People who love money don’t become teachers. People who do things because it will make them lots of money don’t become teachers. People who will become teachers because they might now and then win Andrew Cuomo’s proposed teacher lottery and pocket what only sounds like a lot of money are not people we want becoming teachers.
Back in January, I wrote a post called Andrew Cuomo remembers he’s a Democrat and his father’s son. I thought about titling this post “Andrew Cuomo forgets he’s a Democrat and makes his father spin in his grave.” The January post was in praise of some fine liberal sentiments he expressed in his State of the State speech. I was moved by the words and glad he said them but they didn’t make me like Cuomo more. He can talk like a liberal but he’s still not liberal enough. And in the same speech he managed to sound not liberal at all.
We are going to continue the transformation of our system and reward performance by creating a teacher excellence fund. It is going to be the first statewide teacher performance bonus program that actually rewards performance for teachers and incentivizes teachers who perform well. Teachers who are rated highly effective on their evaluations, which is the highest statewide rank, would be eligible to receive $20,000 as a bonus, in performance pay, which is on average 27% of their salaries. You want teachers who can perform and do perform? Then incentivize performance with a performance bonus and pay them like the professionals they are.
The teachers lottery Cuomo’s proposing isn’t a liberal or a Democratic idea. It’s Republican and conservative through and through because it’s based on the first and over-riding principle of Republicanism.
Money is everything.
People don’t do anything except for money…unless they’re fools.
But that’s how Republicans think. Doing things for the bucks leads to excellence because the measure of excellence is simply making a lot of bucks.
The principle breaks down like this. The right people, people like us, wearers of five-thousand dollar suits and occupiers of corner offices, and people who want to be like us, won’t work hard unless we---um, they---are paid gobs of money. Everybody else, the shiftless rabble, won’t work at all unless they’re terrified they won’t get paid any money at all.
Teacher lotteries---What Cuomo’s proposing used to be called “merit pay”. I call them lotteries because you win by hitting the right numbers and because luck plays a big role in whether or not you hit them: even “excellent” teachers can’t control what students land in their classrooms. Anybody who doesn’t understand how much having the right sort of students, students who are prepared and eager to learn, contributes to teacher “excellence” doesn’t understand how teaching works or what it really means to be an excellent teacher---teacher lotteries like the one Cuomo’s proposing for New York may look at first glance like the first aspect of the principle but they’re really expressions of the second because they always come attached to plans to make teachers terrified they won’t get paid anything. They start with the elimination of tenure, the breaking of teacher unions, the end of collective bargaining, and the scaling back and even elimination of benefits.
Cuomo wants all that too.
His fondest dream is to break the unions.
This isn’t because he’s a closet Republican, though. It’s because a born tyrant and can’t stand it when anyone stands up to him or gets in the way of his doing what he wants to do exactly the way he wants to do it.
It’s also because one way he truly is his father’s son is in holding a grudge on the old man’s behalf. Andrew Cuomo blames unions for making Mario Cuomo’s time as governor less than idyllic.
He has never seen unions as one constituency with interests a Democratic governor has to balance against others’. He sees them as his personal enemies. He sees all the other constituencies as his personal enemies too. Like I said. A born tyrant.
Back to the teacher lotteries.
In a system in which real bonuses are fairly awarded, every employee earns one or can earn one. The size of your bonus depends on how good a job you do. Excellent employees will earn higher bonuses as a matter of course. But that doesn’t prevent the less than excellent from receiving theirs. There’s incentive for everyone, the excellent, the very good, the good, the average to try to be better, and there’s a penalty for incompetence, but there’s no serious penalty for trying hard to be better but not being better enough or for failing to be better than the best. But teacher lotteries are winner take all. If you win, I lose. Teacher lotteries put teachers in competition with each other.
Putting employees in competition with each other is something law firms and sales offices do. Law firms and sales offices are not environments children should grow up in.
Good teachers work in cooperation with other teachers at their schools. Good schools unite teachers. Schools start to fail when teachers are left to go it alone. At such schools, good teachers work harder and desperately to make up for the schools’ failings and wear themselves out in the process. Average teachers just muddle along. And bad teachers just give up. At a failing school, there is no incentive for teachers to perform well except that which comes from their hearts. And hearts give out. Teacher lotteries don’t change that dynamic. They intensify it. They dis-incentivize teamwork and collegiality. They incentivize an every teacher for her/himself attitude.
The lotteries are only affordable for the state if very few teachers can win them. And few will. Most teachers aren’t excellent and are never going to be excellent, for the same reason that most people in every other line of work---including governing states---aren’t excellent. They’re human. Human beings on the whole are only as good at anything as they need to be to get by. And this isn’t because they’re lazy and don’t try or aren’t incentivized to become more than human. It’s because people are born with a limited set of talents and, something else necessary to achieving excellence, energy. Most of us just aren’t physically strong enough. No incentive in the world can turn us into superhumans. And, although vanity prevents us from admitting it outloud or even to ourselves, at some level we know this about ourselves. We know what we’re good at and what we’re less than good at. We know our limits and how far we can push past them before we collapse or start screwing up because we’re just not excellent enough. So, never mind the incompetents, what happens when the good and very good but not excellent teachers realize they’re never going to win one of the lotteries?
Pretty much nothing different. The good and very good along with the incompetent go about their jobs as they’ve always done except maybe a little more dis-incentivized to try harder.
Basically, teacher lotteries don’t incentivize any one to excellence except the naive and deluded. The already excellent don’t need the incentive. They’re incentivized by their own talent, ambition, drive, commitment to their students, pride in themselves as professionals.
That’s what makes them excellent.
But how many times can an individual excellent teacher hit the lottery anyway?
Odds are not even once. But let’s say you are an excellent teacher and the odds and gods favor you and you hit it twice in your career.
That’s forty extra grand in the bank.
Your kid’s college education. Provided your kid goes to a state school and lives at home.
But average it out over the course of a thirty year teaching career.
That’s a bonus of $1333.33 a year.
That would be a welcome chunk of change if you’ve got a big credit card bill due or need to have the car repaired, provided you have it in hand when you need it, but it won’t make up for the raises you aren’t getting, the increased amount you have to spend on health insurance, the larger contribution you have to make to the privatized retirement accounts that will replace real pensions. But you’re not supposed to notice that the overall objective is to pay you and your less than “excellent” colleagues less.
Teacher lotteries are premised on “excellent” teachers being as driven by money as lawyers and salesmen and too stupid to do the math.
The real plan isn’t to increase the quality of public schools. The plan is to make them cost less to maintain. The plan is to pretend to be doing something for the schools when the real goal is to save the rich from paying taxes to send your kids to school.
And a key part of the plan is to pay teachers less while making them as fearful of losing their jobs as factory workers in right to work states.
Who’d want to become a teacher under those conditions?
I believe the honest “Reformers’” answer to that is Who cares? What does it matter? My kids aren’t going to public school.
And some would answer that way, the more brazen but thoughtful if cynical ones.
Most of the rest won’t answer. They’ll just do what dishonest politicians and business leaders always do when asked to explain themselves: pretend they weren’t asked the question, change the subject, or simply restate what they just said that needs explaining as if restatement is explanation.
Some, however, have another answer. Their answer is based on their not thinking of teaching as a profession. It their minds it’s basically volunteer work, community service, that any well-meaning, intelligent, but not exceptionally talented person can do.
That person, by the way, is in their minds a woman.
Teaching is women’s work and that makes it less important work. Easy work. Work that doesn’t require talent, skill, or real intelligence. Just a warm heart and an ability to keep the kiddies in their seats for a few hours a day while knowledge just seeps into their heads. Teachers aren’t professionals. They’re well-meaning amateurs.
And they should be paid accordingly and not expect anything more. Their reward is knowing they’ve done good.
And who would become teachers under those conditions? The people who should become teachers. Very nice married ladies whose own kids are grown and very nice young single ladies who need to make a respectable living until they get married and start having kids of their own and nuns, all of whom go into teaching out of the goodness of their hearts.
“Excellent” teachers are greedheads and innumerates or saints.
It gets worse.
The chief criteria for judging and rewarding excellence is test scores.
Excellent teachers are teachers whose students do well on standardized tests.
And this is the other part of Cuomo’s plan to improve New York Schools. He wants to make how their students do on standardized tests fifty per cent of teachers’ evaluations. Actually, it’s the main part of his plan. The teacher lottery is smoke and mirrors. It allows him to talk as if he wants to reward “highly effective” teachers. What he really wants to do is punish teachers whose students don’t measure up and punish schools whose teachers don’t measure up by taking jobs away from the teachers and money away from the schools.
Never mind the problems with judging students’ individual levels achievement and depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding by their test scores.
Never mind the problems this presents to teachers who have to teach to the test while still actually teaching.
And never mind the classism at work---the better prepared students are for school, the better they do on standardized tests, and, surprise, surprise, the best prepared students live in the richest suburban school districts where most of the parents are professionals with college degrees and that can afford to incentivize excellence by hiring it to begin with.
Test scores are how the bureaucrats who dole out the state and federal dollars measure the success and failure of schools and school districts. Higher test scores keep the money coming coming in. Schools that don’t “perform” are punished by having money withheld. Which means they have to cut their budgets. Which means laying off staff or not hiring needed replacements or, usually, both, thus incentivizing teachers who manage to keep their jobs by burdening them with overcrowded classrooms, the stress of having to compensate for the understaffing and diminution of resources---like crayons, glue sticks, and books---and the fear that they’re next. What this means on the administrative level is that superintendents and principals are incentivize to do whatever it takes to keep the money coming in.
Running a school becomes like running a law firm or a sales office. The bosses’ chief concern is to make money. And like bosses in any business they’re going to “encourage” their employees to work harder at the things that make the business money.
Grade school principals should not be made to inspire their teaching staffs by sounding like Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.
You want to incentivize teachers, Governor Cuomo? Here’s what you do.
Pay them well enough that they don’t have to worry about money, give them job security, improve working conditions all around so they focus on their work and make the kinds of on-the-spot, independent, creative decisions that as professionals they are qualified to make without being afraid that making those decisions will cost them their jobs and without having their decision-making influenced by how much money they stand to make if they hit the jackpot.
The teacher lotteries don’t incentivize “excellence.” They incentivize doing it all for the bucks and as Thers says at Whiskey Fire:
The very definition of a terrible teacher would be someone flogging kids to get better test scores in order to make more money.
Outside law firms and sales offices, professionals get paid well to start and are given usually modest but reasonable raises based on their having performed well according to standards higher than just how much money they made for their employers and having made all their colleagues look like lazy incompetents. Bonuses are bonuses. Professionals get them in addition to raises not in lieu of them and certainly not in stingy compensation for cuts in pay and benefits.
I should be using the past tense. That’s how it used to be before the misers and thieves and sociopaths got control of all the money in the private sector. Now there are fewer professionals by that measure everywhere in every line of work and more wage and debt slaves.
The same misers and thieves and sociopaths want control of all the money in the public school systems. Cuomo wants to open up the safe for them.
He wants more charter schools.
Homework, and, yes it will be on the test:
Thers’ whole post at Whiskey Fire, Andrew Cuomo: Let’s Make New York More Like Wisconsin.
This story by Will Bredderman at The Observer, De Blasio Education Chancellor Rips Cuomo Teacher Evaluation Proposal.
Teachers rally against Cuomo’s education plan by Bennet J. Louden at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Baloney" at the Washington Post.
And from Kenneth Lovett at the New York Daily News, Andrew Cuomo rips teacher unions as selfish 'industry' more interested in members' rights than student needs. But! Cuomo says claim he dislikes teachers is ‘nonsense’. (Jessica Bakeman, Capital.)
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