New York City’s senior member of Congress and the president of Teachers College last week called on the city to provide financial incentives to lure educators to work in its neediest schools.
U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a Democrat from Harlem, and Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, cast their proposal as an opportunity to raise achievement among the most disadvantaged students by giving them stronger teachers. Studies have shown that in many cities, schools serving large numbers of poor children often are disproportionately staffed by uncertified and inexperienced teachers.
Mr. Levine and Mr. Rangel proposed paying salary bonuses of 25 percent to educators who work an 11-month year in low-performing schools. They also called for paying an additional 10 percent to “master teachers” who opted for similar assignments. The current salary schedule for New York City teachers begins at about $39,000, and tops out at more than $81,000.
The proposal was deliberately timed to land in the middle of the New York mayoral contest, and prolonged contract negotiations between the city and its teachers’ union, which has been working under the terms of an expired contract for 2½ years.
Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who wields substantial power over New York’s schools, stands for re-election on Nov. 8. Democratic challengers to Mr. Bloomberg face a Sept. 13 primary.
Rep. Rangel said he and Mr. Levine want to honor both the United Federation of Teachers’ drive for a contract that protects its members’ rights, and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s mayorally directed efforts to improve the New York schools. Their proposal, he said, is a concrete form of a concept that officials of the city and the teachers’ union have said they support.
“We find both sides saying [that] our schools that are in distress … need the best-qualified and the best-experienced teachers,” Mr. Rangel said at a Sept. 6 news conference in New York. “Before this election, we want them to know that … our community wants to make certain that ... experienced teachers, qualified teachers, will be able to go into schools that need them the most, and that we are prepared to pay them for doing that.”
Mr. Levine said the pay differentials are crucial to help overcome inequities in the 1.1 million-student school system. He said that 60 percent of the city’s poorest students are concentrated in one-third of its approximately 1,350 schools, which have larger shares of inexperienced teachers and high teacher turnover. For those children, he said, the start of a new school year “marks another year of being left behind.”
The men said that the bonuses could be financed with part of the $5.6 billion that a judge asked the state to add to the city schools’ budget over four years, in response to a lawsuit alleging funding inequities. (“Judge Orders Billions for Schools in N.Y.C.,” Feb. 23, 2005.)
City and teachers’ union officials welcomed the incentive-pay proposal.
“The chancellor has long supported and made clear that we need to use pay differentials to attract highly qualified teachers for our most challenging schools, where our best teachers are needed most,” said Jerry Russo, a spokesman for Mr. Klein. “We look forward to the support of the UFT on this important issue.”
Randi Weingarten, the president of the 100,000-member UFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said her union has “embraced” the ideas in the proposal.
Other districts are trying ways to affect staffing patterns in schools. A plan being implemented in phases in Denver, for instance, allows higher pay for teachers who go into low-performing schools. In Miami-Dade County, Fla., teachers who work in the district’s “improvement zone” schools are not given bonuses, but are paid more because they work a longer school day and extended school year in those schools.
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. Pressed on Staffing Neediest Schools