The Future of Teacher Incentives?

If teachers go above and beyond the call of duty, and their students’ achievement benefits from it, should those teachers be rewarded?  What if teachers seek out additional training to improve their craft?  What if teachers commit to increasing curricular rigor … and their students demonstrate improvement?  Is there ever a time when superstar teachers should be rewarded?  Does it matter if the incentive comes from the school district’s annual budget or third-party grant funding?

These are questions that school districts have been grappling with for years.  And the issue of teacher incentive pay is only going to grow more and more heated.  Programs like Denver’s ProComp have figured out how to make it work.  Incentive programs in Minnesota, though, decided to simply reward every teacher in the school.  And we’re still waiting to see the impact of the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund.

But recent developments in Seattle have Eduflack scratching his head.  The National Math & Science Initiative provided schools in Washington more than $13 million to boost AP math and science courses.  As part of the grant, teachers would be paid for time they spent in training and could be financially rewarded for how well their students performed on AP exams. 

The grant has been scuttled.  Pay for Washington State teachers can only be determined in negotiations between the union and the school district.  NMSI wanted to pay the teachers directly (representing less than a quarter of the full grant).  Since that violates the state CBO, these AP math and science incentives are now history.  The full story is here, with kudos to Fordham’s Flypaper for drawing attention to it —

Rules are rules, I get that.  And the unions should play a role in determining how some of this money is used, particularly in terms of professional development and training.  But by denying groups like NMSI an opportunity like this only hurts the teachers and the students they teach.

The Washington Education Association says they can’t allow outside groups to reward teachers.  Why not?  If I own the largest company in the state, and I depend on a steady workforce pool with science and math skills, why can’t I reward those teachers or those schools that are helping to fill my jobs?  If I find out a specific physics or algebra teacher is responsible for my top performers, why can’t I reward her, and even pay her to train other teachers to do it her way?

We continually hear that teachers are underpaid.  We seek out ways to get businesses and outside interests to assume a role, usually financially, in the process.  Is it really so far out of the realm of possibility to provide a teacher incentives outside of the school district budget?  Shouldn’t we be looking for more ideas like this to reward teachers and honor achievement?  Shouldn’t we be looking for innovations to get more good teachers in the classroom and keep them there?  Shouldn’t we be doing more, rather than putting up barriers to protect the status quo?

3 thoughts on “The Future of Teacher Incentives?

  1. If companies reward teachers directly for preparing student to work for them, we risk setting up a system where teachers have a financial motivation to invest their efforts only in those most likely to work for those companies and work to keep other students who might not achieve out of their classes. The need for control over who pays teachers is a real one from a public policy perspective. The person who pays salaries has a degree of control over what goes on in the classroom. Educational agendas need to be set by school boards and institutions with the needs of the entire community (and all learners) in mind.

  2. I agree that educational agendas should be set by school systems and those responsible for the success or failure of our schools.  No doubt about that.  (Though I may question whether school boards are the final arbiter of what is best for our classrooms).  If the person who pays the salary (the school district) currently has control over what happens in the classroom, and teachers are giving their best work to those paying for it (again, the school district), why are we where we are?  If we measure good teaching by student achievement (I know some don’t like that, but that is the measure these days), we should be able to incentivize the best teachers for a job well done.  It’s the professional thing to do.

  3. Providing incentives for student performance will simply cause teachers to avoid work in more impoverished areas. This is already a big issue since those schools typically require teachers who are more skilled in class management and are tenacious in character development. These types of schools will be left for less skilled educators who simply can’t get jobs in higher performing schools.I also think teachers who work harder should be rewarded more. However, I think the best solution will be to increase teacher pay across the board to reflect the importance of the job.

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