Combat pay for teachers won’t work

In an attempt to recruit and retain teachers in struggling schools, bonuses are being used as a lure (“Bonuses of Up to $8,000 to Teach in Struggling New York Schools,” The New York Times, Oct. 12).  The latest example involves paying teachers in New York City between $5,000 and $8,000.

I seriously doubt that the Bronx Plan, as it is called in New York City for the borough where many of the 180 public schools are located, will do the job.  For one thing, the bonuses alone are not that attractive in light of the challenges facing teachers in the targeted schools.  Moreover, the bonuses are not tied to success in the classroom.  As a result, the few teachers who will bite will not necessarily be the system’s best.

The truth is that teachers are not mercenaries or missionaries.  They simply want to be able to teach their subject as they were trained to do.  When they have to perform triage on a daily basis because of the disadvantages that so many students in failing schools bring to class every day, they soon experience burnout and quit.

Would increasing the amount of the bonuses make a difference?  Perhaps for some, but even then the bonuses would have to be stepped up dramatically.  I personally would not be interested.

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4 Replies to “Combat pay for teachers won’t work”

  1. Seems rational to pay a higher salary for more difficult work. Also seems that other school systems probably have tried this approach already — if so, what were the results?

    To attract teachers to the difficult schools, it would probably be more effective to add a second adult to the room rather than pay the teacher a higher salary. The second adult would not necessarily — or even probably — be a teacher but rather someone whose primary responsibility was helping maintain order (and acting as a supporting witness for the teacher if stuff happened).

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Mathematica Policy Research, with funding from the U.S. Dept. of Education, offered1,500 high-performing elementary teachers in 10 urban districts a total stipend of $20,000 over two years to transfer to low-performing schools. It found that only five percent of those high-performing teachers agreed to transfer. Of those few, 90 percent stayed for the full two years required. But only 60 percent stayed for a third year. The rate matched those teachers who were not offered the incentive.

    I think further studies will show similar outcomes. The truth is that teachers are not mercenaries who put salaries over other factors. Adding a second teacher or at least an assistant is a better idea.

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  3. The only reason school systems offer “combat” pay bonuses and not hire another teacher is simply because it is cheaper.
    The majority of school systems will never spend the proper amount of money to solve the problems.

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