Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to award $20,000 bonuses to teachers who are rated “highly effective” in local school districts’ teacher evaluation systems is at best a politically tone-deaf head scratcher. At worst, it’s a cynical attempt to placate tens of thousands of educators incensed about high-stakes testing tied to the rollout of the Common Core curriculum in New York.
Consider all of the teachers at the Shelter Island School and also those in the Riverhead, Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport and Oysterponds districts who received “highly effective” ratings last year. If each of them were to receive a $20,000 bonus, it would cost somewhere close to $6.5 million. This from just one corner of one county. Think of the cost across the entire state.
To be fair, in his recent State of the State speech, Mr. Cuomo said such teachers “would be eligible” for the $20,000 bonus. (He’s yet to provide many details.) So let’s assume that not every “highly effective” teacher would receive a full bonus — or even any bonus at all — under his plan. How would it be decided which teachers would get bonuses? Implementing such a selective system would add to what already seems to be an exorbitant waste of resources in schools, as administrators spend more and more time observing and documenting teacher performance.
It’s also hard to imagine — especially after years of a stagnant economy — that the non-teaching public would welcome a move to further reward, by huge amounts, those who are already the highest-paid educators in the country.
An incentive program in itself, isn’t a bad idea, but it should more closely align with incentives members of the general public might be offered — not a sum that’s over a third of the median family income in 2010. Incentives could also be applied strategically to recruit and retain teachers in certain subjects, such as math or science, where a local district has a specific need.
Mr. Cuomo is misguided if he’s floating his plan as a way to get teachers to relax their resistance to high-stakes testing. The bonus program as pitched, should it be enacted, would only raise the stakes and would still be tied to a fledgling and very flawed system of testing.