If the press is going to give NEA credit for a shift in position on teacher evaluations, how is it everyone outside the convention hall failed to see a relatively larger “change of direction?”
Because, you see, the National Education Association is no longer opposed to the use of merit pay or performance pay compensation systems.
The union is far from embracing them. It left intact language in its resolutions that call such systems “inappropriate,” and NEA still opposes “providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions.”
But Resolution F-10 was completely overhauled, and it used to begin:
“The National Education Association is opposed to the use of merit pay or performance pay compensation systems.”
It now begins:
“The National Education Association believes that the single salary schedule is the most transparent and equitable system for compensating education employees.”
There is no mention of merit or performance pay in F-10 anymore. The original language had been added the last time the delegates met in Chicago, in 2000.
That was in the midst of the new unionism wave, and NEA sought to ride it by loosening its restrictions on negotiating performance pay. The effort backfired, as the delegates displayed an uncommon level of contrariness by actually toughening the language against merit and performance pay, adding the above sentence to F-10.
The new F-10 didn’t sneak by delegates this time, either. A motion was made to refer the new language back to committee for reworking, but it apparently failed. I confess I wasn’t in the hall for that debate, since it came soon after the Obama endorsement results were announced. And while I’ve scoured the Internet and social media, no one wrote about it after the fact.
The teacher evaluation policy statement and the performance pay language are not phony shifts. These are distinct changes from previous policy. But as a practical matter, they are meaningless outside of the union. NEA made a similar alteration in 2001, creating a policy statement that changed its “categorical opposition” to charters to a policy of toleration provided that charters meet a long list of requirements. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks this resulted in a boon for charter schools.
It’s simple. Categorical opposition to something on the fringe of education policy is practical, but as such things become more mainstream over time, this becomes less and less feasible and costs the union in public credibility. NEA’s solution is to stop saying, “No, you can’t,” and start saying, “Well, you can, as long as you can pass through the eye of the needle.”
As long as we keep the distinction between internal shifts and practical shifts in mind, we can view NEA’s changes as positive, without getting overly excited about their effects.