Newark Union Members Approve Performance Pay

Published November 20, 2012

Performance may affect teacher pay at Newark Public Schools, after local teachers union members voted to approve a new contract Nov. 14.

Nearly 62 percent of member voters approved the deal. Two days later, Gov. Chris Christie (R) called it a model for the nation.

Schools in New Jersey’s largest city have struggled academically for years. NPS has a graduation rate of about 50 percent. The state took the district over in 1995.

Under the new contract, teachers will help evaluate their peers’ performance. Student test score gains will also matter, though the district didn’t say how much. Teachers rated “effective” will receive bonuses. “Ineffective” teachers will attend professional development. Teachers who opt to staff low-performing schools or teach math or science will also receive bonuses.

“It has the potential to move the district forward in a lot of ways,” said Nancy Waymack, district policy manager for the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Donations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund much of the $200 million agreement. The district must chip in $50 million, which Superintendent Cami Anderson declined to say how it would find.

Step Forward, Not Panacea
“It’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure it’s going to be the panacea it’s being touted as,” said Jerry Cantrell, president of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey.

Districts should have started using performance pay long ago, said Terry Moe, a political science professor at Stanford University.

Because they engage “in the business of protecting jobs,” unions typically fight performance-based pay, he said. The ideal situation for the union is total job security regardless of performance or results, Moe said. But because of the takeover, the union had a weak bargaining position.

“This isn’t just any old district,” he said.

Peer Evaluators
Having teachers evaluate each other will produce a fairer and more honest evaluation, Waymack said. Moe and Cantrell disagreed.

“Your friends aren’t going to say anything bad about you, but they might pick on a good teacher for not abiding by all the rules” such as working too many hours, Cantrell said.

Teachers often consider reviews a managerial role, so peer review protects them from management, Moe said. Other districts employing peer review have found nearly all teachers receive satisfactory ratings and almost none are fired for poor performance, he said.

“Anything is better than not evaluating teachers at all,” he said, “[but] teacher evaluation has just been a charade.”

Copycats Likely
The new compensation system makes NPS a more attractive place to work throughout a teacher’s career, and other districts are likely to copy Newark’s approach, Waymack said. The donations will make the transition much easier, she said.

Without the extra money, the union probably wouldn’t have supported the contract, Moe said.

“Even if you’re a poor performer, you don’t have to worry a whole lot,” he said. 


Image by TalkRadioNewsService.