Tenure, merit pay and teachers: Washington D.C. and Florida set to lose tenure, adopt merit pay and create at-will employees just like Wal-Mart’s Greeters

With their success in New Orleans hurtling them forward, Arne Duncan and his little set of pygmies, the same folks that lamented Hurricane Katrina but then stated it was a God send for education, are moving quickly now.  Lithe and sleek they roam the urban centers looking for target school districts to privatize and rampage with their merit pay proposals, their longer work days without pay, their annual contracts instead of tenure, and their slash and burn policies aimed at teacher pensions and benefits.  It’s all for the kids right?  Sure, ask Jerry Lewis the next time you see him at the bank, if you do.  The metaphor or analogy to capture this sad sack saga would be like beating up on parents so they could parent better.  But the pundits, the right wing think tanks, the billionaires who fund the mess and the political finger-puppets that legislate it all into law have no interest in raising student achievement and don’t let them ever let you believe this.  Just look at their motives, their record and those for whom they valet for.  They want butler schools for urban kids.

Some History

 

In an article in the L.A. Times, written one year ago by Steve Lopez, a reporter for the L.A. Times, writing about the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the 5,500 pink slips that went to the teachers noted in 2009 due to budget cuts:

But what union President A.J. Duffy won’t admit, as he raises a stink, is that when good teachers are on the chopping block and burned-out teachers are protected, it’s because of his union’s contract. Simply put, the UTLA contract — like a lot of others in the state — requires that the last hired are the first fired. And let’s not let the district off the hook. It agreed to this arrangement, which ensures that when pink slips go out, there’s no distinction between excellence and mediocrity (Lopez 2009).

Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot, the rapidly growing non-profit EMO, feels the same way.  He says the union has two primary purposes that have nothing to do with educating children: preserving prohibitively expensive lifetime benefits for teachers and their families, and allowing more senior teachers to work where they want rather than where they’re needed, with tenure making even the burnouts untouchable (ibid).

This argument is hardly new.  But is it true?  According to Chancellor Rhee, who oversees the ever growing charterized Washington D.C. school system, it most certainly is.  Under the current D.C. contract with the district, teachers get seniority after two years. With tenure, if they lose their job, they can apply for positions at other schools in the system. Tenured teachers can be fired only for cause, such as receiving a poor evaluation or committing an act that subjects them to discipline.  Rhee wants to change all of this.  In a 2008 article in the Washington Post on the issue of seniority entitled, Teacher Contract Would End Seniority Union Is Reviewing Proposal From Rhee, Washington Post staff writer Dion Haynes commented on the controversy that now swirls in Washington D. C. over seniority rules:

“Under the proposed contract, teachers would give up seniority in exchange for annual raises of about 6 percent, more personal-leave days and more money for supplies. In the last contract, which expired in the fall, teachers received a 10 percent raise over two years.

Rhee “does want to infuse some new blood [into the schools]. She wants to make it attractive for young people coming in to advance,” said the union member, adding that the union’s negotiating team will meet with her tomorrow or Friday. “We’ve come to realize we’re going to have to give in to her.” (Haynes 2008).

The controversy over seniority rights for unionized teachers is heating up all over the nation in the midst of the economic crisis and disastrous cutbacks that face public schools.  These disastrous cutbacks, argue many opposed to removing seniority rights for teachers, form the ‘disaster economics’ that are making it environmentally possible to renegotiate seniority rights for teachers or get rid of them completely, as Rhee wishes to do.  In fact, Rhee has found a little known District policy that may allow her to restrict seniority rights without any rule changes.  Dion Haynes writes in the Washington Post, in 2008:

“Rhee can restrict seniority rights through a little-used District law that allows principals to diminish seniority rankings and use them among several other factors — including evaluations, military service and whether the teacher is in a high-demand area such as math or special education — to make changes during staff cuts” (Haynes 2008).

More and more districts are looking for such loopholes in their laws to do away with seniority rights for teachers and of course charter schools seek to keep their workforce non-union in an attempt to avoid the controversy altogether.

Does teacher tenure hurt schools and student achievement?

According to a Time Magazine article written in 2008:

“Roughly 2.3 million public school teachers in the U.S. have tenure — a perk reserved for the noblest of professions (professors and judges also enjoy such rights). The problem with tenure, Rhee and other critics say, is that it inadvertently protects incompetent teachers from being fired. The Teach for America alumna, who oversees some 50,000 students and 5,000 teachers, has sparked controversy in the capital by proposing a new contract allowing teachers to earn as much as $130,000 a year if they forgo their tenure rights (a teacher’s salary, on average, is less than $48,000; most start out making $32,000” (Stephey 2008). .

The Time article goes on to state:

Though tenure doesn’t guarantee lifetime employment, it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process, one that involves the union, the school board, the principal, the judicial system and thousands of dollars in legal fees. In most states, a tenured teacher can’t be dismissed until charges are filed and months of evaluations, hearings and appeals have occurred. Meanwhile, school districts must shell out thousands of dollars for paid leave and substitute instructors. The system is deliberately slow and cumbersome, in order to dissuade school boards and parents from ousting a teacher for personal or political motives (ibid).

This, according to many conservative pundits and school administrators, is the core of the matter.  They argue that unions make it difficult to fire poor teachers and in doing so they protect and shield in-competency and this serves to shelter current school systems from reforming.  The Times report goes further, noting:

 

“Some school districts have resorted to separation agreements, buyouts that effectively pay a teacher to leave his or her job. The practice has evolved as a way to avoid the extensive hearings and appeals required by union contracts and state-labor laws in firing a tenured teacher. (Costs can run as high as $100,000). Other districts simply transfer inadequate teachers to other schools in what Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called “the dance of the lemons.” Former Mass. Gov. William Weld tried to pass legislation requiring teachers to take competency tests every five years, a move that triggered a number of complaints from local teachers’ unions who called the bill adversarial and intrusive. Weld defended himself by explaining his stance as “anti-slob teacher,” not “anti-teacher.” (ibid)

Not all states have tenure requirements.  In 1997, Oregon abolished tenure and replaced it with 2-year renewable contracts and a rehabilitation program for underachieving instructors. Other states like Connecticut, New York and Michigan have simply eliminated the word “tenure” (from the Latin tenere, meaning to hold or keep) from the books while retaining the due-process rights it embodies. In Toledo, Ohio, officials have adopted a more creative approach by establishing a mentoring program to improve teacher performance. Fifteen surrounding communities have already copied the idea.

What is the response from teachers who feel they have been unfairly targeted in the tenure controversy?  Perhaps this can be found by looking at Hill’s report on the symposium on the future of teacher unions and charter schools:

“Union leaders were particularly concerned about “at-will” employment of teachers in charter schools. To union leaders, “at will” means capricious and oppressive. Charter leaders argued that teachers employed “at will” have the same rights under state and federal law as employees in private companies and nonprofits, including legal protections about being fired without just cause.  Even though most charters employ teachers on renewable one-year contracts, union leaders are convinced that some charter school managers use the threat of non-renewal to intimidate and drive out perfectly good teachers. Differences about the status of teachers broaden the gulf between the two sides. Some charter leaders claimed that charter and private schools can anticipate teacher turnover and yet have strong, stable teacher leadership and collaborative working environments. Union leaders claimed that such practices discourage investment in teacher skills and make all but a few teachers into disposable help” (Hill 2001).

As the report noted, charter leaders’ claim that such ‘reforms’ are necessary if a school must pay salaries out of a fixed budget, while union leaders replied that no school’s staffing decisions should be driven by how much a teacher’s salary is set at. Charter leaders countered that they have no choice but to make staffing decisions in this way since their funding is based on the number of students they enroll. Unlike district-run schools, they argue, whose salaries are covered no matter how high they are, charter schools can pay salaries only up to the limit of what they receive in income, which is determined entirely by enrollment.  But is this the real issue or is the real issue how we fund education in the United States and whether this funding should be based on regressive property taxes or a commitment by the nation to educational funding?  And if funding is such a problem then how can a city like New Orleans afford such exorbitant salaries for the technocrats, like Pastorek or Vallas, to operate and manage the system?  The same question can be asked in Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles or any other urban center.  The answer is what you hear when you ask why $150 billion in bonuses must be paid to CEO’s while workers stand in the rain to sign up for food stamps:  it is hard to get good talent without spending $60,000 per day on CEO salaries.

Many teachers argue tenure has become a conservative scapegoat for a whole slew of educational and financial ills responsible for the dismal test scores and disappointing graduation rates in U.S. schools. According to them, abolishing tenure doesn’t address growing inequality, problems of poverty, under-funding, lack of health care, family problems, overcrowding or improving students’ home environments and communities.  They claim that despite more than a century of social progress, the need to protect teachers from the whims or tyrannical actions of administrators, remains as important as ever.

On the other side, the management of anti-union charter schools insist that the only acceptable standard of employment is “at-will employment,” under which an employee can be dismissed at any time for any reason whatsoever – good, bad or indifferent. At-will employment was a common law creation of American state courts at the end of the 19th century when the economic doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism was being read into the Constitution and law, with courts striking down child labor laws, minimum wage laws and laws restricting the length of the work day and week as violations of the 5th and 14th amendment rights to property.

The debate over tenure has been a hot and deeply contested one, but also a discussion devoid of historical understanding.  Any understanding of contemporary tenure status for teachers and the arguments for and against tenure must be tied to an historical understanding that gave rise to the movement towards tenure in the first place.  The start of the tenure was part of the progressive era politics and the concurrent labor movement and labor struggles during the late 19th century age of industrial capitalism.   Imbued with the spirit of collectivism and the need to demand protection from parents and administrators who would try to dictate lesson plans or exclude controversial materials like Huck Finn from reading lists, teachers, much like their counterparts, the industrial steel and auto workers who fought against unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages, were part of the growing working class consciousness that gripped the nation at the turn of the 19th century.

The National Educator’s Association (NEA) was founded in 1887 when nearly 10,000 teachers from across the country met in Chicago for the first-ever conference of what was to become one of the country’s most powerful teachers’ unions.  At that historical meeting, the topic of “teacher’s tenure” led the agenda.  By the end of the 19th century, tenure had become a controversial issue that some politicians preferred to avoid. In 1900, the Democratic Party of New York shamed their rivals in the New York Times for taking up the issue, writing:

“We deprecate the tendency manifested by the Republican party of dragging the public school system of the state into politics” (Stephey 2008).

In 1910, New Jersey became the first state to pass tenure legislation when it granted fair-dismissal rights to college professors.   The women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s revealed the cost to women for not having tenure, as Diane Ravitch alluded to briefly —  female teachers could be fired for getting married or getting pregnant or wearing pants; it was at this time tenure rights were extended to elementary and high school teachers as well.  And there was also the issue of academic freedom for teachers, what they could teach or not teach in the public schools and what materials could they use or not use?  Yet as the Times article notes, academic freedom is already currently in jeopardy:

“thanks to the rigid testing requirements put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act, the academic freedom that tenure was meant to protect has been severely curtailed” (ibid)

One might also add that this is thanks to “the managed curriculum” and “best practices” the new providers are requiring and tethering to the rigid standardized testing.  The difference between tenure for public school teachers in elementary, middle school or high school is that  where the tenure track for college professors can require a record of published research and probationary periods of up to 10 years, K-12 teachers can win tenure after working as little as two years; but this is not the case in all states.  The Times article notes:

“In unionized schools, the prevailing standard for dismissal is just cause – there must be a good reason, such as the malfeasance in the performance of one’s job, for an employee to be dismissed; unionized teachers are not ‘at will’ employees. This is the general standard used in workplaces with union representation and in the civil service sector. Under the just cause standard, there are due process appeals for employees who believe that they have been dismissed without a good reason. Tenure really can be seen as the right to due process, under a just cause standard and before an impartial hearing body, when one is dismissed; it is granted after a period of probation during which the bearer of the right has demonstrated a mastery of the job. Since tenure is a protection of academic freedom which pre-dates collective bargaining in public education, it is generally written into education law” (ibid).

Writing for the Times some 18 years ago in a piece entitled Laying Siege to Senority, reporter Sam Allis states:

“Tenure for 2.3 million public school teachers, one of the sacred cows in American education, is under attack. For decades, thanks to strong union contracts and ingrained notions of academic freedom, underpaid school teachers could at least console themselves with the fact that they were pretty well assured of job security for life. But after years of dismal school performance, and under the strictures of shrinking budgets, legislators are suddenly reneging on the deal. “Professionalism and tenure are antithetical,” says Chester Finn Jr., a former Assistant Secretary of Education and a proponent of free-market solutions to educational problems. “Teachers can’t have it both ways.” (Allis 1991).

It is noteworthy once again, to mention Washington D.C.’s experiment with the contract charterization of its schools.  Chancellor Rhee not only opposes seniority, but she is looking for ways to erase tenure rights as well.  Dion Haynes, the reporter for the Washington Post wrote recently about the proposal for pay-scales for teachers that Rhee has introduced to the public and the unions.  According to Haynes’s reporting on Rhee’s radical proposal:

“Under the proposal, the school system would establish two pay tiers, red and green, said the union members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. Teachers in the red tier would receive traditional raises and would maintain tenure. Those who voluntarily go into the green tier would receive thousands of dollars in bonuses and raises, funded with foundation grants, for relinquishing tenure.  Teachers in the green tier would be reviewed yearly and would be allowed to continue in their jobs only if they passed an evaluation and boosted students’ test scores, the union members said.     Under Rhee’s proposal, raises to the green tier would be more than the 19 percent increase over five years she is proposing for all teachers, the union members said” (Haynes 2008).

However Rhee may not be successful as many new charter school providers, be they profit or non-profit, have found that they must work with unions in order for there to be any success.  For example, Green Dot, the non-profit EMO, stated in their newsletter online that what is clearly driving reform, from the point of view of the organization, is their relationship with teacher’s unions:

“A key constituent in Green Dot’s organization is the teachers union. Green Dot is the only non-district public school operator in California that has unionized teachers. Green Dot’s teachers have organized as the Asociacion de Maestros Unidos (AMU), a CTA/NEA affiliate. Key reforms embodied in the AMU contract include: teachers have explicit say in school policy and curriculum; no tenure or seniority preference; a professional work day rather than defined minutes; and flexibility to adjust the contract in critical areas over time. Green Dot was able to achieve these reforms by establishing a relationship of mutual trust with the teachers union and committing to pay its teachers above the average of comparable schools’ pay scales. In doing so, Green Dot and AMU share a unique relationship in the world of labor relations, one that is characterized by collaboration and a mutual interest in improving public education” (Green Dot Website 2007).

Charter laws and education laws vary from state to state, but most jurisdictions, such as California and New York, do not include charter school teachers in the legal protections of the right of tenure. Consequently, unionized charter schools have to establish their own parallel system of due process for the protection of educator rights.  This is what Green Dot did in conjunction with the United Teacher’s Federation in New York.  This is hardly unprecedented.

California charter school teachers, to take one example, start outside of the legal protections of tenure. The California Teachers Association local in the Green Dot Charter Schools negotiated a contract with the two essential elements of a tenure system: [1] a just cause standard, and [2] due process before an impartial arbitrator. The Green Dot contract provides that:

“Article XVIII of the Green Dot contract reads: “No unit member shall be disciplined, non-renewed, dismissed, reduce in rank or compensation without just cause.” Article XIV lays out a procedure for complaints and grievances that culminates in a hearing before an independent arbitrator with the power to make decisions binding on the school management” (Barr 2007).

Educators in most private post-secondary institutions have tenure of this very type, and in many cases, without it ever being memorialized in a collective bargaining agreement.

As the charter school movement continues to grow, and as the fiscal crisis facing cities and states put more pressure on teacher unions to abandon many of their time honored positions on seniority and tenure, for example, the public can look forward to more bargaining and negotiations over issues of merit pay, tenure and seniority and unions in general.  As one union member commented when asked if he would accept the higher teacher salaries offered by Rhee in return for abandoning tenure:

“You may be trading off your future, your tenure, your job security. When you trade that, it seems to me you’re not getting much” (Haynes 2008)

And just where would Rhee and others get the money come from to pay the increased salaries being offered teachers in exchange for the ‘swap of tenure’?   The city is broke so according to two union members in Washington D.C., Rhee wants to use donations from the ubiquitous Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Broad Foundation, in part, to pay for the raises and bonuses. Officials from the Gates and Broad foundations would not comment on proposed future funding (ibid) but one wonders how this is all sustainable, or to be more precise, if there is any tenure in the idea of increasingly funding public services and schools with the gravitas of an education oriented philanthropic movement.  After all, they would not be part of any negotiations with teachers over the issues of swapping pay increases for tenure, would they?  The answer is of course, no.  But if they fund the schools where teachers work then they will have financial clout, as we saw with the KIPP organizing effort where David Levin co-founder of KIPP changed his mind about recognizing the union bargaining unit authorized by his teachers, and they just might have the political clout as well.

It is not surprising then to see why the public teachers in New Orleans were targeted almost immediately after the hurricane and efforts to implement free market sweeping reforms were enacted in New Orleans.  In his book, Fixing Urban Schools (Hill, Brookings Institution Press, 1998), Hill had spoken earlier regarding the need to retrain teachers and the problem of teacher unions, this time New Orleans charter administrators and city and state politicians would not let him down.  It is wise once again to quote Saltman:

“Despite the range of obvious failures of multiple public school privatization initiatives, the privatization advocates have hardly given up. In fact, the privatizers have become far more strategic. The new educational privatization might be termed “back door privatization” (9) or maybe “smash and grab” privatization. A number of privatization schemes are being initiated through a process involving the dismantling of public schools followed by the opening of for-profit, charter, and deregulated public schools. These enterprises typically despise teachers unions, are hostile to local democratic governance and oversight, and have an unquenchable thirst for “experiments,” especially with the private sector. These initiatives are informed by right wing think tanks and business organizations” (Saltman 2007).

Recently, the Obama administration has called for the expansion of the charter school movement, much to the chagrin of many teachers unions.  However, the announcement by Obama of his support for the charter school idea was accompanied by a call for the participation of the Nation Education Association, and the teachers unions in the development of charter schools.  According to a recent blog by Lee Culpepper who speaks for much of the conservative opposition to both the Obama administration and especially to the idea of the NEA involvement in charter schools, he likened the idea to that of a Trojan horse, but for reasons different than others opposed to charter schools, employ the metaphor.  Commenting on his blog, Culpepper echoed the sentiments of many who propose the privatization of education.  He editorializes what many conservative market based reformers believe:

“Like a modern day Odysseus, Obama is plotting to smuggle the National Education Association (NEA) into charter schools. But since charter school supporters would certainly not fall for a large wooden horse today, Obama has concocted a beguiling vow to double the amount of funding for charter schools. What better way to conceal NEA marauders and meddlesome bureaucrats than to stuff them inside deceptive government handouts?

Should charter-school advocates ignore the mythology lesson and jubilantly drag the proposed cash inside their schools, they will surely awaken wishing that reality were only a drunken stupor. In the aftermath, they will realize too late that the NEA and bureaucrats have already toppled them. By then, administrators and the NEA will have charter schools mired in the same muck of central control, worthless regulations, and bureaucratic red tape that plagues so many traditional schools” (Culpepper 2008).

The message is very clear: the government and unions are bad and the free deregulated, unencumbered economic market is good.

History becomes reality

 

What about merit pay?  Is it good for schools, teachers and students?

To begin with, neo-liberals argue that teachers block educational reform in myriad ways.  One is by refusing to accept a system of merit pay. Merit pay is pay for performance and anti-union advocates argue that without such competitive incentives to improve, teachers will continue to fail their students educationally as they have been doing for decades.  “Why not tie each teachers pay to the performance of their students on standardized tests”, ask conservative ideologues?  Merit pay proposals have been at the heart of the debate over school performance for years, they are part and parcel of the ‘target incentives’ of neo-liberal economic theory.  The underlying assumption is that teachers are failing American public school students due to the lack of competition among them; merit pay, it is argued would provide incentives for performance benchmarks and with the competition amongst teachers for bonuses, this would increase the ‘quality of the product’, in this case the education teachers would dispense.

Yes, “well why not tie corporate bonuses to their company’s economic performance”?, could be the response.  After all, if we held Massey Coal Mine or Wall Street to the same standards they wish to hold teachers we would not be talking about merit pay or bonuses, but jail time and access to the penal canteen.  These unscrupulous philanthropists with their self-serving rhetoric and their autocratic asinine programs never want to talk about the state of the economy and the Captains of industry, do they?  Holding themselves accountable is somehow different than holding teachers and students accountable and the rank hypocrisy of their contentions are never questioned or reported as such.

And what about those in the Bush administration that opened up our files, wire-tapped our phones, used the Patriot Act to spy on Americans, initiated brutal regimes of torture and stole our civil liberties, right to habeas corpus and arranged two illegal wars?  Where are their standards?  No one wants to talk about this either.

Even President Obama, himself unaccountable to social standards such as clsoing Gitmo came out for the merit pay reform for teachers in March of 2009.  According to Barrack Obama in a speech on March 10th, 2009:

“Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom.  Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance.  Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream” (Washington Post 2009).

In fact, Obama’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget for education calls for boosting spending on the Teacher Incentive Fund, a program that awards grants to school districts to devise performance-pay programs, to $517.3 million, up from $97.3 million in the current year (Viadero 2009).

While merit-pay plans for teachers may be growing more popular with politicians and some educators, a report by the Economic Policy Institute released in May 2009 entitled, Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability argues that such compensation plans are rarely used in the private sector, as many have been led to believe; furthermore, the report argues that the practice can sometimes in fact bring about unintended negative consequences.

According to John S. Heywood, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, an economist who co-wrote part of the study along with Scott J. Adams, an associate professor of economics at UW-Milwaukee, and Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, compensation plans that use formulas or indicators to reward private employees on the basis of their productivity — which are among the kinds of programs that growing numbers of policymakers have in mind for teachers — are less common, and may even be declining (Adams et.al. 2009).

Michael J. Podgursky, an economics professor from the University of Missouri, Columbia, who has studied teacher pay-for-performance plans, noted that lessons for education from such efforts in the private sector may be limited, because most workers in the private sector do not have tenure, as teachers do.  Private-sector employers, particularly those whose workers are not members of unions, may not need to spur motivation when employees know they can be fired at will (ibid).

The United Teachers of Los Angeles, representing the second largest school district in the country, expressed their opposition to merit pay for the following reason:

“Teacher unions have historically resisted merit pay proposals because they undermine one of the core principles of teaching and learning: collaboration. Whether it is the informal discussion that takes place in the lunchroom or the more formal exchanges based on grade level, department, or small learning communities, these are only successful because as teachers we understand teaching is about working together to help our students, not competition for better pay” (Pechthalt 2007).

Teacher unions throughout the country have resisted merit pay precisely because, they argue, it is based on insipid competition and therefore pits teachers against teachers when it comes to the best learning practices to be used with students.  If as a teacher one knows that their bonuses may rise if they can out-compete another teacher, then where is the incentive for collaborative problem solving, sharing, the need to develop collaborative practices and to work jointly with other teachers to cut and paste creative ideas in an innovative, shared community?  Merit pay, claim those that oppose the idea, would effectively destroy collaboration at the workplace and with it teacher excellence and student achievement. If teachers knew that student test scores would result in higher pay, why would anyone want to share good ideas with their colleagues?

Furthermore, argue opponents, rewarding educators based on student test scores further exacerbates the “teach to the test” syndrome that has narrowed the curriculum and dulled the educational experience for both students and teachers. It could also create conditions that would encourage cheating, as has happened across the nation.  Also, argue opponents to the idea, merit pay would create a disincentive for the very teachers we want going into the most challenging schools and communities. Such teachers might want to move to the most affluent schools because the monetary rewards would be greater. This could have a devastating impact in our poorest communities for it would further stratify schools along racial and class lines and actually work to increase inequality.

Not so, says Steven Wilson, the exact opposite is true: collective bargaining and unions destroy school communities and their culture:

“Not only does collective bargaining promote bureaucracy, its adversarial premise – that, unless protected, staff will be exploited by management – also creates a culture in which staff feel suspicious and chronically beleaguered” (Wilson 2006)

Wilson’s ideology is keeping with the ideological rationalism of the market fundamentalism that promotes the idea of human beings as simply calculating individuals, simplified selves with only their own self interests at heart.  Create a de-regulated system, they argue, where teachers can be unleashed to satisfy their own selfish needs and all boats will rise.

Perhaps the real position can be summed up best by UTLA spokesman, Joshua Pechthalt:

“From a labor perspective merit pay would also divide the work force and in the long run lessen our ability to fight collectively to improve public education. If salaries were not simply based on years of experience and number of college credits earned or additional services provided, the teaching force at any workplace would be more stratified (differentiated) and much less willing to stand together during a conflict with school site management or during a contract struggle. The role of the union would be seriously compromised” (Pechthalt 2007).

And that is the point; divide and conquer tactics are favorable from the point of view of those running the Washington D.C. or New Orleans “reconstruction” efforts in school charterization, just as they are for any business or entity seeking to increase productivity and maintain autocratic control.  These entities like to pit worker against worker, preventing their understanding of their common class interests while at the same time assuring, in this case, that teachers will not organize and make ‘unreasonable’ demands (like shared decision-making through collective bargaining), thereby presenting another ‘obstacle’ to structural reformers like Vallas and Pastorek.  It is part and parcel of the Darwinian, ‘go it alone individualism’ that is at the heart of the neo-liberal agenda and the unions know this, which is why they resist.

However, this sentiment is not shared by Ronald Corwin and Joseph Schneider, from Ohio State University and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.  Corwin and Schneider are no friends to the choice movement but they make the point that:

“Teacher unions generally oppose contracts that permit differentiated assignments and pay scales.  They fear that unethical principals will punish strong teachers who question their leadership by giving them un-desireable assignments.  They also believe that most principals are unqualified to evaluate teacher performance, so they demand a single salary schedule for all teachers.  Obviously, the teacher’s unions have some justification for their positions.  But consequences are creating a system of “rich schools and poor schools” within most districts.  The better, more experienced teachers eventually use their seniority to settle into schools serving the higher income students, leaving the new, less experienced teachers to serve the schools with the neediest students” (Corwin and Schneider 2007)

They go even one step further arguing:

“Since state laws generally exclude charter schools from union contracts, they can offer teachers special incentives in exchange for their commitment to specialize and to work in non-traditional settings.  Meaningful incentives – including money, prestige and opportunity to wield influence – should be offered to teachers and principals willing to work in schools with special missions.  In particular, teachers should be rewarded when their students progress to the point when they are prepared to move to other schools and programs.  Teachers who can make these students successful should be acknowledged and rewarded, if they can’t they shouldn’t be retained as faculty in these schools.  We are not proposing that teaches who are working with less advantaged children should be held to the same testing outcomes as teachers in more advantaged schools.  We are talking only about rewarding improvement, taking the students’ circumstances in account” (ibid)

From the point of view of teacher unions and their supporters, environments of competition, merit pay and individual bonus incentives creates a malleable labor force for employers and assures that control and power remain the providence of the employer, in this case the new contract, charter school providers and the small cabal that is responsible for running them.  The new Teach for America graduating class will no doubt be seeped in a new culture and ideology that claims that competition among teachers increases student performance, while collectivism works to vitiate any true and meaningful reforms.  They will be asked to look at their labor as teachers more as ‘caregivers’ than as teacher professionals, which is why they will be called on to ‘sacrifice’ both time and control in the new educational paradigm.  With more and more charterization in store for the city of New Orleans and with these charters increasingly being contracted out to profit or non-profit EMOs to operate as ‘providers’, the last thing that the new reformers want is an organized labor force that would demand higher wages and benefits which then serve to lower private profits while at the same time reducing autocratic control at the bargaining table. The plan being launched in New Orleans, according to many observers, is counting on low labor costs and autocratic control and a high turnover rate among teachers is simply collateral damage for the new providers who will run the increasingly charterized school system.

Washington D.C. teachers have less than two weeks to decide if they will accept a contract with merit pay

Now that we can see the horrific history of Rhee and her urban counterparts as they relate to tenure and merit pay, the ideology of at-will employment for teachers and attacks on and the elimination of tenure, Washington D.C. may now be the first city since New Orleans to further poke a hole int they eye of the teacher’s and their union’s rights.

As history indicates, it has taken less than a year to cobble together the naked takeover of public education and the merit pay ruse.  Rhee is implacable, beyond expression.  The unions are weak with ususpected change of a neo-liberal nature and now clamor to keep up with the destruction of their profession being downloaded in real time. 

According to Newser, an online news service:

“Teacher’s unions have long opposed linking pay to classroom performance, but they agreed to this one, because it boosts a DC teacher’s maximum salary from $87,000 to a whopping $147,000.

School districts around the country would like to imitate the DC deal, but the price tag might scare them off. “They just negotiated the richest deal in the history of K-12 education for teachers,” the head of one nonprofit that favors performance-based pay tells the Wall Street Journal. DC’s deal was financed in part with $64.5 million in donations from four private foundations, something other districts may find hard to come by—and that funding will run out in a few years” (D.C. Teacher’s union agrees to merit pay, April 9, 2010,  http://www.newser.com/story/85502/dc-teachers-union-agrees-to-merit-pay.html).

Yes, where could the billionaires get more largess unless they profited greatly off of Wall Street or cheap labor?  State by state it is going to be hard to buy off entire schcool districts so is this just ‘priming the pump’ money from the gratuitous?  The answer is yes: once the plan has been cemented both within the material conditions of society and the psyche of the students and parents then tax payer monies will be forthcoming to build on the corporate sand.  It is very similar to health care ‘de-form’ as you can see.

And just who were the billionaires that ponied up the millions in largess?  The usual suspects.  According to the conservative Washington Times, owned by the Reverend Sun Yung Moon:

“The merit program will be financed with an estimated $65 million in private funding from four institutions that will be gathered by the D.C. Public Education Fund. The four organizations include the Laura and John Arnold Foundation ($10 million) and the Robertson Foundation ($19.5 million).

The Walton Family Foundation, which was established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in 1987, made the largest pledge – $25 million. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has promised $10 million. In March of last year, Mrs. Rhee was named a board of director of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which is funded by the Broad Foundation” (D.C. teacher contract includes merit pay, April 8th, Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/apr/08/merit-pay-deal-included-in-dc-teacher-contract/).

The deal, which also breaks ground by funding its merit-pay program with private money, marks the end of the on-again, off-again negotiations between schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who was brought on in June 2007 by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to turn around the troubled school system, and the D.C. teachers union, whose members have been working without a contract since fall 2007 (ibid))  Now with poker chips they can play, and play they will, stacking the deck, aces up the sleeve and the whole shibang.

It is clear to see the pre-paid privatization plan is beginning to pay off: Washington D.C. teachers are basically being extorted by the billionaire boyz club and Arne Duncan to acc4ept a privately subsidized school district for higherr pay and merit pay.  If they don’t take the cash, the disaster economics and politics kicks in; they will lose their funding, health care, benefits, pensions, jobs and lives.  Duncan knows this; he is in on the scam along with Weingarten and the boyz.  He is also relying on short term thinking on behalf of teachers, a kind of take the money and run attitude which will of course force good teachers out of the classroom.

The while thing smells of Alice and Wonderland.

 

Will Florida follow suit?  Sure looks like it!

 

It certainly looks like Florida will follow similar paths to Race to the Top.  Miami is a bastion for conservative neo-liberal ideology and free market fundamentalism.  Former Governor Jeb Bush opened the door for unscrupulous charter school operators and fast talking business suits long ago with radical plans that have transformed the landscape of education.  As written the other day in the Miami-Herald:

“The House Education Policy Council’s 12-5 vote Monday fell along party lines. The full House is expected to vote on the bill this week (Education bill is pushed forward, 4/06/2010, http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/06/1564993/controversial-bill-is-pushed-forward.html#ixzz0kWQTHOmD)

This would be Senate Bill 6 that would then have to be signed by the Governor, Charlie Crist.

The bill represents the most dramatic proposed overhaul of Florida’s public schools in years and it would place all new teachers on annual contracts, link salary increases and professional certification for all teachers to student learning gains and require school districts to divert 5 percent of their funding back to the state to pay for the program.  The Miami-Herald went on to report:

“Students would also be subject to more tests. The legislation would require school districts to establish and fund end-of-course exams for each subject area and grade level.

Opponents argue that the bill would further diminish local education dollars, creating new hurdles for school districts struggling to raise student achievement.

They say it could also chase away dedicated teachers who would be unwilling to work in a state that does not provide stable job protections” (ibid)

The article even went on to mention that:

“To soothe educators’ concerns, Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith said his staff would work with local school boards and teachers to establish performance measurements that take into account variables such as socioeconomics” (ibid).

Sure, the smugglers of mendacity will work night and day to, ” work with local school boards and teachers to establish performance measurements.”  That is how the teach to the test and the panoptical auditing system must work.  Like good counselors, the neo-liberal government will aid and abet the Hansel and Grettel educational policies conjured up by the managerial elite with an ear to their prohets:  profits.

SB6, as it was known, was passed on March 24th, 2010 in a 21-17 vote with all 13 Democrats in the Senate and four Republicans voting against it.  Will Governor Crist sign it?  What do you think?

Summary

With the failure of the Texas merit pay plan (see my article at www.dailycensored.com,  and the refusal to hold private corporations, Wall Street, the military and their coin-operated politicians accountable, it is not surprising that the oligarchs would ram merit pay down the throats of teachers and then tether them to the carpet loom of testing. These ‘representatives’ are not the people’s representatives; they represent what is best for Wall Street, venture capitalists, the military industrial complex, soft-ware corporations that produce the surveillance testing metric assessments like IntelAssess and others.  They are corporatists; we work for them.

It is time for teacher’s unions to step up to the plate and rid themselves of the fornicators that represent their unions.  Backroom deal making, like Randi Weingarten of AFT is notorious for making with gamblers and conspirators (her toes can be seen popping out of the end of the bed with Arne and the boyz) has got to stop.  She muts go, she represents neo-liberal policies that will impoverish both students and teachers.

If the argument is that teachers need to be incentivized to do well, then the unscrupulous incentives that reward malfeasance instead of beneficence by corporate America ,should be called into question, right?  Oh, wait some of these corporations and venture capitalists involved in the unscrupulous practices are the same corporations and business ventures that fund and applaudingly support the neo-liberal politics of the privatization of education, while lashing teachers and their students to the mast of a sinking boat.  The illusion of any civility or emapthy is what isnotoriously  unbelieveable.

What this will mean is more gloves-off competition, and the nemesis of collaboration,(collaboration is the backbone of teaching) will pock mark the educational landscape.  However, as Pink Floyd the 1970’s rock group once stated in their famous song:

“We don’t need no education.  We don’t need no thought control.”

Fight teachers and students!  For this year our mobilizations must be at the AFT convention to rid the bed of Weingarten, where collective bargaining has become selective fornicating, and where we must begin to address literacy for civic education and democratic life; not proctological measures designed for a service economy where the most widely asked questions is, “Would you like fries with that, Sir?”

References

Adams, S, J. Heywood and R. Rothstein.  “Teachers, Performance Pay and Accountability.”  Economic Policy Institute (05-14-09)  Website:  http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/books-teachers_performance_pay_and_accountability/

Allis, S.  “Laying Siege to Seniority.”  Time Magazine (December 23, 1991)  Website: http://www.time.com  /time/magazine/article/0,9171,974502,00.html

Bronston, B.  “Merit pay for teachers garners praise from Obama and local schools.”  The Times-Picayune (March 14, 2009)  Website:  http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/03/performance_management.htm

Corwin, R and E.J. Schneifer.  The School Choice Hoax:  Fixing America’s Schools Lanham, Maryland:  Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2007

Culpepper, L.  “Trojan Horse Made of Charter School Money.” (September 2008)  Website:    http://townhall.com/columnists/LeeCulpepper/2008/09/14/a_trojan_horse_made_of_charter-school_money

Green Dot Newsletter “Driving Reform.” (July 24, 2007)  Website:  http://www.greendot.org/driving_reform

Haynes, V. D.  “Teacher Contract Would End Seniority.  Union is Reviewing Proposal from Rhee”  Washington Post (May 21, 2008):  page B02.  Website:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/20/AR2008052001789.html

_____“Rhee Seeks Tenure Pay Swap for Teachers,”   The Washington Post (07/02/2008)  Website:   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/02/AR2008070203498.html

Lopez, S.  “Seniority not quality counts most at United Teachers of Los Angeles.”  Los Angeles Times (March 25, 2009)  Website:  http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez25-2009mar25,0,4942695.column

Pechthalt, J.  “No Merit to Merit Pay The latest Incarnation of NCLB Would Bring this Harmful Practice to Schools Nationwide.”  United Teacher Volume XXXVII, Number 3,( November 9, 2007)  Website: http://www.utla.net/node/930

Saltman,  K. Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools Cultural Politics and the Promise of Democracy Paradigm Publishers  September 30, 2007.

Stephey, M.J.  “A Brief History of Tenure.”  Time (Monday, Nov. 17, 2008)  Website:   http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859505,00.html.

Viadero, D.  “Report Points to Risks of Merit Pay for Teachers.”  EdWeek Vol. 28, Issue 32  (May 14, 2009) Website:  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/05/13/32meritpay.h28.html

Wilson, S.  Learning on the Job.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2006.