Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bonuses dead. Kids didn't win. Where's Randi?

Bloomberg called it, an "historic agreement." (NYT pic)
Union leader raved about bonuses in '07
"Everybody wins, especially the kids." -- UFT President Randi Weingarten - October 26, 2007
Back in '07, Mayor Bloomberg called it an “historic and unique agreement," claiming, “This agreement puts New York City at the forefront nationally in finding ways to reward such high-needs schools for performance.”

Then UFT Pres. Randi Weingarten pushed her own union membership to voluntarily except Bloomberg/Klein's bonus plan. As I recall, there were a few rank-and-file pockets of resistance, warning fellow N.Y. teachers not to be taken in by the mayor's various performance-pay schemes, all of which would begin to connect teacher compensation with student test scores.

But Randi prevailed. Dismissing critics as "maximalists", she correctly made the case that the new bonus plan differed from the typical "merit pay" schemes then being floated in urban districts around the country and which were based on individual, rather than collective teacher performance. She argued that the Bloomberg/Klein plan wasn't "entirely" based on test scores --which it wasn't. She also hinged her support for the bonus program on a change in the law that would allow teachers to retire early, starting at 55 instead of 62, without taking a hit to their pensions. Whether the city will deliver on that remains to be seen.

But then she went way beyond the often legitimate seat-at-the-table argument, that it's better to have union input on these issues, as opposed to autocratic decision-making by the mayor. Instead, Randi raved about the bonus plan, touting it as a win-win for everyone, "especially the kids."
Schoolwide bonuses are much more than a way to sideline individual merit pay. This plan is a proactive way to change the national debate on how to assess, acknowledge and model good teaching. It gives voice and equal standing to frontline educators. And if it works, it is a powerful tool to create the collaborative spirit that will turn some schools around. 
Now that the N.Y. bonus plan has been junked, the victim of massive budget cuts as well as another major study showing that bonuses do nothing to improve schools or teaching/learning, Randi and the union leadership have gone quiet. UFT and AFT websites are mute on the bonus question and even the major piece in Sunday's NYT, failed to elicit a union response.

She was right about one thing however. The agreement sure did change the national debate about assessment and teacher evaluation -- but from bad to worse. As for voice and equal footing for frontline educators -- well you be the judge. 

Looking back and looking ahead, it seems to me that the N.Y. bonus agreement set the stage, not only for current test-and-punish and so-called "value-added" mis-evaluation schemes, but for the steady erosion of union power, teacher voice and undermining of collective bargaining agreements culminating in the recent passage of SB7 in Illinois.

Unlike the outright assaults on unions, led by conservative T-Party govs in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and Michigan, this second-prong attack is spearheaded by corporate reform groups like Stand For Children with the backing of local, usually Democratic politicians and Arne Duncan's D.O.E.. Most importantly, they are often being carried out with the expressed consent of and collaboration with many of our top union leaders who are touting this version of seat-at-the-table as models for the nation.

Weingarten may have had some good reasons to buy the Bloomberg/Klein plan. But now, three years later, it's time for a reassessment. I was disappointed ,but not shocked, to find that Edwize, the UFT's website, contained no mention of the failed bonus plan. I was also surprised to find not a word about the Stand For Children fiasco or Josh Edelman's "apology", which revealed how the corporate reformers played on the union leaders' need to be at the table.

I asked a current UFT leader for a response on the bonus issue. So far, I've received none. I'll let you know if I hear something.

1 comment:

  1. Your comments about the UFT's silence on merit pay and the Edelman episode reminded me that when I was at the NEA RA a year ago in New Orleans, a UFT leader (actually I think we're talking about the same one) reacted to the NEA's courageous no confidence vote of Arne Duncan. He assured me that the AFT would also take a critical stand towards the DOE and RTTT. In fact, they were silent on that as well. Instead they notoriously invited Bill Gates to address their convention. Ironic how the NEA has now moved closer to the AFT on these issues.


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