In 2012, Newark Public Schools did something remarkable. The district reached an agreement with the Newark Teachers Union that would fundamentally shift how teachers are not just evaluated but paid.
Then-Gov. Chris Christie and Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, announced the groundbreaking deal together on national television. At the time, my organization, the National Council on Teacher Quality, called the contract “a model to which other districts should aspire.”
The new evaluation system would focus on what matters most, the contributions a teacher made to student learning and making sure that teachers were given ample feedback on how to improve their craft. Salaries would no longer be based (as they are almost everywhere else) solely on years of experience and how many higher education credits a teacher has, but instead on performance.
The district would also start to use their dollars in the same way that other employers do. Pay would become a strategic tool to attract the best teachers to where they were most needed. Teachers who were ineffective would no longer receive an annual raise. Teachers who were rated as highly effective earned a healthy $5,000 bonus. Even better, high performing teachers who were either able to teach subjects that were hard for the district to staff, particularly in the lowest performing schools, could earn even more, up to $12,500 a year.
The results spoke for themselves. After five years of implementation, 96 percent of highly effective teachers chose to stay in Newark and 49 percent of ineffective teachers were voluntarily leaving the district—exactly the sort of pattern schools need to see but rarely do. Accordingly, the district has higher student enrollment now than at any other time in recent history, suggesting parents gained a renewed confidence in the district.
Now this story takes a sad turn. Newark’s teachers are set to vote next week on a new contract that the district and the teachers union are together proposing that throws all these important reforms out.
Where once compensation was used as a strategic deployment of resources to ensure the district can fill its vacancies, keep its best teachers, and ensure the most vulnerable students have access to them, soon there will be nothing but raises based on years of experience, and requiring teachers to spend precious time and money earning another degree they more than likely do not need.
Research shows over and over again that advanced degrees do not make teachers more effective with the exception of math and science.
In 2012, Newark Public Schools took bold steps to create a compensation system that would help to attract and keep the best teachers. The district used resources strategically to ensure the most vulnerable students had access to the best teachers, an accomplishment that many districts struggle to achieve. With this new contract, instead of being a leader in strategic compensation, Newark becomes a district that takes a one-size-fits-all approach to its teachers, to the detriment of its students and teachers alike.
Kate Walsh has served as the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality since 2003, leading work to ensure that every child has equal access to effective teachers. At NCTQ, Walsh has spearheaded efforts to instill greater transparency and higher standards among those institutions that exert influence and authority over teachers. A long-time resident of Baltimore, Walsh has also served on the Maryland State School Board. Tweets @nctqkate