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Tennessee to Offer Teacher-Transfer Bonuses

The Tennessee education department last week announced plans to offer financial bonuses to teachers with top evaluation scores who work in low-performing "priority schools."

Using its share of federal School Improvement Grant funds, the state will give $7,000 signing bonuses to teachers from nonpriority schools who transfer, and agree to stay for two years, in the priority schools. It will also give $5,000 retention bonuses to high-performing teachers already working in such schools.

The state has 83 priority schools, defined as the lowest-performing 5 percent in the state. Most of them are located in the Memphis district.

Nationally, low-performing schools have tended to have teachers with weaker credentials and less experience. Rectifying that imbalance has long proved to be a particularly difficult policy challenge to solve. We'll be watching with interest to see what happens in the Tennessee schools that get an infusion of new teachers.

The idea hasn't gotten an enthusiastic reception from everyone, though. The president of the teachers' union in Memphis said that the plan wouldn't help improve academic achievement unless larger social-support programs accompanied it, earning a rebuke from the education commissioner, Kevin Huffman.

As always, the topic of making pay contingent on performance is a tricky one. And The Tennessean reports that the plan is just one part of a larger proposal to move away from traditional salary scales based on credentials and experience, a shift unions have traditionally opposed.

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