Future of Teaching

High-performing teachers who received bonuses more likely to stay in tough schools, says Peabody professor

Highly-rated Tennessee teachers placed in chronically low-performing schools who received bonuses were more likely to stick around than teachers who did not receive bonuses, according to yet-to-be-published research from Vanderbilt University.

At a conference of the Education Writers Association in Nashville last week, Vanderbilt associate professor Matthew G. Springer, the director of the federally-funded National Center on Performance Incentives, shared findings from his research on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Signing and Retention Bonus Program. 

The research is part of an effort to study the education policies put in place in Tennessee after it received the federal Race To the Top grant in 2010, which included teacher incentive programs and new test-based evaluation systems.

“We have these reforms that came about through Race to the Top,” Springer said. “But are they sustainable? Are they working?”

The teacher bonus program, which was funded by federal School Improvement Grants, allowed schools academically ranked in the bottom five percent in the state to give $5,000 bonuses to teachers who earned the highest ranking on the state’s evaluation system. The program was an attempt to reduce the high rate of turnover among highly-effective teachers in chronically low-performing schools, Springer said.

Springer found that while the students the teachers who received bonuses worked with were similar, teachers who received the bonuses were 20 percent more likely to stay in their schools than those who just missed being eligible for the bonus.

At least one Memphis school leader says the findings align with her experiences.

Shelby County Schools principal LaWanda Hill said that teachers and students at her school, Caldwell-Guthrie, had benefited from the bonus program. “It all helps craft what we have here, which is a building of professionals,” she said. Caldwell-Guthrie was one of three schools in the district recognized for teaching excellence by the district’s school board earlier this year.

In the 2012-13 school year, 48 schools in Memphis, nine in the state-run Achievement School District, five in Hamilton County, four in Davidson County, and one each in Hardeman and Knox County used the bonus program. Eighty-three schools in all were on the state’s “priority list” of bottom five percent schools and eligible for the program.

Schools could also offer signing bonuses to teachers, but there were too few teachers who received those bonuses to study, according to the state’s education department.

Springer said teachers who earned level five rankings had scored better than 89 percent of teachers in the state. 

In 2010, Springer published research that found that paying teachers for student performance was not on its own enough to lift test scores. But, he said, those findings don’t contradict the most recent findings. “Incentive pay programs have a huge number of forms,” he said. 

Springer said decreased mobility of the best teachers will likely be good for students. He said having a level five teacher is correlated with higher test scores and even higher earnings down the line.

Springer also cited a survey that said that a growing number of teachers felt the state’s teacher evaluation system is fair. While in 2011-12, just 32 percent of teachers felt the system was fair, 69 percent said it was fair in 2012-13. 

The findings will be published later this year.


Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.

Colorado Vote 2018

Polis campaign releases education plan, including new promise about teacher raises

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Congressman Jared Polis, one of several Democrats running for governor, released an education plan for the state Wednesday that includes new details on tackling teacher shortages and better preparing high school students for work.

The Boulder Democrat wants to help school districts build affordable housing for teachers, increase teacher pay and make sure that “100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an associate’s degree or professional certification, and work to boost enrollment in them.”

The education plan includes the congressman’s initial campaign promise to deliver free and universal preschool and kindergarten.

“Part of my frustration is that politicians have been talking about preschool and kindergarten for decades,” Polis said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “It’s time to stop talking … and actually do it.”

Big questions remain, however, about how Colorado would pay for Polis’s plans.

Free universal preschool and kindergarten would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars the state does not have. Polis has acknowledged that voters will need to approve a tax increase to secure the funding necessary — and voters rejected Colorado’s last big statewide ask to fund education initiatives.

His additional promises, especially providing schools with more money to pay teachers, only adds to the price tag for his education plan. The campaign did not release any projections of how much his teacher pay raise proposal would cost.

“If a teacher can’t afford to live in the community they work in, that is not going to be an attractive profession,” he said. “We need to do a better job in Colorado making sure teachers are rewarded for their hard work.”

Other components to Polis’s plan includes providing student loan relief for teachers who commit to serving in high-need and rural areas, increasing teacher training and building and renovating more.

Polis is the latest Democrat to roll out an education platform.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston released more details earlier this week about his campaign promise for tuition-free community college and job training.

Johnston’s campaign estimates that the initiative would cost about $47 million annually. The campaign provided specifics on how the state would pay for it: by combining existing federal grants and state scholarships, revenue from online sales tax, and state workforce development funding. Savings from volunteer hours put in by tuition recipients also are factored in.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy released her education plan last month.

Like Polis, Kennedy is calling for teacher raises. She wants the state’s average salary to be closer to the national average. The former state treasurer also wants to expand preschool and job training for high school students. A key piece of Kennedy’s proposal to pay for her initiatives: reforming the state’s tax laws to generate more revenue.

Other Democrats running to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

The Republican field to replace Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is also crowded. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced earlier this month that she’s running. Other leading Republican candidates include former Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessmen Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell. George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dropped out of the race to instead run for attorney general.