Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the expansion of the state’s three-year-old master teacher program. The program is open to middle and high school teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields with at least four years of teaching experience and high marks on the state’s evaluation system.
Those teachers get an annual $15,000 stipend for four years to work with fellow teachers, especially pre-service and early career teachers, to improve their craft. Master teachers also get additional professional development through partnerships with either nearby State University of New York campuses or the non-profit Math for America.
Cuomo, who has had a contentious relationship with the state’s teachers, says the program is key to keeping the best teachers in the classroom:
We created the Master Teacher Program to attract our best and brightest teachers to the classroom and strengthen the quality of our schools in communities across this state. By expanding this program we are giving more talented professionals in STEM education the opportunity to develop their careers and help lay the foundation for a world-class workforce. I encourage all of New York's outstanding educators in these fields to apply to the Master Teachers program today."
The consummate advocate of the program, Cuomo started his 2015 State of the State address by introducing Stacey Miller, “a Master Teacher, which identifies, literally the best teachers across the state of New York.”
But while many union leaders—such as Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association—have embraced the idea of master teachers, Cuomo’s plan hasn’t won him any affection from the New York State United Teachers.
Last year, Andrew Pallotta, executive vice president of the union testified against the further expansion of the program, calling it just another merit-pay ploy. His concerns were rooted in the fact that the teacher-evaluation system, which NYSUT dislikes, were used to select eligible teachers.
Research has shown that merit pay promotes competition among teachers and destroys cooperative efforts to reach common educational goals. Any system that creates a competitive, rather than collaborative, school climate raises real concerns. Career ladders, however, would be an appropriate use of these funds. Extra pay for other assignments, such as mentoring new educators or working on advanced degrees and professional development should be negotiated with teachers through local collective bargaining."
Pallotta didn’t detail the how teachers in a career-ladder system would ideally be identified for higher pay and more responsibilities.
In an opinion piece for this site in January, Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, who advocates for American school systems to embrace the master teacher models of Shanghai and Singapore, discussed what Eskelsen García believes are important features of career ladders:
She agreed with my comment that, although the career ladder idea as developed in Singapore and Shanghai is a form of merit pay, it is very different from the kind of merit pay systems we have seen in the United States. The systems in both Shanghai and Singapore both take into account, for example, the views of a teacher's performance from other teachers in a kind of 360-degree view of that performance from both mentors and mentees. The idea of using teams of teachers led by teachers to improve the effectiveness of instruction, relying on a disciplined system of continuous improvement, would, she said, be welcomed by the NEA, as would a system in which compensation would be tied in part to increasing responsibility for teachers as they climb the ladder."
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.