Wake Ed

State bonuses for 600 Wake County teachers draw mixed reaction

From left, Lyndon Wright, Michael Gagnon, teacher Mary Williams, Sara Randle, and Marielys Castaneda participate in their book club during their third grade class at Wakefield Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., on June 25, 2015. Third-grade teachers around North Carolina are eligible for performance bonuses this year based on how well their students do in reading.
From left, Lyndon Wright, Michael Gagnon, teacher Mary Williams, Sara Randle, and Marielys Castaneda participate in their book club during their third grade class at Wakefield Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., on June 25, 2015. Third-grade teachers around North Carolina are eligible for performance bonuses this year based on how well their students do in reading. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Around 600 Wake County teachers are receiving state performance bonuses this year, but the effort is getting mixed reviews from school district leaders.

The General Assembly set aside $14 million statewide for teacher merit bonuses based on student performance on 2016 state exams. In Wake County, third-grade teachers and high school teachers have received bonuses ranging from $25 to more than $8,400.

The bonus programs are designed to reward teachers who help children start with strong basics, as well as those who send teens into the adult world with advanced skills. The bonuses have drawn both praise and criticism around North Carolina.

Mark Winters, the Wake County school system’s finance officer, briefed school board members Thursday on the bonuses handed out so far:

▪ Around 400 Wake teachers received between $50 to $2,000 based on how many of their students passed Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. The average bonus was around $1,200 for AP teachers and around $600 for IB teachers.

▪ In Wake, 103 career and technical education teachers received bonuses of $25 to $2,000 based on how many of their students received certifications. The average bonus for CTE teachers was about $965.

▪ In Wake, 63 third-grade teachers have received bonuses of $5,141 for finishing in the top 25 percent of the district based on student growth on reading tests.

▪ In Wake, 35 third-grade teachers have received bonuses of more than $8,400 for finishing both in the top 25 percent in the state and in the top 25 percent of the district based on student growth on reading tests.

The state still has some money left in the third-grade reading bonus program that will be distributed to teachers. Winters said he expects the remaining payment will be a small amount.

Much of the discussion about the bonuses at Thursday’s Wake school board finance committee meeting was over the third-grade bonus program.

School board member Bill Fletcher said “this is so contrary to how instruction happens” that the reading bonuses only went to third-grade teachers.

”I’m having trouble with the concept that only the teacher who is in the classroom when the child demonstrates the effort of internal and external reading supports for four years or more is the one who gets compensated,” Fletcher said.

School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner said school literacy coaches aren’t eligible either so the bonuses don’t recognize collaborative teaching.

School board member Keith Sutton said it’s a positive that the state is looking at creative ways for differentiated teacher compensation. But he said it’s a downside and scary that the state is looking at a performance type model.

Senate Leader Phil Berger addressed these issues in January, saying the bonus program “finally stops treating teachers like assembly line workers – by turning an archaic system that offered no incentive for outstanding performance into one that now provides financial rewards to teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed.”

Another issue raised by Wake school leaders Thursday is how some teachers who were eligible for the third-grade bonuses didn’t get any money. The state required teachers to still be teaching third grade this school year in the same school district to get the money that’s been paid out since January.

Winters said 30 Wake third-grade teachers who were eligible for a bonus based on their students’ performance last year didn’t get the money because they had changed grade levels or left the district.

Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said it’s a silver lining that third-grade teachers know about the bonus now and will be more likely to stay. He also said it’s positive that the third-grade bonuses are based on growth and not on proficiency rates on the exams.

School board member Kathy Hartenstine said it can be hard getting teachers to work in third grade because the demands are so much more than the earlier grade levels.

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