On July 5, after a two-hour debate, delegates to the National Education Association (NEA) 79th Representative Assembly in Chicago, Illinois, rejected performance pay based on evaluations. The union reiterated its commitment to the single salary schedule that has traditionally rewarded experience and knowledge.
Delegates also focused on other topics. Approximately 9,200 representatives of the 2.5-million-member education union spent the week applauding outstanding efforts in education, remembering slain Florida teacher Barry Grunow, and discussing other issues, including gun control and high-stakes testing.
Performance pay topped assembly debate, however, as delegates spoke against adopting criteria for alternate compensation. The rejection of performance pay is consistent with past NEA philosophy, which opposes incentive pay systems.
The vote tossed out the recommendation of the union's executive committee and board of directors, which proposed that performance pay be allowed under certain criteria. The recommendation opposed any type of merit pay system based on subjective evaluation of performance or on high-stakes testing.
Bob Chase, NEA president, attributed the vote to an atmosphere of distrust in some states and localities. "Many of our affiliates have had to contend with a hostile attitude by some legislatures, governors, and school boards that want to pay some teachers more than others as a cost-cutting measure," he said.
"We are looking for an opportunity for our members to explore creative approaches that recognize excellence and work to attract and keep high-quality teachers. Arbitrary, top-down merit pay systems do not," Chase explained.
The NEA executive committee recommended performance pay after studying the issue for several months. The union began looking into new salary approaches in response to the adoption of bonus and performance systems by several state and local affiliates.
For example, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association participates in a pilot program that permits the payment of bonuses based on student test scores and other factors. The North Carolina Association of Educators approved awarding group bonuses to schools that meet certain goals.
The issue of high-stakes testing loomed throughout the convention, not only as it pertains to performance pay but also in terms of its effect on the standards reform movement. Chase highlighted such testing in his keynote address, blaming some politicians and states for making a mess of standards with high-stakes tests.
"We can and must, for instance, exercise the 'power of us' to straighten out the mess some state politicians have made of standards and high-stakes tests," Chase said. "But the politicians in many states, in their rush to jack up student test scores, have botched standards.
"In some states, testing mania is quite literally devouring whole school systems -- like some education-eating bacteria," Chase continued. "Days -- even weeks -- of valuable classroom time are now being consumed by test drills. And material that's not on the tests, especially in the arts and sciences, is being tossed out."
Children feel the fallout from high-stakes testing because some no longer have recess; they spend that time drilling for the next "almighty test," Chase contended. "Worst of all, states are raising standards and requiring high-stakes tests without correcting the savage inequalities between rich and poor school districts.
"[Some politicians] are demanding a higher level of academic achievement from poor children, children of extreme disadvantage, but not providing the interventions needed for these children to succeed," Chase explained. "In other words, states are setting up children to fail -- and then publicly labeling them as failures when the tests scores are announced. This is truly perverse."
Chase called on NEA members not to lose sight of the goals of the standards movement, regardless of the problems presented by high-stakes testing. Standards-based reform needs a massive dose of common sense based on real classroom experience, he said. Chase warned delegates not to leave its fate exclusively in the hands of people who haven't been in a classroom for 30 years or more. "NEA and its state affiliates can and must intervene -- not to bury the standards movement -- but to save it and to save our schools," he said.
Chase also called for association members to support gun control legislation, such as trigger locks, mandatory background checks, and bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines and semiautomatic assault rifles. "All of us have attended too many memorial services for murdered teachers and children," he said. "We've dried too many tears and consoled too many loved ones."
NEA members joined members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is holding its annual conference this week in Philadelphia, in a simultaneous observance honoring Barry Grunow, the slain Florida teacher. Chase said joining to honor Grunow in a moment of silence showed the resolve of both unions to support common-sense gun laws.
The delegates recognized individuals and groups for their contribution to education. The NEA's highest award, the annual Friend of Education award, went to Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts July 5. Chase said that every major education initiative passed since the 1960s has Kennedy's imprint on it, including Head Start, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Native American Education, and Goals 2000 Educate America Act.
The NEA also honored 11 individuals with the Human and Civil Rights Awards on July 2. The awards honor outstanding activists and leaders for human and civil rights. Among the honorees were Antonio Villaraigosa, of Los Angeles. The speaker of the California State Assembly, Villaraigosa was responsible for a $9.2 billion bond proposal to build and modernize public schools in California.
Others honorees include:
The NEA recognized six communities for establishing outstanding partnership programs aimed at improving student achievement in local schools. The NEA, the United Auto Workers, and the Saturn Corporation presented the fourth annual Saturn Partnership Awards to Phoenix, Arizona; Loveland, Colorado; Milford, Delaware; Chicopee, Massachusetts; Flint, Michigan; and St. Louis, Missouri.
Diane Weaver Dunne
Copyright © 2000 Education World