Union Contract Locks NYC Teachers Out of STEM Master Corps

Bonuses of $20,000 offered by the Obama Administration as an incentive for “master teachers” in mathematics, science and technology have been put out of reach for teachers in one of the nation’s largest school districts. Teachers employed by the New York City school district may not apply to receive the federally-funded money because the terms of the contract their union signed with the city prohibits any kind of financial bonuses for outstanding achievements in the classroom.

This contract provision is one of the ways that the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, continuously fights attempts by the city to introduce merit pay into the instructor compensation equation. An attempt by the city to recruit hard-to-find science teachers to New York schools by offering them higher salaries or hiring bonuses was blocked by the union for similar reasons.

Here is one more example of how the UFT’s hidebound contractual rules block school reform. In most cases, the contract is designed to protect job rights. From Mulgrew’s point of view, the terms prevent administrators from unfairly disciplining or firing instructors.

The rationale for standing against merit pay is far different. It springs from the credo that all teachers must be paid the same, regardless of how well they do the job or how vital their services are. The perverse consequence is that the best are denied just rewards.

President Obama’s Master Teacher Program announced earlier this summer — which kicks off this year with nearly $100 million in funding — is seeking to alleviate a nationwide shortage of teachers well-skilled in STEM subjects. Students without good science, mathematics and technology instructors are less likely to pursue majors in these fields after they graduate high school. Nationwide, employer demand for STEM professionals is only projected to grow, so making sure there are enough professionals to satisfy this demand is an economic priority for the US.

Studies show that 30% of high school math and 60% of science students are taught by instructors who didn’t major in that subject or aren’t certified.

Obama’s initiative aims to encourage top tech instructors and to give science and math graduate students incentive to teach rather than head for industry. It’s the city’s loss that the UFT contract excludes New York teachers — and students.

In its editorial, the New York Daily News writes that when UFT President Mike Mulgrew and the rest of the union membership stand in the way of the city getting the best STEM teachers in its classrooms, it’s standing in the way of the success of New York’s students — and that when the union’s policy favor teachers at the cost of the kids they’re supposed to be helping, it’s long past the time that a second look be given to the organization’s priorities.