a piece in the Daily News and scored this one for the union, saying they had staved off the individual merit pay. Ravitch correctly attacked the idea of how tests will be used, but is still wrong in her analysis, as the committee will be manipulated by the super-empowered principals to reward who they want. I'm writing a play based on how this committee will function, called "Merit Pay, the Play's the Thing," which I am posting on my blog. Can Broadway be far behind? Bloomberg hack & flack Kathryn Wilde, one of those rich dilettantes dabbling in educational policy as president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, went wild in a vicious attack on Ravitch's integrity for her daring to say the union bested BloomKlein. The wild Wilde writes, "When it comes to public education in NYC [Ravitch is] no longer a source we can rely on for fair-minded commentary."Wilde wrote this in the N.Y. Post by the way, that paragon of fair-minded commentary.

While I agree with Wilde that this was not a win for the union, her attack on Ravitch is a sign of how critics of Ravitch's stature are getting under the BloomKlein skin.

Class Size Matters' Leonie Haimson, who is a very close associate of Ravitch, raised a few questions on her listserv:

The variable conditions between classes at particular schools that might make teacher merit pay unfair vary even more between schools - esp. as regards class size and overcrowding. How can this proposal be fair? If the measures for school improvement don't take these differential impediments to success into account? 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 15percent - 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."

I posted on my blog:

Ravitch's piece is based on theory, not the reality of most schools in NYC. I find it hard to believe that somehow the union outfoxed or "beat back" BloomKlein. 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 on merit pay.

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, Ravitch's article doesn't account for objective conditions in the relationship between staff, especially younger staff members, and the administrators of many, if not most, schools.

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:

"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. So much for merit. Just another tool for crazed principal academy grads to wield even more power."

So, that is why we are seeing the visceral response and revulsion by teachers at this "merit pay" that Ravitch says is not merit pay from teachers who have faced these principals (what is your guess as to what percent of all principals fit this model vs. the truly collaborative principal where the plan could theoretically work?)

Ravitch's piece will be trumpeted far and wide by the UFT PR machine to counter the teachers who have been critical of the plan. She may "score this one for the union." Maybe for the union leadership. For the teachers in the classroom, it is a loss. UFT 55/25 pension plan tied to merit pay plan

Apparently you don't get one without the other, and Ravitch felt 55/25 was another win for the union. It appears that most people will be paying for their right to retire, with the winners being those already over 55 with 25 years in the system. A look at the pension winners and losers (the unborn teachers not yet hired are the losers here, as they got 55/27) has been posted by Jamaica HS chapter leader James Eterno on the ICE blog. http:// iceuftblog.blogspot.com/.

Ravitch 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, the one issue not yet addressed though it is a very important one for teachers - supposedly equal with the other clauses. In UFT-land; all clauses are not equal. Fund for the Public Schools Funnels Money for Children to Politics

Have you seen all those glossy ads lauding Bloom- Klein? The ads talk about how small schools have been so successful in replacing failing large schools, one of the linchpins of BloomKlein policy. Research based blogger Eduwonkette punched a few giant holes when she focused on the Evander HS (Bronx) "miracle," which is highlighted in one of the ads.

The BloomKlein shill, New York Times highlighted the "success" of one of the small Evander schools, Bronx Lab, in August 2005. Eduwonkette found that 46.6 percent of Bronx Lab's kids were proficient in reading and 52.7 percent in math when they walked in the door, while Evander's entering students passed at rates of only 11.1 percent in reading and 12.8 percent in math. So simple - replace low-performing kids and declare "victory." Everyone who works in the school system from top to bottom knows this scam is going on.

I received this email: I was checking out the financial information on the Fund for the Public Schools.org website and I made an interesting discovery.

On IRS form 990, return of organization exempt from income tax, in schedule A part 3 question 1, it asks, "During the year has the organization attempted to influence national, state or local legislation, including any attempt to influence public opinion or legislative matter or referendum? The Fund for the Public Schools answered "No" to this question.

This was a false statement because they are currently running a television campaign urging that mayoral control be continued. Is the fund for public schools violating the law by engaging in a public media campaign? Can their tax exempt status be revoked?

Joel Klein, Caroline Kennedy, Mortimer Zuckerman and Wendy (Rupert) Murdoch are on the Fund's board of directors. A campaign that costs millions, money that could have gone to the classrooms. Children First, indeed.

What If There Was a Fiscal Crisis?

Randi Weingarten bragged about the no-layoff clause in the contract at a recent meeting, slipping in the proviso "as long as there isn't a fiscal crisis." Remembering 1975 when contracts were rendered moot, this is a very apt observation and possibly a warning.

The UFT in defending the open market system always points to the no-layoff clause, somewhat moot with so many new teachers recruited each year. They argue that teacher reserves always will have a job. In '75 as teachers were excessed, they had seniority to protect them. What would happen today if there were a fiscal crisis of the same scope?

Is there potential for a fiscal crisis with a bursting housing bubble - what if it strikes Manhattan - YIKES! - high oil prices, war budgets, pestilence, plague and locusts ought to do it. But then again, we already have the locusts/cicadas in Rockaway.

Fox and the Daily Show Come Calling

The rubber rooms (aka - Teacher Reassignment Centers) where unwanted teachers are consigned to DOE gulags, have been getting a lot of attention lately in the mainstream press, with some sympathetic articles being written and I've been addressing the issue on my blog, which apparently some of the press have been checking out.

Thus, calls came in from the national Fox News and from "Jon Stewart's Daily Show", which is looking to do a rubber room story with a humorous twinge.

I have a good sense of humor, but for the life of me, can't find much to laugh at.

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