Editorial: Cuomo’s teacher bonus idea is deeply misguided

01/17/2014 8:00 AM |
CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO  |  Educators packed a forum at Eastport-South Manor High School in December to express their displeasure over Common Core.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Educators packed a forum at Eastport-South Manor High School in December to express their displeasure over Common Core.

Gov. 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 that 320 of the 610 teachers evaluated in the Riverhead, Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport and Oysterponds districts received “highly effective” ratings last year. If each of them were to receive a $20,000 bonus, it would cost $6.4 million. This from just one corner of one county. Think of the cost across the entire state.

To be fair, in his State of the State speech last week, 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 did 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, what are already the highest-paid educators in the U.S.

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 2010 median family income. 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. Besides, the best teachers aren’t motivated primarily by the prospect of making more money. For them, seeing their students excel is bonus enough.