Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Unity's Bold New Incentive

A few days ago, I wrote that Unity, the monoply party that controls the UFT, had amended the contract without consulting rank and file in order to provide $5,000 signing bonuses to new math and science teachers. I stand corrected. Actually, according to today's NY Times, the bonuses also include monthly living stipends of $400 for up to two years. Therefore, the subsidies can reach $14,600.

"What you are starting to see is a very different compensation structure for teachers in the City of New York, different from the traditional lockstep thinking on teacher pay and seniority," Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in an interview yesterday, "based on system need and performance."

Mr. Klein also cited a provision in the latest city teachers' contract, approved this fall, that created a new master teacher position with additional pay of $10,000 a year. "The differentials will have power to attract people," Mr. Klein said, "to give our city a competitive advantage."

While Unity hacks will vehemently maintain that this is not merit pay, Klein's words certainly suggest otherwise. And for those who think this will mollify the right-wingers who decry the perfidy of teachers, you're mistaken. After the grab-bag of goodies we tossed the city in the last contract, the tabloids still treat us as though we're one step away from the antichrist.

In New York's nearby suburbs, there is no need for such incentives. That's because they pay considerably better than NYC, have vastly superior working conditions (not to mention learning conditions), and attract hundreds of applicants for each opening. This gives their schools a keen edge over NYC.

Merit pay ought to be over and above a fair wage, rather than an attempt to avoid paying one to the majority of the workforce. This effort, like the one in Florida which denies merit pay to 90% of its teachers, attempts to keep wages down, rather than reward excellence. As per NYC tradition, excellence still plays little or no role in recruitment. The key goal remains unchanged--placing the most readily available hind quarters into ancient wooden chairs.

How does Mayor Bloomberg suppose current math and science teachers will react to being denied this benefit? Does he think this will curtail the 50% of teachers who leave within five years? If he does, he's sorely mistaken, as is UFT President Randi Weingarten.

And the retention problem certainly applies to the new recruits, whose benefits run out after 24 months.

What works is uniformly good teachers, smaller classes, and decent facilities. Anything less is an unproven gimmick, and yet another attempt to give NYC's kids an education on the cheap.
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