Bonus doesn’t lure best teachers to worst schools

A $5,000 bonus hasn’t attracted board-certified teachers to high-poverty schools in Washington state, concludes a Center on Reinventing Public Education study. Washington gives every board-certified teacher an extra $5,000; those who teach in “challenging” schools get $10,000. However, fewer than 1 percent of Washington’s certified teachers move from low-poverty to high-poverty schools each year.

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s 2011–13 budget proposal calls for suspending the bonuses, which is projected to save nearly $100 million over two years.

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  1. Forgive my crankiness, but whoever came up with this plan shows a stunning lack of appreciation for just how difficult it is to work in a high-needs school, and how comparatively easy it is to work in a low-poverty setting.

    So let’s see. You want me to move from my low-poverty suburban school, where students are mostly engaged, relatively motivated, high-functioning, with responsive parents and multiple support structures, to teach at a high-poverty school, where I have to fight to be heard, deal with unbridgable gaps in skill levels, little parental support and function as a de facto social worker. And let me guess, if I fail to produce the results I produced in my old school, you’ll brand me a bad teacher? For HOW much extra?


  2. Ditto what Robert said. I’ll take less $$ in order to actually teach content and NOT perform classroom management all day long.

    I taught at-risk kids 4 years straight (because I was a male teacher and a coach) with no chance of parole… and began to have hypertension and blood pressure issues the third year. I changed schools for the fifth year (same pay – lower free and reduced lunch ratio) and my health issues were gone soon thereafter. Magic!

    The moral of the story is simple: Money ain’t everything.

  3. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Make the bonus $60,000 a year and then we’ll see about attracting some talent.

  4. Paula Coyner says:

    Make that bonus $100,000 with a full time school resource officer on every floor of the building FULL TIME and then I might think about it. I have taught in one of these schools – unless you have been there you can never understand the violence that goes on every single minute of every single day.

  5. A loving wife, wonderful daughter, and the ability to leave everything behind at work are often the only things keeping me from just driving into the lake.

    On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like bringing out potential which is buried that deep.

  6. Oh if only there were some way to determine what teaching at a po’ folks school is really worth!

    Paula Coyner thinks it’s $100,000 bonus and a “full time school resource officer”. Thinly Veiled Anonymity thinks the bonus ought to be $60,000.

    Do we have any more bids?

    What’s delightful about the concept of a bonus is that it introduces the concept of teaching skill as a worthwhile and measurable quality in a manner that’s understandable, and credible, to the public while being hard to resist for teachers.

    Of course there’ll be the union ideologues who understand differentiating on the basis of skill is the death knell for unions and the scumbag teachers who understand they’d never see a nickel of bonus money but that’s hardly a reason to continue to treat teaching skill like a dirty secret.

  7. palisadesk says:

    Another flaw in the reasoning behind this scheme is the assumption that “being an effective teacher” is a skill set/repertoire unrelated to the characteristics of the school and the students. A top-flight teacher at a suburban, high-SES school might be a miserable failure in a high-violence ghetto school, and vice versa. Teachers are not interchangeable widgets who can be moved randomly to different subjects, grades and milieux with no differences in outcomes. They can and do have specialties and talents that make them suitable for some types of teaching and not for others.

    That the $5000 bonus attracted few teachers should come as no surprise. Studies done elsewhere have shown that additional pay — unless it is a HUGE amount — rarely makes a difference in teachers’ selection of jobs. Well above bonuses, teachers rated working conditions, geographic location, school environment, quality of leadership and a few other factors.

    I’ve worked in one of those all-chaos-all-the-time schools, and I’ve worked in others (equally low-SES but much less “high needs”) and believe me, the latter is better, as Steve succinctly pointed out. How much money would it take to lure me back to Urban Jungle Middle School? No figure is high enough.

    On the other hand, it is not only the milieu but also the possibility of job satisfaction that influences choices. For a few years I was regularly pressed by administrators to apply for a certain position (which, coincidentally, was about $6000 more than my pay at the time). I was qualified and had the relevant experience but had no desire to be in the actual position, which would have involved a lot of (to me) time-wasting meetings, political hob-nobbing and other foolishness. I did not think it would be a very satisfying way to spend my time.
    My superiors repeatedly harped on the “It’s more money!” theme, which led me to consider, Just how MUCH more money would I have to be offered to consider doing this particular job?

    I settled on 250% of current salary. That would change my lifestyle enough to make the loss of job satisfaction bearable for a while, I reasoned to myself. Of course it was all hypothesis.

    But no way would I have taken the job for five or ten grand more. People who feel they are productive and making a solid contribution where they work are unlikely to be lured by petty change to take on endeavors with many, MANY negative sequelae.

    That’s not to say there aren’t many people who prefer, and choose, low income schools full of “at risk” students. I’m one of them, but no more “zoo” schools for me. Not for *any* amount of money.

  8. > Teachers are not interchangeable widgets who can be moved randomly to different subjects,

    Oh please. Of course teachers are interchangeable widgets. Why else would it require the force of law to make sure a principal who’s had a special ed teacher call in sick won’t just stick any warm body in the class?

    The truth is that the skill of teaching garners no respect within the profession. Certainly there’s hardly a teacher anyone could name who’s personally benefited from being uncommonly competent.

  9. Allen,

    I see you haven’t lost your penchant for asinine, idiotic statements

  10. Michael E. Lopez says:


    You understood that enough to judge it? I got lost.

  11. I once switched from a middle class school to a high poverty school in Broward County, Florida, for the 10K bonus that was offered to NBCTs at the time (a few years back). 10K seemed like a lot when my base salary (with a masters and nearly a decade’s experience) hovered around 44K.

    Of course, I was also looking for a strong administration and a school close to home, both of which my middle class school was lacking, so I didn’t move solely for the 10K bonus. I also had a long history of teaching in high poverty schools and enjoyed it.

    I don’t know how many other teachers transferred because of the bonus, but I’m betting it was more than 1%. Teachers who stayed where they were at usually did so because they liked their schools and weren’t willing to risk being unhappy someplace else. I get that. If I really loved where I was at, I probably wouldn’t have switched, either–and certainly not for a measly 5K.