Ogden schools: Putting the cart before the horse

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Teachers in the Ogden School District outside of Salt Lake City were given an unwelcome ultimatum this month: sign a new contract that phases out raises based on experience, or be fired. All but one of the district's 697 teachers signed the new deal. 

This came after contract talks between the district and the local NEA affiliate broke down around performance pay. The district, dead set on phasing out raises for seniority and implementing performance pay, decided to withdraw from contract negotiations entirely. Such an action is only possible in a handful of states where collective bargaining is neither mandatory nor prohibited, but rather is left up to the local school board to decide. But even in these states such a move is highly unusual.

The district claims it will resume collective bargaining in the following school year. Nevertheless, some Utah teachers worry that Ogden is setting a precedent for other districts. And one state legislator remarked that he hoped Ogden's example will lead to similar reforms statewide.

But is performance pay really worth going to the mat over if it means bringing down teacher morale? There are certainly many arguments—some of which we've made—that the current way we compensate teachers is fundamentally flawed. But without meaningful changes to teacher evaluations, how will Ogden know who is deserving of a raise? We took a peek at Ogden's evaluation instrument and student performance is not even a factor in a teacher's rating. 

So it seems that Ogden, not unlike many districts we've observed, is putting the cart before the horse. 

Emily Cohen