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City wins $36 million federal grant to expand performance pay

The federal government is giving the city $36 million to expand a performance pay program that gives large bonuses to high-performing teachers in struggling schools.

The money is a percentage of the $442 million Teacher Incentive Fund doled out today to more than 60 groups, including states, school districts, charter school operators and non-profits. Federal officials are handing out the grants the same week as a major study of merit pay in Nashville found that offering teachers up to $15,000 bonuses had little effect on student academic achievement.

The award aims to let the city hire “master” and “turnaround” teachers for 75 low-performing schools. The two groups of teachers have full or nearly-full course loads and devote extra time to training or mentoring other teachers at their schools.

Turnaround teachers, who will work an estimated 30 hours more per year, get bonuses of 15 percent of their salaries. Master teachers work an extra 100 hours and receive 30 percent bonuses. Both categories of teacher are also required to maintain a “highly effective” rating under the state’s new teacher evaluation system, based partly on their students’ test scores.

Eleven schools have already hired master and turnaround teachers this year with money from a different federal grant, and the city already planned to expand the program to as many as 23 schools next year using those funds. Right now, the 11 transformation schools have already hired 28 master teachers and 8 turnaround teachers.

The TIF grant will fund an average of one master and five turnaround teachers for an additional 75 schools, beginning in 2011 and lasting over the following four years. The city has yet to select the schools, though city officials said today that they would likely be schools the state has already identified as in danger of being closed.

Teachers union officials said today that the expansion of the program to additional schools has not yet been negotiated, and would have to be approved before the city can proceed with the plan.

The grant will also let the city hire ten more “executive principals,” who are paid $25,000 bonuses for boosting test scores and graduation rates at struggling schools. The city currently has six executive principals, plus three more who were hired over the summer and who are awaiting formal approval.

The New York State Education Department also received $19 million in TIF grant money. The state will use that money to give bonuses to teachers in 68 schools in New York City, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers for boosting student test scores and taking on more responsibilities in their schools.

Two city charter school groups also received grants. The Achievement First network, which runs 10 schools in the city, won $6 million to create a new tiered career ladder for its teachers, based both on student test scores and on evaluations of their instruction and planning.

And the Center for Educational Innovation – Public Education Association (CEI-PEA), a non-profit school support organization, won $9 million to help a group of 10 city charter schools convert their current compensation systems to performance pay-based ones.

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