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Educators call Teacher Excellence Fund dangerous and divisive

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The New York State 2014-2015 budget includes $20 million for additional teacher compensation, but delegates at the New York State United Teachers’ (NYSUT) annual Representative Assembly don’t want it. On April 5, delegates approved a resolution opposing the Teacher Excellence fund program.

The Teacher Excellence Fund will be used to reward teachers up to an additional $20,000 in annual compensation. To be eligible for the award, a teacher must have an evaluation of “highly effective,” the highest rating earned under the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system. Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed creating the fund in his 2014 State of the State Address as a way to recruit and retain the most effective teachers.

The resolution opposing the merit pay scheme was introduced by Tomia Smith of the Massapequa Federation of Teachers. Smith opposes the Teacher Excellence awards because they will be based on what she terms a flawed rating system. The APPR score is a composite rating based on classroom observations, review of students’ work, including state test scores, and other evidence of a teacher’s performance. NYSUT has criticized the new rating system for it’s inclusion of student test scores in the calculation saying it puts too much emphasis on standardized tests.

Smith also opposes the Teacher Excellence Fund awards because of the competition it creates in the school system.

"Competitive compensation leads to union destruction. Any negotiated or non-negotiated means of obtaining these funds would create a competitive atmosphere among our members. The art of education relies heavily on collaboration among colleagues." — Tomia Smith, Teacher President, Massapequa Federation of Teachers

Peter Stuhlmiller, representative from the Kenmore Teachers Association, suggests the $20 million would be better spent on professional development across the state thereby benefiting all schools. The resolution calls on NYSUT to lobby legislators in an effort to eliminate the Governor’s Teacher Excellence Fund program.

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