The long fight between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s education commissioner and the Newark teacher’s union is finally drawing to a close. After a months-long struggle, the two parties have come to an agreement on merit pay. On Monday union members will vote to approve (or reject) a contract where teachers’ bonuses would be rewarded based on performance. Many predict that it will pass.Teachers have long balked at the idea of being judged based on merit because that is usually measured in terms students’ test performance, which, they say, is the result of a variety of other factors. To resolve this complaint, the new agreement adds peer evaluations into the calculations. NY Times has the story:
If the contract is approved, it could prompt other districts to push for pay-for-performance, by suggesting that merit pay is no longer so symbolic a fight among the rank and file. Newark’s deal itself was prompted by recent changes to the state’s tenure laws that were once considered unthinkable. And both sides insist that this deal could be a model for union-management collaboration, giving teachers a voice they have often felt was denied in reform.If it fails, beleaguered union leaders could take it as a new sign of strength in contract negotiations — similar, some teachers said, to the example of the Chicago teachers’ strike last month.
Under the new system, teachers will have to reach a certain level of performance to earn a bonus, whereas before bonuses were automatic. But good teachers could reap as much as $10,000 in bonuses if they are “highly effective” and choose to work in a school that has been performing poorly. The contract complements recent changes in New Jersey tenure law that stipulate that teachers have to be rated as “effective” for a certain period of time before being rewarded with tenure. (Under the previous system, tenure was awarded after three years regardless of performance.)This agreement will be spun by various interested parties as a victory for both sides, but the governor has probably come out ahead, obtaining the merit pay system he was fighting for with only minimal concessions.All over the country, public unions are facing scrutiny from governors or other state authorities who want to curb their power and make changes that will save pennies and allow school systems to fire bad teachers. Increasingly, these authorities are getting their way.