There's a kind of Cheneyesque darkness to the thing, not only for the secrecy and precipitous unveiling of this plan, but for the unsettling feeling that we're being asked to sacrifice a bit of our professional ethics to something quite foreign to us: venality.
Smothered in legalese is also a satanic bargain, that schools voting the bonus plan down will get a mark against them:
A school’s agreement to participate in the bonus program shall be considered, along with other criteria, as a positive factor in determining whether the Participant School is to be phased out or given a year’s moratorium on a possible phase-out. Nothing herein alters applicable law with regard to school closings. [Memorandum, Oct. 23, 2007, no.6]To make that connection — rejecting a bonus plan means you endanger the existence of the school itself — is absolutely immoral.
You just can't sell something as smelly as this, and leadership knew they'd have to pitch it to us big-time. Unfortunately, their fuzzy Q&A leads to a lot more Qs than even their PR department could handle, and here's why.
From their Q&A:
How does it work? “... the DOE will make a lump-sum payment to that school to be distributed among its staff.”
New Q: The whole staff?How much money will the educators in the school receive? “The school's total award for 2007-8 will be calculated by multiplying the number of full-time UFT-represented educators ...”
A: Well, no, not really. Just the UFT members, which means nothing for the aides or the custodians. Gee. I was under the impression that all staff have the potential of contributing to the success of a school, not just the members of our union.
New Q: What about the people teaching or providing services in more than one school?How much money will the educators in the school receive? “This must be done fairly” [They say a “compensation committee” will be formed annually, of 2 UFT members, the principal and a designee, and the money will be divvied up by consensus.]
A: I dunno.
New Q: Has a committee ever been able to achieve “fairness” across the board?How do we know this will be done fairly? “... this is an experimental two-year pilot program that will be subject to a comprehensive independent evaluation.”
A: Practically unheard of, actually. Congress has been trying for 218 years and it hasn't got things "fair" yet. Optimum fairness, if such a thing were even possible, would be assigning equal shares to everyone, but then who’d need a committee at all? As for consensus, the threat of forfeiting the whole sum puts an awful lot of pressure on any dissenter in the group.
New Qs: What would you be evaluating, divisiveness? coercion? If the test scores went up after the cash was given out, do you really think you could connect one with the other? What if the scores went down even though the teachers got their bonuses and worked "harder"? Does that mean the project failed? Who picks the evaluators, and who determines how “independent” they are?Where does the money come from? “In the first year the funds will be privately donated."
A: As with most projects with hidden agendas, a “comprehensive independent evaluation” is smoke and mirrors, might even end up in yet another no-bid contract.
New Qs: What do these private donors expect in return? And more to the point, could better use be made of these funds than bonuses to individuals?Is this just the first step toward individual merit pay? “It is a positive program to strengthen schools. It focuses and provides a benefit to high-needs schools. It promotes teamwork rather than divisiveness, makes the voice of front-line educators equal to that of administrators, and is available to all.”
A: As to the first question, it's hard to know, but they won't be donating from the goodness of their little corporate hearts. As for better uses of this money, it's so obvious, it's painful. Start with smaller class sizes, textbooks, equipment, and after-school programs, then go from there.
New Qs: But what does it mean that the program will “strengthen schools”? Where is the benefit to a “high-needs school” that teachers get a bonus? (I thought they were already taking their jobs seriously.) Does it really say the plan promotes teamwork rather than divisiveness, in spite of the friction caused by the elections, or the fact that some subjects involve high-stakes tests and others don't, or that we know already that some staff have a rather cozy relationship with the principal and the designee? Will the front-line educators really be equal, equal, equal to administrators? And as far as the plan being available to all: I thought committees have the right to shut out anyone they want to from these funds. It can't be available to all if they decide to carve some people out of this pie.Will this ratchet up the exclusive focus on test scores? “The scores are pivotal in deciding when a school closes or must be redesigned....”
A: Um ...... uh ........
New Qs: But, why are scores so pivotal? How did we get here, that schools are closed and restructured based on tests? Why does the leadership buy into bureaucratic definitions of success?
The Big Q: Why does leadership keep selling out?