Teacher bonus pay programs questioned

September 22, 2010 4:51:31 PM PDT
Does paying teachers for their students' test scores really work? A first-of-its-kind study has shown merit pay for teachers did nothing to boost student test scores after all. And Houston has one of the largest performance pay programs in the country. Improving test scores has been one of the priorities for HISD over the last several years. A new study out of Nashville is questioning if teacher bonuses help improve test scores. We spoke with HISD and they were quick to say performance pay is only a component of their academic growth model.

Test scores have become the benchmark of success in just about every district in the country, including HISD. While a new study takes aim at just doling out bonuses to teachers to improve test scores, HISD says performance pay is but a component of their model.

HISD's Carly Stevens said, "If you don't do anything else to inform teachers or to train teachers or to help teachers do something different in their classroom, then you wouldn't see different effects."

A three-year public school study looked at the effect of performance incentives for teachers in the Nashville public school system. Teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores. The study, however, only included bonuses -- no extra training for teachers. It revealed offering bonuses to teachers did not improve test scores. The results were no surprise to the Houston Federation of Teachers.

Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon said, "Give teachers training in the new methods that have been proven to work."

HISD includes performance pay as a component of the school improvement model. Teachers can be awarded up $10,300 a year as an incentive. The district has also shifted its focus from scrutinizing minimum passing standards, to evaluating the academic growth of individual students annually.

"Wanting to make sure that teachers have skills and tools to do that, and if they are able to show more than expected growth, then we award them," Stevens explained.

However, critics say teachers need individualized training to better improve academic growth among students.

"They are lacking in training in new innovations," Fallon said. "They often don't have the support for the child that's off level to bring them up to grade level. They are just given the standard curriculum (and told) teach it."

HISD TAKS test scores have shown improvement over the last several years. Passing rates are up in double digits in almost every grade and subject. HISD also says this school year they're unveiling and implementing a professional development program for every teacher to try and address specific needs.


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