Newark, New Jersey Teachers Contract to Include Merit Pay

A new three year contract for Newark, New Jersey's teachers includes a clause that will link pay raises to performance, marking the first time that merit pay will become part of a teacher contract in New Jersey. The new system will reward teachers ranked as effective or highly effective with financial bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $2,500.

As negotiations developed, observers didn't believe it would be possible to get unions, who have been traditionally opposed to merit pay, to agree to accept it as part of their contract. It has historically been difficult to implement policies unpopular with union membership in New Jersey, where union protections are some of the strongest in the country. The fact that Newark became an exception could be credited to Joseph Del Grosso, who, in his capacity as the president of the Newark Teachers Union, expressed guarded support for linking pay to performance by saying that the measure has worked well in the private sector and could work to motivate teachers to improve.

At the time, Del Grosso said that he would be open to merit pay if the district included peer review in their evaluation system. The final agreement seems to do just that, with the inclusion of a teacher in the three-person assessment committee – also made up of a school administrator and the principal – who will all yield equal power.

Union officials and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson will sign the preliminary deal this afternoon, said Nat Bender, a spokesman for the American Federation for Teachers New Jersey, the statewide union associated with the local Newark teachers union.

Bender said the union and the district discussed merit pay — or "performance enhancers" — for months.

The new contract complies with the rules set out in the tenure law which came into effect this summer. This means that all teachers will be classified into four performance tiers – highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective – with the top two being eligible for performance pay increases. There will also be financial bonuses offered to teachers who work in underperforming schools and those teaching subjects in which the district is experiencing a teacher shortage.

Teachers with low ratings will be eligible for a mentoring program to help them improve, union officials said. Under the new contract, teachers deemed ineffective or partially effective will also get merit bonuses if they improve their rating.

Newark is considered the hotbed of education reform in the state and has been working to overhaul itself ever since it fell under state control in 1995. The efforts have drawn interest and, more importantly, donations from many private companies and individuals, including a $100 million dollar grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Part of the Zuckerberg grant will be used to fund merit raises agreed to as part of the new contract.

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