Teaching Profession

N.Y.C. Unveils Merit-Pay Plan for Teachers in High-Need Schools

By Vaishali Honawar — October 18, 2007 3 min read
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New York City last week announced a plan that would give cash bonuses to teachers at some of the city’s high-need schools that raise student test scores.

The 1.1 million-student district, the largest in the country, joins such districts as Denver and Minneapolis that have implemented pay plans with the blessings of their local teachers’ unions.

Experts called the development groundbreaking.

“It is very significant, in part because it is New York City and in part because it includes teachers and has been agreed to by the teacher union,” said Allan R. Odden, a co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

New York City’s plan could also be a shot in the arm for attempts to adopt such plans in the Northeast, he added.

The United Federation of Teachers has for years resisted efforts by the school district to implement performance pay, but union officials said this week that they are happy with the plan’s approach because it gives the bonus to the whole school and not just to individual teachers who raise student test scores.

“Respecting and understanding the importance of teamwork and collaboration is precisely why the UFT has opposed the idea of individual merit pay for teachers—especially when based solely on student test scores,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the UFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said at a press conference.

The plan is also voluntary and would require at least 55 percent of the teachers at a participating school to vote to opt in.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at the press conference that the plan “will help us reward our great teachers and foster excellence in our public schools.”

City and school officials are hoping the plan will attract the city’s best teachers to some of its lowest- performing schools.

School to Divvy Up Bonus

In recent months, the push for performance-based pay has been re-energized as a number of states have introduced such plans or been considering them. (“Teacher-Pay Experiments Mounting Amid Debate,” Oct. 3, 2007.)

And as moves in Congress toward the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act have gained steam, federal lawmakers have spoken in favor of performance pay for teachers. House education committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., included such a plan in his committee’s discussion draft for renewal of the federal education law.

But the national teachers’ unions have remained opposed to performance pay, particularly plans based largely on student test scores.

In New York, the plan is based almost entirely on raising student test scores. Roughly 200 of the district’s more than 1,400 schools that show significant gains in student achievement would receive an award of roughly $3,000 multiplied by the number of teachers in the school.

A committee made up of a school’s principal, another administrator, and two teachers would determine how to divide the bonus among staff members.

The plan, which would receive $20 million in funding in the first year, needs state legislative approval before it is implemented.

Is Policy Effective?

Matthew G. Springer, the director of the National Center on Performance Incentives, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said the fact that city, school, and union officials had collaborated on the plan was “really important.”

Still, he added, there exists a slim body of research on the effectiveness of performance pay. A plan of the size of the one in New York City, he said, needs to be thoroughly studied.

“We don’t know if pay for performance is an effective policy. We don’t know how it should be designed. We know more research is needed,” Mr. Springer said. “It is just critical that a program of this magnitude is rigorously and independently evaluated.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2007 edition of Education Week

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