Friday, October 19, 2007

Do Some Real Reform

The New York Times looks at how teachers and other educators are assessing the merit pay program that Randi Weingarten agreed to this week for the New York City public school system.

The gist of the article? The money is probably not enough to get veteran teachers to actually move to high needs schools, but "the message that is being sent through the program is the important thing."

And what is that message?

Teachers are unprofessional schmucks who sit on their butts all day and do nothing, so you have to provide incentives to let them know that they cannot just sit on their seniority and education levels for money.

Here are some particularly egregious comments from the usual cast of "Never Worked In A Public School For A Long Period Of Time" education reformers, educators and business people:

Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group that is helping underwrite the effort: “A significant step toward keeping good teachers in low-performing’ll begin to get a critical mass of professionals who feel that it is worth undertaking the toughest challenges, because the world is watching, the world is acknowledging and the world is rewarding you for doing it.”

Andrew J. Rotherham, a former adviser to President Clinton who is now a director of Education Sector, an independent policy group: “We’ll learn a lot through evaluating this experiment about dollar amounts and how people respond...What is actually more important is that it sends a signal that your performance, your effort, your talent, is recognized and rewarded in this industry. That is just a culture change in education.”

Chris Cerf, a deputy chancellor at the Department of Education who helped devise the new plan: Says the money could inspire teachers to change schools, particularly in the case of people at the end of their careers, whose pensions are calculated by their final years’ salary. “If it’s not enough,” he says, “we will talk seriously about increasing it.” Mr. Cerf says the bonuses would change the “level of tolerance for truly poor performance” within schools.

Eli Savit, 24, who spent two years at a struggling Bronx middle school through the Teach for America program said he doubted whether the program would have enticed him to stay in teaching, and is now in law school: “If you were designated as a teacher who got paid a little bit more for your efforts, it’s almost like a recognition of a job well done...That, coupled with the money, I think could entice a lot of people to stay.”

Cerf, former CEO of Edison Schools, is clueless if he thinks many veteran teachers are leaving their schools for the last few years to pad their pensions for the kind of money he's offering (especially since none of it is guaranteed and you more likely than not will be worsening your working conditions while receiving the same amount of compensation.)

Rotherham is clueless if he thinks $250-$3000 in bonuses for 15%-30% of the schools in the system will make many teachers feel "recognized and rewarded."

Kathryn S. Wylde is clueless if she thinks there aren't already a critical mass of professional educators trying to do their best in some pretty crappy conditions (like crumbling rat, roach and mold-infested school buildings, like severely overcrowded schools, like schools with 100 degree temperatures and no air conditioning in summer and 100 degree temperatures from the steam heat in fall, spring and winter, like class size problems, etc..)

And as for the Teach For America guy who has moved on from his teaching gig because he either a) couldn't hack it or b) was only doing until he could make some "real money" as a lawyer, why go to him? He says straight up that three grand extra wouldn't have kept him as a teacher. Many of the TFA's only teach for a few years before they move on to their "real jobs" where they can make "real money" (like law, like finance, like business), so for the education reformers to offer this jive that merit pay of a few grand will help keep "professionals" in the teaching profession is dishonest and insulting to people who actually see teaching as a profession and not something to do between college and law school.

And before I finish on this issue, let's take a closer look at the money thy're offering - $3000 a year (at most...the bonus could also be a lot less.)

Let's say I move to a high needs school and actually receive the top bonus one year. After taxes and union dues, I'm looking at $1500 extra bucks. Divide that by 24 pay cycles and you're looking at $62.50 a pay cycle - and that's the most you can receive!

Does anybody at the DOE, in the press, at the education think tanks and at City Hall really think $62.50 a pay cycle is an incentive for anything?

Because if they do, than they must think teachers are even dumber than they already seem to think we are.

If Bloomberg, Klein, Randi, the education reformers, the editorial writers and the think tank people want to keep good teachers in the system, stop with the meaningless jive like $62.50 a pay cycle in "bonuses" and do some real reforms like:

1) Lowering class size in a meaningful way (i.e., lowering it from 34 students a class to 33.7 students a class is NOT lowering class size in a meaningful way.)

2) Fixing the school buildings so that students and teachers learn and work in clean, well-lit, well-ventilated safe school buildings that aren't toxic waste dumps or mold factories.

3) Fixing the overcrowding problem in school (many school are currently at 150%-250% capacity.)

4) Adding technology that works (my school is loaded with old, cheap computers that function as really big and really dirty paper weights.

5) Stopping the constant system reorganizations (the DOE is now on its third reorganization in the last six years.)

6) Funding more after school activities (currently teachers in my school work about 3 hours for every 1 hour of per session money they get paid for after school activities.)

These are just six items I'd like to see addressed by my union, my mayor, my chancellor and all the concerned education reformers.

And yet, I know that those won't ever be addressed because they'd rather roll out meaningless merit pay schemes and other attempts at privatization.

Which is what this is really all about anyway.
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