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Teachers are happy with bonus program, but questions remain

Reflecting their satisfaction with a controversial initiative, teachers in virtually every school that participated in the first year of a school-wide performance bonus program voted to participate again this year, the Department of Education announced today. (Download the full list of schools.)

When it was first announced last year, the bonus program was received with skepticism by some who saw the union’s participation as a first step toward true merit pay. Teachers unions have traditionally opposed the idea of paying teachers differently depending on their students’ performance. The DOE’s program, in contrast, awards participating schools that meet their “performance targets” a shared pot of money that school personnel can decide how to distribute

With 89% of teachers voting to keep their schools in the bonus program, it’s clear that teachers at participating schools were happy with the program’s first year. But more important is whether the program benefitted students. On that question, the numbers are less clear.

Percentage of schools meeting Progress Report targets.

Percentage of schools meeting Progress Report targets.

Hayleigh Colombo

Overall, 62% of participating schools, selected from among the city’s neediest, met enough of their goals last year to earn at least partial bonuses. Compared to all elementary and middle schools in the city, a slightly higher percentage of schools with performance pay met their targets. The percentage of high schools meeting their targets was about the same for schools with performance pay as it was for all schools. (The data for all schools include those for schools participating in the bonus program.)

Another open question is whether the pilot year of the program has made teachers across the city more receptive to performance pay. Last year, teachers at more than 30 schools voted not to try it at all. This question is impossible to address because budget constraints prevented the DOE from inviting additional schools to participate in the program this year as it had hoped to, DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte told me.

While the bonuses were privately funded last year, taxpayers are footing the bill this year, at a price tag of $20 million, Forte said.

The three schools that opted out this year are PS/IS 54, PS 9, and Banana Kelly High School, all in the Bronx. None earned bonuses last year. Teachers at Manhattan’s PS 188, which did meet its performance targets last year, have not yet decided whether to stay in the program.