Who wants to win a bonus?

Who wouldn't want to receive a bonus?

A silly question, perhaps, in our "you are what you earn" times. But talk money in the context of the public schools, and nothing (or everything, depending on your perspective) is silly. More often, it's explosive.

Housing and signing supplements have bubbled to the surface in the past couple of years as ways to attract new people to the profession, or lure teachers to needy areas. But in Pennsylvania and Colorado, school districts are offering bonuses to teachers who raise student achievement. In Denver, a small pilot group of teachers will receive $1,500 if students improve on a skills test. In Norristown, Pa., competition will be open to all teachers - but only 20 percent will be awarded a bonus.

If you were a teacher, how would you react? By boycotting? By withholding tips on jazzing up grammar lessons? By lobbying to teach the smartest kids?

In the Pennsylvania district, almost all of the 350 teachers involved say they will give any money to charity, so opposed are they to the idea of competition among teachers who often face dramatically different circumstances in their classrooms. But their average pay is $62,000. What would happen in a less-affluent district? Would teachers embrace competition in hopes of extra cash? Would kids benefit?

In the end, bonuses are tweaks around the edges of an institution that often does little to reward its best practitioners. Maybe they're a good idea. But they may end up being just one more fad in a system crying out for far fresher thinking - and more-rational funding.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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