Business Group Offers Cash Bonuses to N.Y.C. Educators

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A New York City business group is offering $30 million to teachers and administrators whose students achieve higher test scores, banking on the theory that what works in the boardroom will work in the classroom.

The New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce said last week that it will dole out the money over five years, starting with one Brooklyn district in the fall and adding two more next year.

The bonuses could reach $30,000 each for superintendents, $15,000 for principals, and $2,000 for teachers.

"By creating a system with financial incentives, we hope to encourage behavior that will affect student performance," said Richard D. Parson, the chairman of the business group and the president of Time-Warner Inc.

Though offering bonuses to executives who improve the bottom line is common in the corporate world, such incentives are rare in K-12 education and generally come from public coffers.

Kentucky, which has the largest pay-for-performance program in the country, gave out $27 million last year to educators at successful schools. Critics say the program has encouraged cheating and created hostility among teachers over what to do with the money. A recent study of Kentucky's program by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison concluded that fear of negative publicity about their school, not money, was a greater motivation for teachers to work harder on preparing students for tests. ("Bonuses Weren't Prime Reason Schools Worked To Improve, Study in Ky. Says," April 2, 1997.)

Mixed Support

The New York business group's proposal has generated mostly positive reactions from local school leaders, with the notable exception of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, which represents 1,100 principals and other administrators.

Donald Singer, the council's president, said making base salaries competitive with those of other districts in the region should come before any discussion of bonuses. New York City teachers earn between $29,000 and $70,000 a year, principals earn $70,000 to $80,000, and the superintendents of the system's 32 community districts are paid $128,0000, he said.

Mr. Singer said he was also opposed to relying on test scores as the single measure of a school's performance. "You might have a very effective school, but your test scores are flat because you have an influx of immigrants," he said. "You can't measure a school the way you can measure a private business."

Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew and state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, however, have strongly endorsed the bonus idea. In 1996, the legislature gave Mr. Crew additional powers over the hiring of principals and superintendents and more authority to prod low-achieving schools and community districts to improve.

"When you reward teachers and principals who show promise, that's a good way to sustain positive growth," J.D. LaRock, a spokesman for Mr. Crew, said.

Commissioner Mills agreed. "We've put a tremendous amount of pressure on school systems between issuing report cards on school districts, sanctions for low-performing schools, and academic standards," he said. "All of these forces are driving change, but we need to remember that rewards drive change as well."

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