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Houston Leaders Propose Slashing Bonus-Pay Program for Teachers

Houston leaders are considering cutting the district's much-watched performance-pay program for educators and redirecting the funds into regular base-pay raises.

Ericka Mellon of the Houston Chronicle has the story for you. She reports that Houston Superintendent Terry Grier says he's still committed to merit pay but feels that raising initial teacher salaries is the more pressing concern at the moment.

The proposal could reduce the $14 million bonus-pay program to just $2 million, a far cry away from the $40 million a year it once gave out.

Houston's bonus-pay system, known as ASPIRE, has been around in some form since 2007, but it has gone through multiple iterations since then.

Right now, the system bases payouts on a "value added" method, which gauges growth in students' test scores, rather than whether or not they passed the exams. Teachers earn the bonuses if their students learn more than projected by the statistical modeling. Payouts include both individual and group awards. 

Some teachers have been frustrated by the shifting criteria for bonus eligibility and the fact that bonus payouts can fluctuate from year to year, depending on how well other teachers do. The Houston Federation of Teachers has been a longtime critic, the Chronicle reports.

Under Grier's proposal, funds would boost principal salaries and would raise beginning teacher salaries by $1,600 to $50,500.

Performance-based pay for teachers remains a controversial idea in most places, although there are probably more experiments taking place now than ever before, thanks to a federal program that's been awarding funds since 2006 to seed the programs. 

Research continues to be mixed on performance pay overall. A 2013 study on ASPIRE however, found that teachers who won bonuses, especially in larger amounts, seemed to boost student test scores more than others and were also more likely to stay than those that did not.

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