By Jessica Lyons
The Bonus Program
To be eligible for the bonuses, 'high-needs' schools had to register to participate in the program, which began during the 2007/2008 school year. During the three years the program had been around, about 200 schools participated, with close to $56 million being awarded, according to The New York Times. It was funded through private donations and tax payer money.
Bonuses were given to the actual schools, and not the teachers, that surpassed their report card goals. School committees then decided how to distribute the bonuses, whether it was to particular teachers or evenly among everyone.
Program Goes From Suspension to Elimination
In January of 2011, New York City had suspended the program because of uncertainly that it was working properly. The city's Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers commissioned a study through the RAND Corporation to examine its actual effectiveness.
After conducting test score analysis, interviews and surveys, it was found that the bonus program wasn't leading to better student performance and it wasn't improving how teachers felt about their work. The study's lead author, Julie Marsh, said, 'Bonuses alone have not proven to be the answer to bettering student achievement. Educators said bonuses are desirable, but they did not change how they perform their job because of bonuses.'
Since the program hasn't been working anyway, in July the city decided to get rid of the program permanently.
Why Didn't the Program Work?
On the surface, giving teachers a way to earn more cash sounds like it'd be an effective motivational tool. So why did New York City's bonus program fail? RAND's study points to several possible reasons.
First of all, there were teachers who didn't understand exactly how the program worked or who thought that it simply didn't have much value. If educators don't get the system or merely don't have faith in it, it could be difficult to convince them to work harder so they can benefit from it.
Additionally, the study reported that educators felt the program relied too heavily on actual test scores. On top of that, the teachers are already held highly accountable for the performance of their students. Teachers might be more motivated by possibly losing their jobs than they would be by getting bonuses.
Another factor that might have hurt the effectiveness of New York City's teacher bonus program is the way the bonuses were distributed. The study found that many of the schools that received the bonuses distributed the funds evenly, rather than singling out some individuals for higher amounts. A teacher might not feel very motivated if they give it their all to get their students to do better just so that a colleague who did the bare minimum gets the same bonus.
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