Study Finds Houston Teacher Bonuses Yield Benefits For Some, Not All

One trend in education across the country is to pay teachers extra based on student test scores. Here the Houston Independent School District has paid out more than $200 million dollars in teacher bonuses. A new report from Rice University tries to evaluate how effective that bonus program has been.

Researchers at Rice University looked at what happened after HISD teachers received more than $40 million dollars in bonuses in 2010.

They found students tended to learn more math skills — as much as an extra three months’ worth.

Teachers who got the awards were 20 percent more likely to show up to class. They were almost twice as likely to stay in their job.

But not everybody saw the same results.

Ruth López Turley is the author of the study.

“We found on the one hand, stronger effects among secondary math teachers, but weaker effects among special ed teachers as well as among teachers in high need schools”.

Those are schools with more poor, minority students.

To give out the bonuses HISD uses a complicated statistical formula and student test scores.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, says teachers don’t understand how the formula is applied. That leaves them confused, even if they do get an extra check.

“What we hear over and over again, well, I got a good bonus. It’s nice. I have a no clue why.”

This school year, teachers are eligible for a bonus of up to $13,000 dollars.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...