NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Two Approaches To Teacher Bonuses -- And The Results

February 21, 2001

States are using two basic approaches when paying financial incentives to teachers. One involves offering signing bonuses to attract new teachers or persuade existing ones to move to hard-to-fill slots. The other links bonuses to performance and rewards those who improve their skills through education.

The latter strategy seems preferable to many education specialists, while signing bonuses have produced disappointing results:

  • After the first year of a signing bonus program in Massachusetts -- which sought to attract nonteaching professionals by offering them $20,000 bonuses paid over four years if they would teach in low-performing districts -- 18 percent who received the $8,000 front-loaded bonus didn't return, twice the national attrition rate.
  • Despite sending recruiting mailings to 22,000 teachers in South Carolina offering them an additional $18,000 a year if they would act as mentors at underperforming schools, the program wound up with only 74 participants.

On the other hand, achievement-based bonuses have produced some encouraging results:

  • After offering teachers in Mississippi a $6,000 annual bonus for passing a battery of tests administered by the national standards board, 755 teachers passed and the number is growing by 50 percent a year.
  • A business group in Illinois spent $200,000 last year -- and is raising another $200,000 this year -- to help teachers pay the $2,300 application fee for certification.

Source: Russell Gold, "Teacher Bonuses Get Mixed Grades," Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)


Browse more articles on Education Issues