Do Newark teachers 'like' their Facebook-funded contract?

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 01, 2016

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, shown here with U.S. Senator and former Newark mayor Cory Booker. A newly released study has found that a contract negotiated with a portion of Zuckerberg's $100 million grant to the city has met with mixed results in Newark schools

 

NEWARK — More than three years after Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift paved the way for a historic new contract that offered performance-based incentives to Newark teachers is meeting with mixed reviews.

According to newly released data by a Washington D.C. think tank, most teachers agree the bonuses should be available, but fewer than 30 percent say the new compensation system is working well as practiced by the district.

The revamped pay scale fared better among school administrators, with 53 percent of those surveyed saying they believed the system to be fair.

Ratified by the district and Newark Teachers Union in 2012, the contract was hailed as one of the key cogs in the comprehensive overhaul of Newark's floundering education system touted by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a slew of matching donors. The deal included a provision for the $1 million, three-year study by American Institutes of Research to examine both its implementation and impact, also funded through the donations.

Eleanor Fulbeck, a senior AIR researcher who worked on the study, said she found most teachers with a less than favorable view of the new compensation system were those who reported a less than complete understanding of its functions.

She characterized that as somewhat predictable given that only about 37 percent of teachers who participated in the study reported being covered under the performance-based scale.

Approximately 44 percent said they had opted to remain on the traditional scale, while another 19 percent said they were unclear which they were covered by.

"People who are more amenable to it anyway are probably seeking that info out," Fulbeck said. "In some ways its not surprising that some might not know about this."

The voluntary survey was conducted during May and June of 2015, and 65 percent of both teachers and school leaders participated.

Participants did give high marks to other newly introduced initiatives, such as a four-tiered evaluation system and assistance from peers for low-performing teachers.

Researchers also noted that of teachers who earned high marks, more than 75 percent had been retained by the district.

In a statement, Superintendent Chris Cerf hailed the study's early returns as validation that the district was moving closer to its ultimate goal — to raise the quality of instruction for its roughly 35,000 students.


"We think these findings show promising progress, reinforcing what we already know - that we are retaining our best teachers," he said.

Fulbeck cautioned that the data indicated only that more effective teachers were retained in the district, but the study could not determine whether this was due to the new system.

"One interpretation is there is more effective teachers in the district, and that's why you're seeing an increase," she said. "Another possibility is that evaluators over time have gotten a little more lenient."

Whether the new strategies have brought results to the city's classrooms also remains an open question. AIR's study will run through September 2017, and Fulbeck said data gathered thus far would still need to be compared to districts with a similar prior achievement levels.

Academic progress in the district has been slow, as indicated by recent PARCC test results that put it among the worst performers in the state.

Teachers also returned mixed reviews for other elements of the deal, such as extended school days and other interventions for consistently low-performing schools. Of teachers who took part in the programs, 51 percent said they found they found them useful "to a moderate or large extent."

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon said he had yet to examine the data offered by AIR, but that he felt many teachers had yet to gain a complete understanding of the newly introduced system.

"There's maybe a little disconnect on the part of some members who don't understand it," Abeigon said.

He added that that he and many others still have complaints about portions of the contract, such as its requirement that teachers who obtain advanced degrees are only eligible for increased pay if they receive them from institutions pre-approved by the district. As of Monday, the only school on that list is the Relay Graduate School for Education, an New York City-based university with ties to prominent charter school networks.

The NTU's current contract expired in July 2015, and negotiations for a new deal have yet to begin. When the parties return the table, however, Abeigon declined to commit to performance-based provisions long-term.

"If this leadership continues on this course, we will not have that in the next contract," he said.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment