New Jersey’s search for simple solutions has created confusion, and communication breakdowns among policy makers and public servants. The phenomenon is especially illustrated by the most recent effort to institute merit pay among public school teachers in our State.
Newark’s recent agreement between the School District Superintendent, Cami Anderson, and the President of the Newark Teacher’s Union, Joseph Del Grosso, has been uniformly criticized by many of those who serve in the trenches — the Newark school teachers. As classroom practitioners, they recognize that providing “bonuses" will not enhance pupil performance. In fact, such an initiative will divide teachers and serve as an abridgement of “camaraderie.”
The funding for the Merit Pay Initiative will come from Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million endowment to the School District. Already, many Newark Public School teachers have voiced their concern and dismay over what they perceive to be an “insulting” arrangement.
The very concept of merit pay is an attack on the nobility of the teaching profession. Should we then provide merit pay to doctors based on the number of patients they keep alive? Would that mean that doctors have less incentive for saving patients if their bonus is not large enough? Can we assume that teachers, who already earn a salary, have no commitment to pupil performance based on their own motivation and commitment?
In addition, the concept of merit pay excludes the role of parents and their responsibility for pupil performance.
Within the past year, legislators have created new tenure laws that simply do not provide support for classroom practitioners, but create obstacles, instead. Legislators supported the new tenure reform initiative without any concept of the issues related to student performance, classroom environments, pupil behavior, or school-family partnerships.
The most likely result of the initiatives that have been put into place since Chris Christie became Governor will be that it will be more difficult than ever to find new bright, motivated and highly skilled individuals who will be willing to select teaching as a profession.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a disability policy specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law.