Congestion Pricing, Charter Schools and Merit Pay: Can Marketplace Solutions Make the World a Better Place?

… a relatively new invidious myth –

that U.S. public education is so ineffective

that it must be transformed by market solution.

Norm Fruchter

Urban Schools, Public Will


From congestion pricing, to charter schools and on to merit pay, the solution to the ills of society, whether global warming or schools seems to be the marketplace. Mayor Bloomberg wants to “tax” drivers eight dollars for each trip into Manhattan. For the owners of the seemingly endless number of million dollar plus coops and condos – no problem. For the poor slobs living in Queens and Brooklyn: fork up the eight bucks!!

On the national scene the funding tzars – Broad and Gates – want to make education the frontispiece of the 08 election, with merit pay for teachers at the top of the agenda.

On the local level schools will be measured against each other – to use the old college term, “on a curve,” with the lowest performers receiving an F and the top performers an A – based on “average pupil growth,” a complex concept  that to this point is ill-defined.

The market forces folk want to cast aside the problem of educating poor children of color. Create structures that remove all impediments to the ebb and flow of the market (unions, parents and politicians), and if kids still don’t prosper it must be their fault, after all, the marketplace is never wrong.

Before we start down a foggy path can we find exemplars: examples of these theories, and investigate the appropriateness of adopting in NYC, or, elsewhere.

The merit pay system  in Denver is not a pay-for-performance plan: it is a pay for achieving some self directed teachers goals, not a bad idea. It’s describes itself as a teacher compensation plan and was negotiated with the local teacher union. A decade ago a merit pay system emerged, in of all places, New York City. Breakthrough for Learning was a complex, carefully constructed plan and stumbled over it’s own complexity and was abandoned. Perhaps surprisingly one of the national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers has a detailed and well thought position on merit pay plans.

Those pesky parents, teachers, advocates and elected officials have derailed the headlong dash for market solutions in New York City, and, started, albeit a baby step, towards collaboration with the those very same folk that the city was jousting a week ago.

Creating high achieving schools for inner city children is hard work:

* school leaders who are great teachers with proven leadership skills.

* well educated, caring, well compensated teachers in school cultures that foster collaboration.

* appropriate curricula with normative and summative assessments that are accepted by the stakeholders.

* an active and well informed parent body – a “bottom-up” accountability system.

* a supportive school community

* a district leadership that supports teaching and learning

* a political atmosphere that funds and supports schools

It’s seems to be a lot easier to sit in some think tank and philosophize from afar. Getting in there and getting your hands dirty seems like too much work.

Will the latest reorganization in the Apple change schools? Create those high achieving classrooms that we seek?

At Monday’s rollout of the new organization hundreds of principals, or Region/Tweed apparachniks, it was hard to tell, watched a glossy video re: the “next new thing,” and, wandered about as the school support organizations looked for customers.

On Wednesday the Department held the first of a series of Boro Meetings at Tweed, three principals showed up…


One response to “Congestion Pricing, Charter Schools and Merit Pay: Can Marketplace Solutions Make the World a Better Place?

  1. Another good article with another flagrant miscue. As far as I know, the Borough Meeting on Wednesday was supposed to be in Staten Island. That might explain the poor turnout at Tweed?


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