Union rejects school reforms; NEA convention opposes bonuses for best teachers
A New Haven Register editorial                 July 12, 2000 

The signals from the nation's largest teachers union are discouraging. Even suggestions for modest incentives to improve teacher performance were shot down at the convention last week of the National Education Association.  Its affiliate, the Connecticut Education Association, is the state's largest teachers union. So the votes of the national union in Chicago offer some insight into the obstacles that education reforms face in Connecticut.

The union voted down its own leadership's proposal that outstanding teachers be eligible for bonus. The bonuses would have been based on local standards the union would help set, not on student scores on standardized tests. 

The modest plan didn't have a prayer in face of delegates' suspicions it was a backdoor attack on union solidarity. 

The delegates also zapped endorsement of recruiting bonuses for math and science teachers, even though there is a national shortage of these teachers. 

The union didn't even consider merit pay, basing teachers' salaries on their performance.  The worst along with very best will continue to be paid equally. 

The convention's positions undercut union claims that teachers are professionals who support significant reforms.  Instead, despite union rhetoric, they offer a hint why the union can be a hindrance rather than a help in the frontline battle to improve classroom teaching. 

The votes also ignore a growing public demand and trend for a more accountable public education system.  There are estimated to be 20 school districts or states that pay bonuses to teachers if their schools' test scores improve.  In Denver, teachers at 12 grade schools have signed up for a voluntary program in which they are paid bonuses if classroom scores improve. 

Union fears that the incentives will lead to some students being left behind are unfounded.  It is possible to craft performance standards that take into account learning disabilities or teaching students for whom English is a second language.  Bonuses for great work should go to those teachers who work wonders with slow learners as well as academic stars. 

These outstanding teachers should be rewarded.  The teachers union should stop taking stands that, intentionally or not, protect the few incompetent, lazy or burned-out members in their ranks. 

©New Haven Register 2000