Paul Toner Promotes Merit Pay
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
On Thursday, April 19, I heard Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teacher Association (MTA), speak at Harvard University about his role in the union and his opinion on the Great Teachers Great Schools (GTGS) campaign.
Toner commented in his introduction that he’s “very happy to see young people in college, whether you’re going into education or not, so interested in making a difference in education policy. I just want to make sure you have the facts, that you know that there are people in the teacher union movement and teachers in the classroom who have the best interest of their students in heart, and we should be involved in an open dialogue and discussion about that.”
But his next comments surprised me, since they were a stark depature from the usual opinion of ateacher’s union: “As president of MTA, I’ve done my best to represent my members, but also to bring about change,” Toner said during his introduction, referring to his contentious proposal to use student performance in evaluating teachers and to make MCAS scores one of these performance measures.
Paul Toner also brought along with him Jessica Tang, a union member and teacher at the Boston Public Schools. Chris Buttimer, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, also spoke as a panelist. “You guys probably look at me as the old union guy, and I wanted to have a couple of younger people who are more closely associated with the classroom to help answer any questions you might have,” Toner said. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to ask many questions after the three of them finished speaking.
The moderator’s first question was about the leadership structure of the union and how Toner balances his own opinions with those of the union. Additionally, the panel was asked to comment on their opinion of the GTGS campaign, which, according to Stand for Children’s website, aims to ensure that public schools emphasize performance when deciding teacher retention, to create clear and consistent guidelines across Massachusetts for the staffing and retention, and to empower schools to close the achievement gap.
Toner spoke for about 15 minutes before passing it on to Tang and Buttimer, who had opposite views on several issues. They both spoke not only about why they were opposed to the GTGS campaign, but also about Stand for Children.
“Stand has been in Massachusetts for nine or 10 years,” Toner said. “For the first five years, we worked well together and I encouraged people to join Stand. At that point, they were advocating for support for more resources for public education, for supports for teachers, etc. A few years ago, Stand started to take some positions that, in my opinion, they didn’t need to take.” When speaking about a specific piece of legislation, Toner added that if, in their pending ballot initiative, Stand simply included a “look at performance first and seniority as a tie-breaker, I would probably have some difficult arguing against that because I think we all agree that people should be doing their job well.”
Tang also spoke about her opposition to the specific piece of legislation when she added, “What’s crazy to me is that the governor himself, the legislators, the principals association, teachers association, Parent Teachers Association, and anyone who works directly with kids and students in schools is against it, and the only person still pushing for it is Stand for Children which, to me, is so un-collaborative. It makes me feel that it’s not about children anymore.”
July 2 is the final day that Stand can remove the ballot initiative. If there is no compromise on the bill, Stand will likely go ahead on that date with the initiative instead. In my opinion, this is not the right thing to do, because a bill can be amended, whereas a ballot initiative cannot. A compromise must be made. Whether or not the panelists would agree with this is irrelevant because they went about informing us of their views by using polarizing language in a lecture-like meeting that was not conducive to any sort of productive discussion.
I cannot say for certain whether a compromise between Stand for Children and the Massachusetts Teacher Association will come to fruition. After seeing so many college students genuinely interested in hearing both sides of the issue at hand, however, I feel confident that there is reason for hope regarding the future of education.