The American Federation of Teachers is encouraging its affiliates to explore the use of new pay systems that include some forms of pay for performance and differentiated pay for teachers in high-demand areas.
By a unanimous vote this month, the union’s 39-member executive council approved a resolution stating that “we must enhance the traditional compensation schedule using approaches that contribute to more effective teaching and learning.”
Although it includes several provisos, the document represents a significant break from the past for the 1 million-member union, as well as with the National Education Association.
While a growing number of AFT locals are experimenting with new pay plans, the national union had yet to make an official statement of support for specific kinds of compensation that go beyond typical salary schedules. Such schedules are based almost exclusively on the level of education a teacher has attained and her years of experience.
“It really does take us into a very forward-looking process on making some significant changes in the way teachers are compensated,” Sandra Feldman, the president of the AFT, said last week. “This is, I think, revolutionary.”
The statement comes at a time when many performance-related pay plans still draw mixed—and often hostile—reaction from many teachers. Last summer, delegates to the annual meeting of the 2.6 million-member NEA shot down a resolution that would have opened the door to some NEA support for experiments in the way teachers are paid.
“It’s important that [the support] is coming from a union, because for so long the unions were standing against these sort of common-sense solutions,” said Marci Kanstoroom, the research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington think tank. “But the AFT has shown a lot of spunk in taking on issues where the rest of the education establishment has had its head in the sand.”
But the AFT stresses that it won’t accept every new pay plan to come down the pike, and that it’s up to each local affiliate to decide what, if any, changes to embrace.
The new resolution suggests several forms of alternative compensation as worth considering, including: bonuses for schoolwide improvement on test scores; incentives aimed at attracting teachers to schools that traditionally have had trouble recruiting and into shortage areas such as mathematics and science; and extra pay for teachers who demonstrate that they’ve acquired new knowledge and skills.
But the document also argues that such supplements should add to, rather than replace, the traditional system of paying teachers for their seniority and education. And it withholds support for attempts to link the salaries of individual teachers to their students’ test results.
A task force headed by Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s New York City local, drafted the resolution. During ongoing negotiations for a new teachers’ contract there, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has argued that educators’ pay should be tied to the progress that their students make on standardized tests, a provision the UFT pledges to continue resisting.
“We’re willing to do incentives and differentials that make sense and that are not destructive to the educational process,” Ms. Weingarten said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as AFT To Urge Locals To Consider New Pay Strategies