Incentives for Teachers Proliferate

Published February 1, 2000

In Massachusetts, Boston University Chancellor John Silber, former chairman of the state Board of Education, recently proposed that the first $30,000 of the income of “highly qualified teachers” should be exempt from federal income tax.

A new federal program, launched last year, offers homes at half the market rate to public and private school teachers who commit to living in troubled neighborhoods for at least three years.

Last fall, state officials in Minnesota, Mississippi, and New Mexico each met to explore the idea of pay-for-performance systems for teachers.

In East Aurora, Illinois, teachers agreed to a contract that links pay raises to improvements in district test scores.

Response to such teacher incentive programs is not always enthusiastic. Few Denver teachers, for example, are participating in the performance pay plan that they voted for last year, which could bring a $1,500 annual bonus. None of the city’s middle schools and only 12 of the city’s 82 elementary schools were able to gather the required 85 percent teacher support level to participate in the two-year pilot project.

And when Washington state lawmakers earmarked funds for hiring new teachers and retaining those with less than seven years of experience, they later discovered that collective bargaining had diverted much of the money to teachers at the top of the salary scale.

“We have a long-standing policy of going for across-the-board pay raises,” said Paul Pritchard, president of the Everett Education Association. “We felt [doing otherwise] was terribly divisive because what you’re telling people who didn’t get extra money was that they didn’t deserve it.”