Date: 
Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teacher bonus program fails to lure and retain top teachers in Washington's high-poverty schools

Seattle, WA - A $99 million teacher bonus program that Washington legislators designed to lure good teachers into high-poverty schools has not worked as intended, according to a new analysis from the University of Washington Bothell's 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 report's author, Jim Simpkins.

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, however, on whether national board certified teachers (NBCTs) are actually more effective teachers is mixed.

In 2007, state legislators added a second $5,000 bonus for NBCTs who teach in a high-poverty school, defined as one where a large portion of students are on free or reduced-price lunches. According to the Center's report, " . . . less than 1% of Washington's NBCTs move from low-poverty to high-poverty schools each year."

In fact, the report shows, "The proportion of NBCTs teaching in challenging schools is increasing, but only because teachers already in those schools are gaining certification and because the state's challenging schools list has grown each year."
The report notes that the number of NBCTs has tripled since 2007-2008, driving up the costs of the bonus program to almost $50 million a year. Now, in the context of the state's ongoing 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 their NBCT bonus programs.

This "Rapid Response" brief is part of the SCHOOLS IN CRISIS: MAKING ENDS MEET series, designed to bring relevant fiscal analyses to policymakers amidst the current economic crisis.