Teaching Profession

Teacher-Incentive Plans Geared to Bonuses for Individuals

By Bess Keller — November 14, 2006 4 min read
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Philadelphia, Guilford County, N.C., and four small districts in northern New Mexico have scooped up the last of the $42 million in federal grant money on offer this fall for rewarding teachers and principals who get higher student test scores in needy schools.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the final three winners Nov. 3, bringing the total number of Teacher Incentive Fund grants to 16. If each of the grants is financed for the projected five years—something that depends both on the department’s budget and the grantees’ performance—the awards will be worth some $241 million.

Another round of grants from the new, $99 million fund are expected to be made next spring.

Getting Grants

Three final recipients have been given Teacher Incentive Fund grants during the first round of awards. Funding has been appropriated for the first year only.

District or Other Recipient First Year Over Five Years*
1. Philadelphia $1.4 million $20.5 million
2. Guilford County, N.C. 1.7 million 8.0 million
3. Northern New Mexico Network 570,000 7.6 million

*Five-year funding is not guaranteed.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

“This is a great first step,” said Brad Jupp, a former union negotiator who led Denver’s six-year effort to revamp how its teachers are paid. “I’m excited to see this much seed capital out in the field.”

Denver was among the districts that won grants earlier this month or last month. (“More Teacher-Incentive Grants Trickle Out,” Nov. 8, 2006.)

The TIF, underwritten for the first time in fiscal 2006, aims to use financial incentives to help schools serving largely poor and minority children to have at least as many effective teachers and administrators as other schools.

Of the three most recent grantees, only the Guilford County district, which includes Greensboro, has already devised a program that includes more pay for teachers and principals. Dubbed “Mission Possible” and launched this school year, it uses a number of approaches to increasing the effectiveness of schools that are lagging, such as limiting class size, providing extra professional development, and scheduling common planning times for teachers.

Its centerpiece, though, is bonuses for teachers and principals pegged to working at one of the district’s high-needs schools and showing student academic growth.

Math teachers, who have been particularly hard to find and keep in the district, get extra consideration. For instance, middle school Algebra 1 teachers at Mission Possible schools earn an additional $10,000 per year, with $4,000 more if their students show on average at least 1½ years of growth.

Some other rewards are substantial, too. An elementary principal whose school makes adequate yearly progress toward student proficiency under the No Child Left Behind Act wins an extra $10,000.

“We’ve got something we can go out and compete with recruitment-wise and get the kinds of people we want,” said Superintendent Terry B. Grier.

The federal grant, $1.8 million the first year and a projected $8 million over five, will allow the district to expand the number of schools in the program by seven, to a total of 29—about a quarter of all schools in the 70,000-student district.

TAP an Influence

Philadelphia school officials said they will model their pay plan largely on the Teacher Advancement Program launched by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Family Foundation in 1999. TAP combines bonuses based on classroom observation and test-score increases with leadership roles for teachers and professional development. It has been influential in this round of teacher-incentive grants, partnering with four of the winners—Chicago, Eagle County, Colo., and the Ohio and South Carolina education departments.

With a grant that is projected to amount to $20.5 million over five years, Philadelphia wants to pilot the new pay system in 20 schools where two-thirds of the faculty members elect to participate.

“The [grant] gives us the luxury of sitting down and planning something out without [teachers’ union] contract negotiations over our heads,” said Marcia S. Schulman, the director of grants development for the 178,000-student district.

Philadelphia tried five years ago to pay extra money for teacher performance in a joint union-district project that was eventually scrapped by Superintendent Paul G. Vallas as too time-consuming and expensive. Any new plan must also win union approval, possibly as part of the 2008 contract.

Four school districts in the Northern New Mexico Network, an educational cooperative, also propose to use their $570,000 first-year grant for planning, though they will not be starting from scratch. In 2004, New Mexico put into effect a teacher-licensing system with three tiers of expertise linked to increasing pay.

Carlos Atencio, the executive director of the network, called the state system “a major step” for teacher retention but said the plan lacks a direct connection to student achievement. That’s the element the districts—Española, Springer, Des Moines, and Cimarron—intend to add through their joint work, he said.

The districts, which serve a total of 5,400 students, most of them poor and Hispanic, will also ramp up their professional development so that teachers and principals have a better shot at the extra money. Mr. Atencio said the group hopes to offer rewards based both on schoolwide and classroom performance.

Missing Elements?

Considering the grants as a whole, Allan Odden, a professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on teacher compensation, said he was struck by the drive to get bonuses to the individual level, with teachers being recognized for their own classrooms’ performance.

“I see this as movement forward,” he said. “It’s good politically: The common person and the common policymaker want that to happen.”

Still, both he and Lewis C. Solmon, the president of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, the organization that sponsors TAP, worry about the absence from several of the grants of ways to evaluate and reward teaching practice.

“Teachers are much more likely to accept [a new system] if they are evaluated well at the beginning and see there’s a way for them to get better,” said Mr. Solmon, who worked with Mr. Odden on a TIF grant proposal that did not receive funding.

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Incentive Plans Geared to Bonuses for Individuals


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