pay raise

Hinting at education platform, GOP's Joe Lhota backs merit pay

A screenshot from the Daily News' livestream coverage.
A screenshot from the Daily News’ livestream coverage.

Joe Lhota wants to bring performance-based pay for teachers to New York City finally and he thinks he can convince a union that’s long been opposed to the idea.

Making his debut on education in a forum hosted by the New York Daily News last night, Lhota said he would seek to replicate Newark’s new merit pay system if he became mayor.

He hailed the Bloomberg administration’s record on education and aligned himself with the mayor on policies of closing low-performing schools and supporting charter schools. But he said the Bloomberg legacy was incomplete.

“The one piece that’s missing is working with the union for merit pay and changing their approach,” Lhota said in an interview after the forum.

Lhota also said teachers should receive pay bumps if they teach a high-demand subject or work in the toughest schools.

Pressed to explain how he’d achieve a compensation system that’s based on performance, since the United Federation of Teachers has always opposed individual merit pay initiatives, Lhota, a Republican, said he wouldn’t have to start from scratch. On stage and in the interview, he repeatedly referenced Newark’s landmark teacher contract passed by the city’s union last year and praised the role that former UFT president Randi Weingarten, now president of the American Federation of Teachers, played in getting the deal done.

“There’s a road map for it,” Lhota said. “[Randi Weingarten] was integrally involved in Newark with Governor Christie in determining how the merit pay would work.”

“Seeing Randi at the table … was a true sea change for teachers and their unions, that they’re willing to go the extra step to make merit pay happen,” he added.

Lhota didn’t specify how to fund the bonuses. Newark’s system will cost at least $50 million and is paid for now entirely by private funds, most of which will come from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic foundation.

Performance-based pay for teachers is a thorny issue in New York City, which piloted a version of merit pay in 200 schools in 2007. The pilot enabled schools to give out up to $3,000 bonuses to teachers if the school improved its progress report results. But a study of student achievement in those schools found that test scores did not improve and actually dropped in middle school grades.

That pilot was launched collaboratively by Mayor Bloomberg and Weingarten, but quietly shelved in 2010.  Last year, Bloomberg proposed giving $20,000 bonuses to individual teachers rated highly effective two years in a row, a proposal that the union quickly shut the door on. The city and union have not yet reached a deal on an evaluation system to rate teachers on a more detailed level.

Still, Lhota expressed optimism that he could get UFT President Michael Mulgrew to come around. He said that working with the union to lobby the Governor and state legislature for more equitable funding for New York City would be a top priority.

“You know, when I deal with unions I always try to find common ground,” Lhota said. “Common ground here would be getting a fair share for the New York City Department of Education. And I can’t see a better partner in doing that other than Michael Mulgrew.”

In a statement, Mulgrew said he remained opposed to merit pay and declined to take up Lhota’s invitation to collaborate.

“We don’t negotiate in public with officeholders, much less with candidates for office,” Mulgrew said. “But there’s no evidence that individual merit pay addresses the real need of our schools — helping children learn.”

Lhota was one of seven mayoral candidates at the forum, which included four likely Democratic candidates — Christine Quinn, John Liu, Bill De Blasio and Bill Thompson — and two other Republican candidates — Tom Allon and John Catsimatidis.

Allon has also called for individual merit pay. But while Quinn, the Democratic frontrunner, has said she would consider paying teachers more to staff high-need subjects and schools, she has rejected the notion of individual merit pay based on teacher performance, saying that data do not support the practice. On Tuesday, when moderator Errol Louis asked who opposed a merit pay system, all of the Democratic candidates raised their hands.

The 90-minute event focused squarely on education and covered a variety of contentious issues, including school closures, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and the teacher contract.

Lhota has an uphill climb against his established Democratic rivals. Although he is the Republican frontrunner, recent polling data shows that many New Yorkers still aren’t familiar with Lhota, a former investment banker, top aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and most recently, Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”