NJEA And Merit Pay

Here’s NJEA in its December newsletter on why “both NEA and NJEA have made and will continue to make the case against merit pay:” because “great teaching is as mysterious as it is magical; groups who attempt to define it for the purposes of merit pay are unlikely to reach consensus.”

The problem with NJEA’s Byronic definition of teaching – mysterious, ineffable, magical – is that it is grounded in input, not output. Great teaching should result in great learning, right? But the editorial’s references to student achievement are limited to Ed Commissioner Lucille Davy's statement at this year’s NJEA’s convention that“children are not widgets” (rejoins the writer, “neither, for that matter, are educators”) and a mocking of standardized tests to measure achievement.

There’s a kind of Romantic narcissism at the heart of this, a lopsided lens that sees only what a “great teacher” emits, rather than on what a student absorbs. Sure, it’s politically convenient: if we can’t measure magic, then quantifying teacher performance is a lost cause. This conclusion pits NJEA’s leadership against Race To The Top goals and our shot at $200-400 million dollars. Is the NJEA Executive Committee suggesting that its union leaders will refuse to sign off on our application because of philosophical opposition to tying student assessment to teacher performance?

While it's true that neither teachers nor students are widgets, that doesn’t mean that instruction is some sort of magical, immeasurable effluvium, or that data on student achievement is irrelevant. It’s time for NJEA’s leadership to get out of the 19th century.

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