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Teacher Bonuses are Paying Off in Broward County

Bonuses have given the Broward school district in southern Florida a boost in its effort to attract and keep top teachers at 28 of its low-income schools, the Sun Sentinel reports.

The school district has offered the bonuses for the past four years, and the incentive appears to be paying off. This school year began with vacancies in only 2 percent of teaching posts, according to the district, compared with a 30 percent vacancy rate before the bonus program began. What's more, half of the schools with the bonus program in place improved their letter grade last year. (Florida schools receive a letter grade, A through F, based on student gains on statewide standardized tests and other factors).

North Fork Elementary was a recipient of the grant and has since increased two letter grades, according to principal Rendolyn Amaker, who spoke to the school board about how the funds benefited her school. The bonuses "show teachers that they are appreciated for the hard work they do for the boys and girls at North Fork," she said.

Still, many of the schools' grades—Cs, Ds, and Fs—remain less than stellar. The director of coaching for the district, Angela Brown, points to changing tests and more-rigorous calculation methods of school grades as factors in the mediocre grades from the state.

Here's how the bonus program works: New hires and transferring teachers, according to the Sun Sentinel, receive a $2,500 bonus. In addition, teachers rated effective receive $2,500, while highly effective teachers receive $4,000 for each year that they receive those ratings.  

There are other ways for teachers to earn extra cash. Experienced teachers who agree to take on roles as mentors get $5,000 for lending their expertise to one new hire, and $6,500 for working with two. Plus, all teachers get $1,000 a year to use toward additional training to improve their practice.

The bonus program is funded by a $48.5 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant issued by the U.S. Department of Education. The grant ends this year. There's no plan as of yet to continue the bonuses in the 28 schools, according to Superintendent Robert Runcie, but the Broward school district recently landed another (TIF) grant for $53.8 million that will be used to provide bonuses at 32 other low-income schools beginning next year.

A study of the federal TIF initiative after two years shows that the performance pay program has some effect, but not a particularly convincing one. And those findings stand in stark contrast to a 2010 study that found big pay raises by themselves didn't have much of an effect on student achievement.

Still, district officials have high hopes for the new funding, which will be used to pay for more than teacher bonuses. Paraprofessionals can get a bachelor's degree in education fully paid for if they commit to working in a TIF school for three years. Teachers in the 32 schools can get tuition reimbursement for classes they take toward certification, and review classes for certification tests will also be funded with grant money.

The district will also use the grant money to address the high rate of teacher absences.  Teachers in the 32 schools who have no absences at the end of the school year will receive $2,000. One absence merits a teacher $1,500, two absences $800, and three absences, $300.

"We're hoping to increase teacher attendance because we know the more days a teacher is out, it affects our students' achievement," said Brown, the district's coaching director, in a presentation to the school board about the new grant.

Brown also said during the presentation that the plan for the 32 schools is something district officials hope to expand to schools throughout the district.  

 

 

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