The leadership of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in New York City, representing over 100,000 education workers, has made a serious concession to the bosses’ neo-liberal agenda for public education. They have agreed to a “trial” bonus program in 200 city schools that opens the door to individual merit pay. This has national importance because some congressmen, led by Democrat Miller of California, want to make federal funding conditional on school districts adopting merit pay schemes as part of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Socialists oppose merit pay because it promotes division among education workers and, in the current environment created by NCLB, merit pay will inevitably be tied to test scores. This means even more “teaching to the test,” thus reducing the quality of public education even further. It also means the work of teachers in very different situations would be reduced to one highly dubious quantitative measurement. Ultimately, this would be a step towards firing teachers whose students did not perform well enough on tests.
UFT President Randi Weingarten claims the school bonuses actually “close the door” to individual merit pay because they would be given to the whole staff of the school if they “earned” it (again, based largely on test scores). But the committees that would be set up in the schools to decide what to do with the money, including teacher and principal representatives, could choose to give more money to teachers whose students scored better on tests.
One positive development is that despite the very short notice, teachers in 34 schools voted not to participate in the program, which could have been worth $3,000 per teacher. They correctly decided the money was not worth giving management yet another whip. Next year, 400 schools will be “invited” to participate and plans are afoot for a real anti-merit pay campaign across the city to oppose the bonus scheme.