In the last 24 hours, we have heard, and will continue to hear, the National Education Association professing its opposition to merit pay “based on student test scores.” The union is also repeating that its main concern is for any performance pay to be collectively bargained, rather than imposed.
If you rely on the union’s public statements, you can be forgiven if you believe that there is some wiggle room when it comes to basing teacher salaries on something other than years of service and college credits. But NEA’s resolutions and policy documents, approved by all the representative bodies of the union each year, are unequivocal on the issue.
Resolution F-8 lists the basic contract standards that the union believes all collective bargaining agreements should contain. The list includes salary schedules “that exclude any form of merit pay except in institutions of higher education where it has been bargained.” It has no provision for merit pay in K-12 schools.
Resolution F-9 (Salaries and Other Compensation) has three paragraphs related to pay beyond the traditional salary schedule. One includes support for additional salary for national certification. The other two read:
“The Association opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions.”
“The Association further believes that performance pay schedules, such as merit pay or any other system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee’s performance, are inappropriate.”
Resolution F-10 provides additional details.
“The National Education Association is opposed to the use of merit pay or performance pay compensation systems.”
The resolution then lists the minimum criteria for any system created “that provides additional compensation to education employees beyond that provided by the single salary schedule.” This section calls for the system to be bargained collectively, to use objective measurement, to be fully funded, and to be available to all. It also requires:
“Any additional compensation beyond a single salary schedule must not be based on education employee evaluation, student performance, or attendance.”
What does this add up to? NEA opposes merit pay, performance pay, or any other method of pay that replaces the traditional salary schedule, collectively bargained or not (except for higher ed). The union may support pay that supplements the traditional salary schedule provided it is bargained, does not pay to fill hard-to-staff schools or subjects, and is not based on “education employee evaluation, student performance, or attendance.”
That last provision is important. It doesn’t say “student test scores,” it says “student performance.” It doesn’t say “education employee evaluation by a principal or other administrator.” It says “education employee evaluation.”
Much of this language is the result of a long debate at the 2000 NEA Representative Assembly, where an attempt to soften the union’s opposition to performance pay backfired, and ended with a toughening of the language.
In 2007, NEA President Reg Weaver asked the union’s Professional Standards and Practice Committee to review and make recommendations about NEA’s performance pay policies. In February 2008, the committee concluded:
“First and foremost, the Committee reached consensus that current NEA policy provides important guidelines to its affiliates who are dealing with any pay system questions and that there is no need to alter current NEA policy at this time.”
I think President Obama’s notion of performance pay falls well short of replacing the traditional salary schedule. But after hearing him speak on the issue several times, I am persuaded he does actually mean performance pay, and he is in fact at odds with NEA on the matter. Despite the union’s public statements that they’re all on the same page (“He means national certification. No, really!”), either the President or the NEA will be forced to blink on this one.