From the Vault: July 5, 2000

No matter what you see in your morning newspapers tomorrow, this is what actually happened at the National Education Association Representative Assembly today:

Contrary to all expectations, the delegates actually strengthened the union’s policy against merit pay and all forms of pay for performance. Yes, you read that correctly.

Going in we all wondered whether the new resolution on performance pay, negotiated by NEA committees, staff and leadership over months, would be a substantive move toward rewarding teachers based on their performance, rather than their presence. This question is now moot. From the floor, the delegates substituted their own language for the language NEA officials had presented. The new NEA policy allows additional compensation beyond the traditional salary schedule only for national certification. The relevant part of the resolution reads as follows:

“The Association opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions. The Association also believes that local affiliates can best promote the economic welfare of all education employees, regardless of source of funding, by following the salary standards developed at the state and national levels. The Association also 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.”

In addition, Resolution F-8 was amended to explicitly exclude merit pay and performance pay from the basic contract standards that NEA supports.

“No matter how you dress it up, performance-based pay is just another name for merit pay,” said delegate Annette Palutis of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. She also asked if the NEA leadership and staff would like to be paid based on the quality of the food stands and bathrooms at the convention hall.

“When I get back, and all the other local presidents and bargaining chairs get back to their locals, the first thing that’s going to happen is their superintendent or the president of the school board is going to ask them when they’re going to negotiate merit pay or pay for performance,” said San Diego Education Association President Marc Knapp in arguing for the tougher language.

The NEA committee’s language was thrown out and the tougher language substituted based on the support of virtually all of NEA’s large state affiliates: California, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois and Massachusetts. Many medium and smaller size state affiliates, such as Utah, Kansas, Minnesota, Arkansas and Oklahoma, were in favor of performance pay. The standing vote showed somewhere between 60 and 65 percent of the delegates in favor of a complete ban on merit pay and performance pay, “or whatever politically correct words are being used to describe merit pay,” as Louisiana Association of Educators President Mary Washington called it.

Afterwards, NEA President Bob Chase met with the press. “Today’s debate obviously showed that the delegates have a strong commitment to the traditional salary schedule and a concern about deviating from that commitment,” Chase said. “They made that very clear.”

He emphasized that state and local associations can still negotiate performance pay contracts if they so desire, but they could not receive any help from NEA. Asked about the ramifications for Denver, where NEA is assisting the Denver Classroom Teachers Association in a four-year pilot project on performance pay, Chase replied, “We’ll have to reevaluate the work that we’re doing with Denver as a result of this vote.”