Recruitment & Retention

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

May 01, 2004 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The $20,000 signing bonus promised to new teachers in Massachusetts is disappearing ... fast.
—Photograph by William Whitehurst/CORBIS

What: Appalled by high failure rates on Massachusetts’ new teacher licensing test in 1998—only 41 percent of candidates passed its basic skills section—state legislators decided they had to buy some smarter educators. To lure the best and the brightest, they announced that the state would offer $20,000 signing bonuses, paid in four annual installments, to top college students and dynamic mid-career professionals. “We want this to be elitist, and unapologetically so,” then-state Senate President Thomas Birmingham told the Boston Globe in 1998. Over the past five years, the program has attracted thousands of applicants, many from outside Massachusetts, and the state has bestowed the bonuses on about 350 highly qualified candidates who’ve entered the classroom following a seven-week certification course.

The Problem: Massachusetts has run out of money. To help shrink this past summer’s $3 billion shortfall, state lawmakers raided the $70 million endowment whose earnings paid for the bonuses and other teacher-quality initiatives. Education officials distributed a final round of payments last summer, meaning that only the first two of the five annual classes of educators recruited through the program received the entire bonus promised to them.

Result: While the several hundred teachers who’ve been stiffed $4,000 to $12,000 are dismayed by the turn of events, others charge that the bonuses failed to deliver from day one. Catherine Boudreau, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, argues that the program’s key assumption—that any intelligent person can teach with little or no training—led to placing unqualified people in classrooms, using money that “would have been much better spent going directly to the schools.” Researchers with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, a Harvard University-based group that studies recruitment and retention, found that the program’s fast-track certification, not the promise of extra money, was what attracted candidates. And in the absence of supportive school environments and additional training, the bonuses did not compel novices to stay—about half of the 1999 bonus recipients stopped teaching in less than four years. “Incentives only work if people have the capacity to do what you incentivize them to do,” notes Harvard researcher Edward Liu.

—Samantha Stainburn

Related Tags:


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Recruitment & Retention Letter to the Editor Teacher Housing Is a Critical Need in Native Communities
We can't forget about Indian lands school districts when talking about teacher housing, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Recruitment & Retention Q&A What Will Teacher Shortages Look Like in 2024 and Beyond? A Researcher Weighs In
Tuan Nguyen has been collecting teacher-vacancy data for years now. He shares what he's learned so far and his forecast for future turnover.
6 min read
Illustration of an empty office chair with a sign on the back that reads "Vacant"
Recruitment & Retention Opinion What Teachers of Color Say They Need Most
Teachers of color face the same challenges as their white peers, in addition to others.
15 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Recruitment & Retention 'Lesson Planning in the Laundry Room': What Housing for Teachers Looks Like
From converted schools and tiny houses, to shiny new complexes, districts have tackled new ideas to make sure their teachers can live nearby.
7 min read
Lisa Raskin, who is a teacher at Jefferson Union High School District, talks about living on her own at the district's new housing complex in Daly City, Calif., on July 8, 2022. The school district in San Mateo County is among just a handful of places in the country with educator housing. But with a national teacher shortage and rapidly rising rents, the working class district could serve as a harbinger as schools across the U.S. seek to attract and retain educators.
Lisa Raskin, who is a teacher at the Jefferson Union high school district, talks about living on her own at the district's new housing complex in Daly City, Calif., on July 8, 2022. Only a handful of places in the country have educator housing, but teacher shortages and rapidly rising rents are making more districts take note.
Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP