Monday, December 14, 2009

Union Contracts: Where Do We Go?

As our School Board prepares to negotiate a new contract with the teachers' union – the Hilliard Education Association – we need to think about whether it is time for some fundamental changes to take place. I came across this posting on the blog of the Fordham Institute which speaks to that question.

Your thoughts?


  1. As far as I could tell, the crux of that post was simply that the contracts need to be critically examined. This is true, but I'd hope that this is intuitively obvious.

    It would be more helpful for me to know who's leading the way in terms of achieving contract reform, and what are the keys to making that work?

    Are there districts out there that can be considered great examples of communities working with teachers' unions? I'd also be interested in knowing which Ohio districts, if any, are achieving satisfactory results, given that Ohio has a somewhat unique funding model.

    There's no question that the relationship between school districts and teachers is manifested most vividly in the contract between them. We hope that you'll be able to bring more transparency to this relationship, but I'd also like to understand what "healthy" looks like in this relationship.

  2. Here is an article about what the leadership of the Cincinnati is exploring relative to performance-based pay for teachers.

    The Worthington School Board negotiated the following into their teachers' union contract in 2008:

    The Superintendent and Association hereby create a Compensation Incentive Committee,
    consisting of five (5) Association members to be designated by the Association President and
    five (5) Administrators or Board of Education members designated by the Superintendent. The
    committee may also utilize community members or other appropriate individuals or groups as
    non-voting consultants to the Committee. The Compensation Incentive Committee shall
    research and review compensation practices and plans both from within and outside Ohio for the
    purpose of identifying effective options and making recommendations for updating the District’s
    compensations plan. Such recommendations, approved by a majority of the committee, shall be
    submitted in writing to the Board and Association prior to bargaining a successor agreement.

    So there are some models out there.


  3. Thanks for the links, Paul. Both of these sources make it seem as though pay (even pay-for-performance) is computed at something of a macro level. When we consider tying pay to test scores of students, this makes a fair bit of sense -- after all, students rotate among teachers, and it's hard to pin 100% of an individual student's scores on any one teacher for all the reasons cited in the Cincinnati article.

    Despite this, I think everyone intuitively understands that there are some great teachers in our schools, and there are some teachers that are somewhat less outstanding. I'd bet that a knowledgeable manager would be able to tell the difference in pretty short order.

    Is there anyone who isn't also part of the teachers' union who'd be in a position to evaluate individual teachers on a qualitative basis -- you know, like the rest of us poor schmucks when we try to get raises?

    I'm not completely against trying to boil compensation into a formula, but I'm skeptical that we can come up with a formula that's fair and reasonable.

  4. As a teacher, I think Worthington's commitment to research current incentive practices and collaboratively develop a plan is sound. It is extremely problematic to tie compensation incentives to test scores alone, for many reasons. Let's assume, for the moment, that we can agree that a two-hour test provides an accurate measure of what the student has achieved in that subject or skill area. How are you going to cope with the fact that tests are not given consistently in each subject area every year? For example, in Science, I believe students are tested in 5th grade, then not again until 8th. Are you going to hold the 8th grade teacher accountable for three years of state standards, two of which he/she didn't personally teach students? Or are you going to hold the 6th grade teacher accountable for standards that were taught two years ago, but not state-tested at that time? For another example, consider the Reading test, which tests not only Literary Text standards (typically taught in Language Arts/English classes), but also Informational Text standards, which should ideally be taught in various subject areas by all teachers. How do you determine whether a student's success on the Reading test is due to the English teacher, the Social Studies teacher, or the Science teacher, or, as should be the case in the "perfect world," reading strategies that were taught in all three of these classes? And how will teachers in subjects like P.E., music, Spanish, and Family and Consumer Science (all of which are not state tested) be evaluated? Just food for thought about tying teacher performance to test scores.

  5. Concerned Teacher:

    Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. I have long wished that more teachers, especially Hilliard teachers, would engage in the dialog here. Musicman has often added to the richness of the discussion.

    I don't pretend to understand the dimensions by which the performance of a teacher could be validly evaluated. Our oldest daughter is an elementary music teacher - how does one measure her effectiveness? On the skill a 3rd grader shows in matching pitches??

    I suspect the answer involves something that is akin to the "360 degree evalations" that are sometimes used in other organizations. The idea is that an individual's performance is evaluated by one's boss, a couple of peers, and a couple of subordinates. In the case of a teacher, we could perhaps substitute parents for the subordinates in this model. Different weights could be assigned to the various classes of evaluators. Obviously, you still have to figure out what dimensions would be evaluated.

    The only answer I won't accept is "it can't be done." We just need to have the will, empathy, patience, respect and most importantly, trust necessary to seek an answer which balances the interests of all the stakeholders - especially the kids.


  6. Concerned Teacher:

    I doubt that there is serious merit pay discussion that uses the single metric of raw test scores.

    The more interesting pilot projects attempt to measure the teacher impact using some variation of actual student performance vs. expected student performance where expected student performance is a function of the students previous performance, socio-economic status and so on.

    To be sure, no system will be perfect, however, we do know that the current system rewards teachers for things that have zero or little impact on student achievement (longevity and additional education). In fact, I've seen studies that show a negative correlation between longevity and teacher effectiveness due to the burnout effect.

    I have two questions for you in closing. First, have you researched any of the merit pay/performance pay proposals and have you seen any that strike you as "fair" and second, do you have an opinion about using Ohio's "Value Add" report card component as piece of the merit pay puzzle?