To the Editor:
A letter to the editor in your Dec. 2, 2009, issue spoke to the “demeaning” nature of incentives as applied to the teaching profession. I disagree. Awards for teachers who serve in high-needs schools could help mitigate their movement away from such schools, as well as attract excellent teachers there.
Performance awards should not be given for taking on extra hours, more mentoring, or harder-to-teach classes, but rather for doing what teachers are supposed to do—teach—and accomplishing that at defined exemplary levels.
Incentive awards should not be given to individuals, as the lessons of “merit pay” indicate that this practice creates a divisive, competitive environment. Rather, they should be given to subgroups of teachers or whole schools, where the school or team is seen as the unit of measure in determining success. Such awards improve teamwork and collaboration in achieving common goals. It is not demeaning to reward teachers for accomplishing their charge at a high level of performance. Nor is it a punishment not to receive such an award.
A majority of public schools with high populations of students who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English proficiency, or need special education services have higher-than-average teacher-turnover rates. The cost of not educating at-risk children—which resounds through the prisons of America, our welfare and health-care systems, and public-assistance programs—far exceeds the cost of educating them. It therefore is imperative that schools with large numbers of such children have excellent, highly skilled teachers, whose cumulative effects are profound.
Interim Associate Superintendent (Retired)
Prince William County Public Schools
A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2010 edition of Education Week as Give Incentive Awards To Whole Schools, Groups