CHICAGO — Breaking with its leadership, the nation's largest teachers union on Wednesday soundly rejected the use of job performance evaluations in paying bonuses.
Delegates to the National Education Association convention, meeting in Chicago this week, scrapped the performance proposal after many rank-and-file members voiced concerns that it was unfair to teachers and to the children who most need excellent teachers.
"If teachers compete for bonuses," said Barbara Kerr, a delegate from California, "who will want to teach the poor students? The students who don't speak English well?"
Leaders of the union, which represents 2.5 million members and two-thirds of the nation's teachers, said many local unions have already negotiated such job performance contracts. Under the union plan, such performance evaluations would not rely on student scores on standardized tests and would be implemented only with the guidance of teachers. As an example, supporters of the proposal said a district might pay bonuses to teachers who speak two languages or who complete technological training.
Tim Dedman of Kentucky spoke in support of endorsing the option for local unions to negotiate for job performance bonuses, if that is what they desire.
"We don't have the right to dictate" to union locals, Dedman said. "I trust our members to do what is right. Let's give our members the flexibility they need."
The job performance issue is also being studied by the nation's other large teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, which is holding its national convention in Philadelphia.
Some teachers' unions, including those in Denver and Columbus, Ohio, have already entered into agreements with school districts that give teachers bonuses if certain goals are met.
The idea of such cash incentives has become popular as business leaders and politicians have called for higher standards in primary education. Both Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and Vice President Al Gore have proposed some shift toward performance incentives.