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Three years after the Newark Teachers Union agreed to a merit pay plan funded by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, the union is now resisting renewal of the plan. The new president of the union says it didn’t work. This should not be a surprise. Merit pay has been tried and failed consistently for nearly 100 years. (See the chapter on merit pay in my 2013 book, Reign of Error.) Merit pay failed in Nashville in 2010; it failed in New York City, in Chicago, in Texas, and elsewhere in the past five years. Corporate reformers never admit failure, so they can’t stop trying to revive merit pay, despite the fact that there is neither research nor evidence to support it.
It was hailed as a breakthrough when the bargain was struck: Top-performing teachers in Newark could get bigger paychecks.
The provision in a 2012 contract struck between the state-run school district and the Newark Teachers Union was the first of its kind in New Jersey, and it was made possible because of a massive donation intended to improve education in the city.
But three years later, the contract has expired, and the new president of the local union says that it hasn’t worked and that it’s not a sure thing the teachers union will agree to keep the provision in its current form. Several Newark teachers said that they had real problems with the contract and that the merit pay hasn’t worked, though none were willing to speak on the record for fear of reprisals.
Talks for a deal to replace it haven’t started, and the contract with the merit pay remains in place.
The deal was made possible because of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to education causes in Newark, announced five years ago. His foundation agreed to pay not only for the cost of the merit bonuses, but also for retroactive raises for educators who had worked two years on a previous contract, going without raises for that duration. The total cost to Zuckerberg for the deal was more than $48 million, or nearly half his contribution. While $30 million of the money contributed by Zuckerberg and matching donors is left, it’s not clear whether it will help pay for a new contract.
For advocates for education reform, it was a big deal. Gov. Chris Christie helped hash out the contract.
Those reformers say that teachers should be paid like many people in other industries are, with paychecks reflecting their results rather than just their experience.
Count on corporate reformers to ignore evidence and to keep doing the same thing over and over again, no matter how many times it fails.