Teacher bonuses dependent on union OK - Albuquerque Journal

Teacher bonuses dependent on union OK

Teachers union representatives say teacher evaluations rely too heavily on student achievement, which is shaped by many factors beyond teachers’ control. Above, fourth-graders do a math exercise at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School in Albuquerque. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – For the first time, teachers rated “exemplary” under New Mexico’s controversial grading system are in line to get bonuses of up to $10,000 next year.

But there’s a catch: Approval by a union – if the teacher is covered by one – would be required before the money could be doled out by districts or charter schools.

And union leaders say the evaluation system for teachers is too flawed to be the basis of compensation. In fact, the head of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation says they will not participate.

Executives under Gov. Susana Martinez argue that every exemplary teacher ought to get the award, as part of a multipronged effort to keep high-performing educators in the profession.

Debate over accepting the bonuses will unfold district by district across New Mexico, as local union groups decide for themselves how to respond.

The new program is possible because state lawmakers agreed this year to include $5 million for it in the state budget – at Martinez’s request – but with the provision requiring union approval.

Lida Alikhani, spokeswoman for the state Public Education Department, said the union language was inserted into the bill at the eleventh hour.

“Bottom line: Every teacher should have the opportunity to earn this award,” she said.

Union leaders, by contrast, say the state’s evaluation system is too unreliable to be tied to financial incentives, and they object philosophically to merit pay.

“Quite frankly, we think this provision is insulting to teachers,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association New Mexico. “It sort of implies that teachers are holding something back and will do more if they get more money.”

The negotiating teams for each NEA local union group are expected to decide how to respond to the bonus offer, perhaps after surveying their members.

Who gets bonuses

The new program is called the Excellence in Teaching Awards. Each classroom teacher rated as exemplary under the state’s evaluation system this school year – based on student test scores, classroom observations and other factors – would receive a $5,000 bonus next year.

Exemplary high school math or science teachers would get an extra $5,000, or a total of $10,000. The higher bonus would also be available to exemplary teachers at schools designated by the state as in need of “more rigorous intervention.”

The actual bonuses could be reduced if the $5 million appropriation isn’t enough.

Generally, fewer than one in 20 teachers is rated as exemplary. In 2017, the state Public Education Department put about 4.5 percent of teachers in that tier, up from 3.8 percent in 2016.

The bonus idea is the latest twist in a long-running debate over how to evaluate New Mexico teachers and encourage the best to stay in the profession.

Under Martinez, the state has created a system of rating teachers based on classroom observations, growth in their students’ test scores, student surveys and teacher attendance. The state has also offered various merit-based pay programs over the years, a priority of Martinez’s.

But a one-time bonus for exemplary teachers statewide is new.

Alikhani, the PED spokeswoman, said an exemplary teacher can help students achieve 24 months of growth in one academic year – a success that should be celebrated.

“Recruiting, retaining, and championing our teachers has consistently been a top priority for Gov. Martinez,” she said. “One way to do this is by creating groundbreaking opportunities for professional growth and teacher leadership.”

Test scores

Union leaders, in turn, say the evaluation system is unfair and damages morale – not something to base compensation on.

A key sticking point is that 35 percent of the ratings are based on growth in test scores.

A much larger share – 50 percent – was part of the calculation when the evaluation system began in 2013. The state reduced the percentage in 2017 after pushback from teachers and administrators. The number of highly rated teachers has ticked up since then, although the PED says that was driven by performance, not changes to the criteria.

Opponents of the current evaluation system say it still depends too much on student achievement, which is shaped by too many factors outside a teacher’s control – especially students’ health and home environment – to be a meaningful reflection of an educator’s work.

‘Collective endeavor’

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said education is collaborative and that rewarding one teacher for students’ performance isn’t appropriate.

“All of the research on what makes schools function even better than they do is that it’s a collective endeavor,” said Bernstein, who taught for 17 years. “It’s not an individual pursuit.”

The Albuquerque teachers union has had a long-standing policy, adopted by representatives at different schools, against merit pay and won’t participate in the bonus program, she said.

Alikhani said union leaders are out of touch.

The bonus program, she said, would enhance schools’ “ability to reward, recognize, recruit, and retain some of their highest-performers with the biggest impact on student outcomes.”

The provision in the legislation requiring union approval was added to the bill as part of a package of budget changes adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 10, five days before the session ended.

Home » Journal North » Journal North Recent News » Teacher bonuses dependent on union OK

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

NM's methane rule unfair on low-producing wells
From the newspaper
Family operators will have to cap ... Family operators will have to cap hundreds of low-emitting sites early
Editorial: Vo-tech, welfare reform can fix our dismal worker ...
New Mexico is in an economic ... New Mexico is in an economic rut.    It's not due to a shortage of jobs. More t ...
Our military veterans deserve a leg up into federal ...
From the newspaper
Let's make the most of their ... Let's make the most of their valuable skills, perspective and diversity
Congress invests in science and technology of future
From the newspaper
As the final days of summer ... As the final days of summer wean off their last few minutes of sunlight, kids revive their calculato ...
Tips to start coming back from the pandemic's isolation
From the newspaper
Wondering about the social effects of ... Wondering about the social effects of COVID-19 restrictions such as limiting gatherings, orders clos ...
Ethics questioned as cannabis regulators join the private sector
ABQnews Seeker
Some are unsure if the state's ... Some are unsure if the state's 'revolving door' policy indeed curbs conflicts of interest
County's cool with casitas
ABQnews Seeker
Bernalillo County is ready for a ... Bernalillo County is ready for a new kind of tiny home. Meanwhile, county voters in November will have their say on $40.5M worth of ...
Couy Griffin back in court to fight for his ...
ABQnews Seeker
Lawsuit contends that his role on ... Lawsuit contends that his role on Jan. 6 violated the 14th Amendment
Ojibwe artist Patrick Collins uses painting to find himself ...
Patrick Collins will be showing his ... Patrick Collins will be showing his work at the Santa Fe Indian Market.