A bonus for ‘gold-star’ teachers

If the teacher is good, students learn even in a large class. If the teacher is so-so, a small class doesn’t help.  Rick Hess proposes gold-star teachers who’d earn more for teaching larger classes. Students would be placed in gold-star classes only by request.

Teachers whose students post larger-than-normal gains for at least two consecutive years would be eligible to opt into the program. . . . Participating teachers would teach up to 50% more students than normal–say, 36 students rather than 24–and would be rewarded for their increased workload. Continued participation would depend on a teacher’s students continuing to make larger-than-normal gains.

Increasing class size by one student saves about $3,000, using average teacher salaries and benefits, Hess writes. A gold-star teacher who taught 36 rather than 24 students would save $36,000.

Awarding the teacher half that amount yields an $18,000 productivity bonus (a 35% bump for the median teacher). The state and district would split the other $18,000. Even on a trial basis in grades four through eight, such a program could help states shave school spending by two or three percent–tallying hundreds of millions in some cases while rewarding excellent educators.

Could this work?

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  1. Cranberry says:

    The public school system isn’t stellar at giving students choices. In the first few years, under the first principal, it might be possible to place students into such classes “by request.” Later, at the first budget crisis, I could see large class sizes becoming standard, and any extra pay being dropped.

    I think it would be very hard to explain to taxpayers why the school system chose to offer a few large classes. As a taxpayer, one would wonder, “If the school claims those large classes are producing good results, why should we pay for classes of 24, rather than 36?” Reducing any school’s payroll by 1/3 would save money.

  2. As a teacher, I would actually prefer a system that had fewer teachers of a higher quality, with support staff.

    For example. instead of a building having 5 math teachers who each teach 5 classes of 25 each with 2 planning periods, they would have 3 math teachers who teach 6 classes of 35 each. The cost savings from the 2 teachers could be used to have a shared secretarial or paraprofessional pool. Every 4-5 teachers would have a secretary to help with record keeping, meeting notes, paperwork, copying, etc.., freeing up the teacher to concentrate on the best use of their skills, teaching. Paraprofessional, which are considerably cheaper than teachers, even with benefits, would be assigned to assist in these larger classes at the teacher’s discretion.

    Having a more focused teaching staff would allow for a higher percentage of teachers to be better quality. Adding more teachers usually just adds more underqualified people teaching STEM classes.

  3. I don’t know if I’m a “gold star” teacher or not but in my 2nd and 3rd year of teaching in Brooklyn, this is exactly what I did. I taught 9th grade students and requested the maximum number for each of my classes, which meant I had 34 students in each of 4 or 5 classes, depending on which semester I was teaching. I just knew that if I took a few more students that my colleagues, which included 6 brand new first year teachers, would find their workloads a bit easier.

  4. I’d like to think I’m one of those gold star teachers (wouldn’t we all!), but since I already have 36 students per class and am not getting any extra money, I see little incentive for my district to implement this!

  5. Gold Star teachers are outliers — in a good way. But also, only some subjects, at only some levels, would lend themselves to this paradigm. No English or History teadher, no matter how effective, can simply add 50% more research papers and/or essays to her/his schedule just because of extra talent and energy. And no teacher of struggling students would choose this option, since these are the students who don’t respond well to large-format classes.

  6. Where are these failing schools with high school classes of only 25 students?

    I averaged over 30 in my classes, and as many as 38. The only class I ever taught with fewer than 25 was a special class after school for kids who needed to make up for failing the subject in the prior year — and that roster actually had 41 students on it.

    It was important to me to set up my room to foster collaborative work and student-student dialogue, and that was quite difficult to do with over 30 students. Doesn’t Hess know that overcrowding is often a big issue in districts with many failing schools? There uually simply aren’t rooms available that can candle 40 or more students. There are not science labs for it, either.

  7. I’d rather teach the smaller classes. I’m up over 30 in my AP sections right now, I hardly know some of the kids, and I spend my entire life grading essays. It’s very difficult to do any meaningful class discussion. It sucks. I’m still effective, but I’m exhausted. But if you burn me out early and boot me out of the system, I guess that’s cheaper, too.

  8. Peace Corps says:

    Count me out of larger class sizes. I must be an ineffective teacher. I don’t have the time in the regular class period to remediate where necessary. (I teach high school math) I stay after school with some of my students that are willing (and some that aren’t) just so they can keep up with the pace of the class. If all my students came to me with the prerequisite skills, I could teach much larger classes. I don’t see that happening.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m with EB on this — the gold star program seems incredibly biased to classes that can grade on a Scantron basis. The *teaching* isn’t actually that much more work with 36 kids as opposed to 24. A little more classroom management, a little more work getting to know faces… but the grading. Oh the grading.

    Oh lord…. the grading.

  10. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Where are all the “gold star” teachers going to come from? As we all know (but conservatives leave out of the discussion) the last women to be given the choice of secretary, nurse, or teacher have retired or are about to. This means if we want enough good teachers to go around, we need to pay market rate for intelligent, energetic people.

    If you have more than one HIGHY QUALIFIED applicant for each vacancy, you are paying above market rate.

    If you put extraordinary effort into recruiting, and go to great lengths to convince people to live on non-monetary rewards, you are paying below market rate.

    Market rate would mean mild difficulty for both schools and job hunters, since the vacancies and applicants will never exactly match up at a given time and place.

    Which best describes the situation for education in years where the economy isn’t a disaster?

  11. Peace Corps says:


    Market rate doesn’t really apply to the situation in my state. There are no shortages of PreK-8 teachers. The shortages are in Math, Science and special ed teachers.

  12. I’m just wondering where these classes of 24 are. In NYC class size already runs to 34, 50 in music or gym, and there are hundreds of oversized classes everywhere. If Hess is to believed, the city must be saving a fortune.

    I’ve taught classes of all sizes, and I’d much prefer to see kids in smaller classes. A teacher can see a lot more with 24 teenagers than with 34.

  13. In terms of discussion and simulations, I prefer big classes because you get momentum going. But Michael is correcct about the grading- this year I have 157 students (last year 145) and those extra twelve essays every two weeks add up. the grading is intense if you are grading writing. multiple choice tests would be easier, but then one wouldn ‘t be a gold star teacher, would one?

  14. On the face of it, I like the idea. It gives teachers an option to make more money for extra work & can save the district some $. . . I’d love to see them put that into teaching assistants or secretaries. Teachers do so MUCH clerical & record-keeping type work–recording grades, copying, bulletin boards (I hate bulletin boards), looking for resources, that could definitely be off-loaded to a secretary & make teaching classes that large vaguely possible. However, I can see lots of potential problems in implementing it, as some of the other commenters have posted, like what if your class sizes are already huge?