UW Today

March 30, 2011

Report: Teacher bonus program fails to lure, retain top teachers in Washingtons high-poverty schools

News and Information

A $99 million teacher bonus program that Washington state legislators designed to lure good teachers into high-poverty schools has not worked as intended, according to a new analysis from the UW Bothells Center on Reinventing Public Education.

“Not only has the $10,000 annual bonus failed to move effective teachers to high-poverty schools, it has also failed to make those teachers any more likely to stay in high-poverty schools than other teachers,” said the reports author, Jim Simpkins.

The analysis comes from the centers latest brief, titled What Does Washington State Get for Its Investment in Bonuses for Board Certified Teachers? The “Rapid Response” brief is part of the ongoing Schools in Crisis: Making Ends Meet series, designed to bring relevant fiscal analyses to policymakers amidst the current economic crisis.

Washington state provides $5,000 bonuses to those teachers who undergo and pass the rigorous national board certification process, a credentialing program that marks its graduates as among the best teachers. The evidence was mixed, however, on whether national board certified teachers are actually more effective in the classroom.

In 2007, state legislators added a second $5,000 bonus for national board-certified teachers employed at high-poverty schools, defined as one where a large portion of students are on free or reduced-price lunches. According to the centers report, less than 1 percent of such teachers move from low-poverty to high-poverty schools each year.

In fact, the report shows that the proportion of national board-certified teachers in challenging schools is increasing, “but only because teachers already in those schools are gaining certification and because the states challenging schools list has grown each year.”

The report notes that the number of national board-certified teachers has tripled since the 2007-2008 school year, driving up the costs of the bonus program to almost $50 million a year.

Now, in the context of the states budget crisis, Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed suspending the bonus program in order to save $99.5 million over the coming biennium. Washington is not alone. Other states, including Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, and Florida are also rethinking such teacher bonus programs.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the UW engages in independent research and policy analysis on a range of K-12 public education reform issues, including choice and charters, finance and productivity, teachers, urban district reform, leadership, and state and federal reform.

The brief can be downloaded at the centers website.