Teacher bonuses a raw deal for most

As many of you know, I hold dual-employment. I work full-time in the Red Clay School District as a special education teacher. On top of that, for the past six years, I’ve worked a part-time job at a local bank on the weekends. This affords me a unique look at the quirks of being both a “private” and a “public” employee. I must say each has its advantages and drawbacks.

One of the great advantages of working for this bank has been my participation in my company’s annual Performance Compensation program. Read: Bonus! It always shocks people when I tell them I qualify — even as a part-time employee. The benefits at this gig have been truly rewarding and I’ll miss it when I finally pack up and leave on June 24. The great thing about my company’s bonus program is it’s fair. It’s clear. And it allows for a great amount of employee buy-in. Once a year, each employee designs his or her own set of goals to achieve in that year. There are several check-in points throughout the year to make sure you’re following through and making adequate progress. At the end of the year, each employee has a sit-down with his or her manager and it’s decided the amount of pay-out that employee will receive based on the outlined goals.

I have met 100% of my goals for four out of the five years I was eligible. One year was a little rougher and I only got 80% of the pay-out. But I understood why and I absolutely self-corrected so the following year wouldn’t be the same. Those bonuses were so delicious that the thought of losing one thin dime made me just a bit crazy. The great thing about my company’s bonus system was that it was clear throughout the process. There was a certain amount of control it provided the person receiving the appraisal. We could design our own goals, but we had to hold tight to them if we were going to get the desired pay-out. There was also consistency; every employee was eligible. And while some people, no doubt, didn’t receive a pay-out because they failed to keep up their end of the deal, their eligibility for a bonus was always made clear.

Yesterday The News Journal published an article confirming what many of us knew was coming. Thirty “high-need” schools eligible for teacher bonuses.

The $8.2 million, three-year program is meant to help reward and attract teachers to challenged schools in Delaware. Thirty schools were named by the state as eligible for the program, which will award a $10,000 bonus to certain teachers in these schools who meet yet-to-be-defined student test score goals set by the state.

I love this. $8.2 million dollars. Three years. Temporary cash. Temporary period of existence. Sound familiar? Race to the Top, anyone? And, like Race to the Top, it sounds like Dept. of Ed. doesn’t know what it’s doing before announcing it, as evidence by the line above saying they’ve “yet-do-define” the goals that will justify this bonus to select teachers. Check out Steve Newton’s post on this topic over at Delaware Libertarian. He outlines more thoroughly some of the same concerns I have: Did anyone actually think this through before announcing it?


“The one thing that I really think about … is how important educator retention is in the highest need schools,” said Christopher Ruszkowski, chief officer, teacher and leader effectiveness unit in the state Department of Education.

I can’t say I much disagree with Mr. Ruszkowski on this point, though I fail to see how his comment on improving educator retention can — in any way — be connected to bonuses. I could do a quick Google that would perhaps gut his argument that providing bonuses will keep the “best teachers” in the “most difficult” schools, but who would actually read that research? I’ve done my own research. It’s called a raised-hand survey. At a union meeting last year, the issue of bonuses was discussed. When asked if teachers in more affluent, “high-performing” schools would move to the needier, “lower-performing schools” in exchange for a bonus, none of their hands went up. NONE.

As anyone who has completed more than a two-year stint in our public schools knows, there’s a bit more to this equation than the simplicity the Department of Education may like you to believe. Teachers aren’t holding back their best instruction because of lack of pay. We’re not shorting our students that world-class education in the hopes of a $10,000 bonus. In general, we’re doing the best we can with the limited resources we’re provided in way of manageable class sizes, technology, student and family supports, and a bureaucratic system that seems to generate an obscene amount of paperwork if only to justify its own existence. But that’s another topic. I’m digressing again.

Let’s get back on topic here. Bonuses.

For the first year of the program, the only school employees eligible will be reading and math teachers who have students in grades 3-10 who take the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System. Teachers selected for a bonus must remain in their schools for two additional years as part of the program.

You see that? This program will only be open to reading and math teachers — those subjects for which data is easily available. So, rather than doing the fair and equitable thing — like my part-time bank job — in opening this up to all teachers, Dept. of Ed. takes the easy way out by offering this to teachers for whom simple data would be available to justify rewarding them a bonus.

We have departmentalized classes in our fourth and fifth grade. Meaning one teacher teaches reading/ELA, another teaches math, and the third teaches science/social studies. Having previously taught in the science/social studies capacity, I helped beef up the math and reading instruction with all 75 of my fifth graders, particularly as test time got nearer.  Would I have been eligible for this bonus? Or would my other two team mates have been the only ones eligible? This is a hot mess waiting to explode.

And this pretty much confirms what many already believe about the Department of Education. It’s big government at its worst. It has lots and lots of money to spend on programs (in this case bonuses) for which adequate measures aren’t established before implementation. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so infuriatingly pathetic.

The News Journal adds:

It’s up to school districts and charters to decide if they wish to participate by the end of this month. If they don’t, their teachers will not be eligible for the bonus.

I will be in touch with administration and the school board at my school district and ask that they reject these funds and the likely increased scrutiny and regulation that will be attached to them. I recommend other teachers in other school districts do the same. We don’t need this diviseness infecting our neediest of schools. We need tangible and concrete resources being pegged to those schools. Not another piece of mumbo-jumbo straight from the Michelle Rhee book of edreform.

5 comments on “Teacher bonuses a raw deal for most

  1. John Young says:

    Mike, nice post. I intend to write on it tonight or tomorrow in depth too. My take: Trojan Horse or Poison Pill, if the DSEA accepts this $$ in any way, it will capitulate the whole “common sense” meme that has been so effectively used thus far by current leadership. The result of this bonus program will be a wholesale embrace of DPASS II component 5 as Scripture.

    Caveat Emptor!</i

  2. Vicki Seifred says:

    Great post Mike! I could not agree more! I plan on speaking about this at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting!

  3. Mary Jane Bennett says:

    And divisive it will be…you can count on that!

  4. John Young says:

    you were right the first time.

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