Teacher's Union Endorses Bonus Plan Not Based on Performance

ByABC News

July 5, 2000 -- The nation’s largest teachers’ union today took a step toward ending its resistance towards basing teachers’ pay solely on seniority. However, the union stopped short of accepting a proposal to base teachers’ salaries on their students’ test performance.

In a meeting in Chicago today, National Education Association leaders agreed that a new “bonus” pay plan for teachers should not replace pay based on seniority nor be based on their students’ test scores. Instead, NEA officials endorsed a resolution that would give technical assistance to a local chapter of the organization that has “bonus” plans imposed on them by legislatures or school boards. A local would notbe prevented from imposing such a plan on itself as part of negotiations with school boards. The new NEA policy was adopted on voice vote by the 10,000 delegates attending the conference.

“We will continue to oppose merit pay based upon subjectiveevaluations,” said NEA President Bob Chase, who has been bothpraised and vilified for stressing a “new unionism” that urgescollaboration with management on improving schools.

Argument Against Performance PayDuring hours of emotional debate, some teachers bitterly opposedthe changes, arguing it will be the beginning of the end for apay-for-seniority policy that dates back to the 1920s, the earliestyears of the public education system. The opponents argued bonusesbased on student performance or a boss’ judgment are devisive andunfair to teachers with the most-troubled students.

“Who will want to teach the poor students? the students whodon’t speak English as well?” said Barbara Kerr, a member of theCalifornia Teachers Association. “This makes us vulnerable to thegrowing attacks by districts, school boards and our enemies.”Some teachers believe that teachers cannot argue for higher salaries without basing their proposals on student performance. Higher salaries, some argue, are the only way to keep talented teachers from being lured away by other, more lucrative, professions.“If we don’t do this, our skilled people, who have been trained through college, are going to be lost to other jobs,” teacher John Grossman told ABCNEWS.

Edith Fulton, vice president of the New Jersey EducationAssociation, who has taught elementary school for 34 years, saidthe policy undermines attempts by union locals to bargain withschool boards.

“School boards can look across the table and say look what yournational organization has done,” she complained.

Another Union Mulls a PlanThe NEA’s vote on the bonus plan came as The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s oldest, yet smaller, teachers union met in Philadelphia today. Both unions seemed bent on showing that teachers are not the problem, but the solution towards students’ failing performance in test scores and that they are worthy of pay raises.

“We can’t find enough teachers to staff our classrooms as it is,” AFT President Sandra Feldman told ABCNEWS. “I think the first order of business has got to be paying teachers more.”

The American Federation of Teachers has not made a decision on bonus plans for teachers. According to Feldman, the AFT is studying plans that call for bonuses based students’ performance.The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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