Louisiana Teachers to Get Bonuses Based on Evaluation Scores

Starting next year, the "most effective" public school teachers in Louisiana will receive cash bonuses as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's Educator Effectiveness (Act 1) initiative. The cash bonuses might not be enough money to motivate teachers to perform better, but educators tout the performance pay plan as less about money and more about recognition, writes Sarah Tan in NOLA.com.

Any teacher counting on this bonus to buy a new car will be disappointed, as the extra pay won't even cover the down payment.

In 2012, the Educator Effectiveness (Act 1) Initiative was launched as part of a statewide initiative toward major education reform, according to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's websiteAct 1 allows districts and schools to make personnel policies and personnel decisions based on teacher effectiveness and performance. The statute calls for teachers to be compensated based on their experience, license area, and effectiveness.

The law also preserves tenure for current teachers. Starting in 2014, only those teachers who earn an "Ineffective" rating would lose their tenure status. In addition, the law designates local superintendents and principals as the final authority in personnel decisions while at the same time holding them accountable for student performance.

The bonuses amount to as little as $100 for a teacher scoring proficient in St. Tammany Parish to a high of $2,500 for one scoring highly effective at some New Orleans charter schools. For most conventional school systems, "merit pay" ranges from $200 to $700 a year for teachers ranked in the top two tiers of the four-level evaluation system. On average, top-tier teachers will be receiving about $600 — less than $3.50 per class day.

Paying bonuses to teachers for good performance is really about recognizing a job well done, State Education Superintendent John White said.

"The question isn't about motivating, but … honoring good teaching," White said. "It's more about encouraging people to pay attention to those who are really doing a great job. Highlighting the top performers is a time-honored principle of good management."

Prior to Educator Effectiveness, merit pay systems were used in pilot programs in a limited number of schools. Jefferson Parish had a Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) run through the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching and the Milken Foundation. Since 2002, Jefferson has paid bonuses at some campuses as part of an overall school improvement plan.

Individual charters in New Orleans, such as the New Beginnings Charter Network that runs four schools, have also been implementing merit pay independently of the state. For most schools, bonuses are awarded to teachers who are ranked proficient or highly effective, the top two tiers of the rating system.

The first bonuses will be based on evaluation scores for the 2013-14 school year and will be delivered in June. Paying cash bonus to teachers remains controversial, as the law requires local school systems to pay the bonus money out of their own budgets at a time when some systems have frozen their regular "step" pay scales for several years running.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers said that requiring individual school boards to pay bonuses will put more undue stress on local school systems.

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