Recruitment & Retention

Va. to Provide Bonuses for Middle-Grades Math Teachers

By Bess Keller — May 24, 2005 2 min read
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Virginia wants a few good math teachers for middle schools in academic trouble—and will pay annual bonuses of $10,000 to snag them.

The program, announced last week, aims to help some 70 of the state’s middle schools climb out from under designations that their students have not met federal or state standards in mathematics.

Schools accepted into the program, known as the Virginia Middle School Teacher Corps, can use a list of expert teachers compiled by the Virginia Department of Education to find a match for their math job openings.

Teachers accepted into the program who transfer to designated schools may be paid as much as $10,000 extra for each year of their three-year commitment.

“We wanted it to be an amount that grabbed your attention,” said Linda M. Wallinger, the department’s assistant superintendent for instruction.

Teachers already working at one of the low-performing schools who meet the criteria for the corps may earn as much as $5,000 extra a year.

While many states and districts are beginning to turn toward bonuses to attract teachers into low-performing schools and to specialties where the candidate pool is shallow, such as middle school math, the Virginia program is notable not only for the hefty bonus amounts, but also for helping schools find the kind of teachers they need.

Virginia also has launched a pilot program, in effect this year, that pays experienced and skilled teachers transferring into one of four hard-to-staff schools a hiring bonus of $15,000. Incentive money is also available for principals going to struggling schools.

‘In the Vanguard’

The programs have drawn praise from the Teaching Commission, a nonpartisan New York City-based group pushing for higher teacher quality that is calling for other states to emulate Virginia’s approach.

“Under Gov. Mark Warner’s leadership, Virginia is in the vanguard of helping at-risk schools attract and retain top talent,” Gaynor McCown, the executive director of the commission, said in a statement.

While their main job is to be classroom teaching, the corps members might also work with new or struggling teachers in the schools. Plans call for the teachers to receive training this summer in reaching students who have not performed well in math.

Officials stressed that specific choices among candidates are left to the districts and schools. A district may hire a teacher who is subsequently accepted into the corps and thus eligible for the bonus.

To be eligible for the corps, teachers must have at least three years of experience teaching math, a college major or minor in the subject, and a state teaching license with a specialty in middle-level math. They must also submit two letters of recommendation attesting to their “success in teaching mathematics in challenging environments.”

Districts and schools are required to apply for the bonus money by drawing up a plan showing how they would use the corps member based on a school’s math-achievement deficiencies.

Inquiries about the program are brisk, according to its coordinator, Connie Fisher, but so far only three districts representing four schools and only about 15 teachers have applied.

Ideally, officials said, each of the low-performing schools would have a teacher of corps caliber by the start of the coming school year.

“The premise of the program,” Ms. Wallinger said, “is to make sure there is at a minimum one well-qualified math teacher in every school.”

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