Carrot & Stick

Teachers are happy with bonus program, but questions remain

Reflecting their satisfaction with a controversial initiative, teachers in virtually every school that participated in the first year of a school-wide performance bonus program voted to participate again this year, the Department of Education announced today. (Download the full list of schools.)

When it was first announced last year, the bonus program was received with skepticism by some who saw the union’s participation as a first step toward true merit pay. Teachers unions have traditionally opposed the idea of paying teachers differently depending on their students’ performance. The DOE’s program, in contrast, awards participating schools that meet their “performance targets” a shared pot of money that school personnel can decide how to distribute

With 89% of teachers voting to keep their schools in the bonus program, it’s clear that teachers at participating schools were happy with the program’s first year. But more important is whether the program benefitted students. On that question, the numbers are less clear.

Percentage of schools meeting Progress Report targets.
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Percentage of schools meeting Progress Report targets.

Overall, 62% of participating schools, selected from among the city’s neediest, met enough of their goals last year to earn at least partial bonuses. Compared to all elementary and middle schools in the city, a slightly higher percentage of schools with performance pay met their targets. The percentage of high schools meeting their targets was about the same for schools with performance pay as it was for all schools. (The data for all schools include those for schools participating in the bonus program.)

Another open question is whether the pilot year of the program has made teachers across the city more receptive to performance pay. Last year, teachers at more than 30 schools voted not to try it at all. This question is impossible to address because budget constraints prevented the DOE from inviting additional schools to participate in the program this year as it had hoped to, DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte told me.

While the bonuses were privately funded last year, taxpayers are footing the bill this year, at a price tag of $20 million, Forte said.

The three schools that opted out this year are PS/IS 54, PS 9, and Banana Kelly High School, all in the Bronx. None earned bonuses last year. Teachers at Manhattan’s PS 188, which did meet its performance targets last year, have not yet decided whether to stay in the program.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.