NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 23, 2008

Across the United States, a small but growing number of school districts are experimenting with teacher-pay packages that front-load higher salaries and offer bonuses -- sometimes tens of thousands of dollars' worth -- if student test scores improve or if teachers work in hard-to-staff schools, says USA Today.

At least eight states have begun moving away from a traditional pay model, which increases salaries based on seniority and advanced degrees.  Many of the pay packages are funded by private foundations.  In dozens of districts, test scores already have earned teachers more money, says USA Today.  For example:

  • In Chicago, teachers at a handful of schools can earn up to $8,000 in annual bonuses for improved scores, while mentor teachers and "lead teachers" can earn an extra $7,000 or $15,000, respectively.
  • In Nashville, middle-school math teachers can earn up to $15,000 based on student performance.
  • A proposed realignment of pay in Washington, D.C., public schools could prove the most sweeping of all; teachers with as few as six years of experience could earn well over $100,000 -- more than twice the national average -- if the teachers give up traditional tenure and seniority protections, and if they work under probationary status for a year.

However, teachers are sharply divided:

  • About 88 percent support bonuses for those who agree to work in hard-to-staff schools.
  • About 35 percent support them for improved test scores, but many don't trust test scores to accurately reflect their efforts.
  • The American Federation of Teachers supports bonuses for entire staffs if student achievement rises -- and for individuals if they get advanced credentials, mentor other teachers or work in challenging schools.

Moreover, education reformers of all political ideologies have long called for new ways to pay teachers, and both presidential candidates support merit pay, making it likely that the issue will affect teachers nationwide, says USA Today.

Source: Greg Toppo, "Teachers take test scores to the bank as bonuses," USA Today, October 21, 2008.

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