Collaboration in Civic Spheres

UW Report: Teacher Bonus Plan Not Helping Needy Kids

by March 30th, 2011

SUMMARY: Washington state legislation providing annual bonuses for each K-12 public school teacher that becomes nationally board certified, plus another annual bonus for each year they teach in “challenging” schools is increasing the number of those teachers but not having much success in shifting them to challenging schools. This is according to an analysis published last week by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. Costs for the program have grown to $35 million per year and are projected to rise markedly in the next two years. The legislature is wrestling with a budget proposal from Governor Chris Gregoire to cut the bonus program.


  • Since 2007 legislation was approved, Washington state has funded bonuses of $5,000 per year for K-12 teachers who get national board certification (known as NBCTs) and an extra $5,000 per year for each NBCT who teaches in “challenging” schools – elementary schools where 70 percent or more of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch; 60 percent for middle schools; and 50 percent for high schools. The incentive program is meant to improve the state’s K-12 public school teaching corps and encourage the specially-credentialed NBCTs to work in the schools where needs are greatest.
  • Last December in her proposed 2011-13 budget, meant to address a multi-billion dollar shortfall in funds available to meet current state service and program commitments, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire called for suspension of the NBCT teacher bonuses. Her proposal has prompted major debate, and in turn the Center For The Reinvention of Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle has examined whether the NBCT bonuses are accomplishing the goals intended by the legislature.

KEY LINK: “What Does Washington State Get For Its Investment In Bonuses For Board Certified Teachers?,” University of Washington, Center on Reinventing Public Education, March 22, 2011. Author: Jim Simpkins.


  • Research shows the effect of NBCTs on low-performing students is positive although on average all students of NBCTs don’t show better test score gains than the students of teachers lacking national board certification.
  • Even though they get a second $5,000 bonus for shifting from a low-poverty school to a high-poverty “çhallenging” school, fewer than one percent of Washington state’s NBCTs do so each year.
  • Between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, 23 NBCTs in Washington state left non-challenging schools for challenging schools, while 27 NBCTs left challenging schools for non-challenging schools. However, “teacher movements were slightly more positive in earlier years.”
  • From 2007-08 through 2010-11, 93 percent of all teachers in challenging schools stayed in their original challenging school or another one of the same status, compared to 94 percent of the NBCTs, who are each paid a $5,000 state bonus to get nationally certified, and then an annual $5,000 bonus to teach in challenging schools.
  • The total number of NBCTs in Washington state has grown from 1,666 in 2007-08 to an estimated 4,742 in 2010-11, and the cost to the state for the bonuses is expected to be $35 million in the current school year, rising another $10 million in each of the next two school years.
  • The share of NBCTs teaching in challenging schools in Washington state has grown from 25 percent in 2008-09 to 29 percent in 2010-11, not because of the state bonuses, but because instructors who are already assigned to those schools are getting their national board certification, and because the state’s list of challenging schools is growing each year. That list is growing partly because schools no longer classified as challenging are still classified as such, under a grandfather clause.
  • The state bonus program has been successful in inspiring “growth in the number of teachers motivated to undergo a rigorous certification process.”
  • But the bonus program legislation “has not been effective at encouraging NBCTs to migrate to challenging schools, and NBCT bonuses have not improved teacher retention at challenging schools compared to all continuing teachers statewide.”

Fr. What Does Washington Get For Its Investment In Bonuses For Board Certified Teachers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The report was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Center on Reinventing Public Education notes the findings are those of the author alone and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the funders.

2 Responses to “UW Report: Teacher Bonus Plan Not Helping Needy Kids”

  1. Charlie Mas says:

    It’s funny how the people who create these incentive programs never bother to ask the teachers what incentive they want. Instead, the management just presumes that teachers will make the change for cash.

    News flash: people who become teachers are not in it for the money. They are not motivated by money.

    Maybe the geniuses who designed this program should have asked the teachers why they don’t choose to teach in challenging schools. If they had, they would have learned that the teachers had concerns about their personal safety.

    If the geniuses who designed the program had asked teachers what kind of sugar they would have to pour on the job to get teachers to take it, you can be pretty sure the teachers would not have said “cash”. More likely they would have said that they wanted more academic freedom, or a great principal who knows how to support teachers, or professional development support. We can’t really be sure what they would have said because nobody ever asked them.

    Read Drive, by Daniel Pink. Knowledge workers like teachers are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, not by cash. If the incentive program had offered these things instead of cash then more teachers might have accepted the challenge.

    You have to wonder, however, what kind of idiot creates an incentive program and doesn’t confirm that the participants are interested in the incentive.

  2. NB teacher says:

    I happen to be one of those teachers who have my National Boards and work in a challenging school. I got my National Boards to further my education, make myself a better teacher and to receive the bonus.Yes, I actually believe that I am a highly educated person who deserves to be paid for the job I do. I don’t know how many of you readers out there realize but I get no extra days in my contract. I work and get paid for 180 days. Other districts in the State of Washington get up to 10 paid per diem days of work. They can also receive extra benefits like extra medical covered through their district. School levy money helps fund these extras in pay and benefits. In some districts if I chose to teach there I could make up to 13,000 dollars more per year than what I currently make in my low income rural school. The school down the road ten miles from where I currently live is grandfathered in at a higher base salary than my district. If I teach there I could make 5,000 dollars more per year. The above reasons are several of the reasons I got my National Board. It did help even out working in a low income school. I am tired of the old excuse that we all go into teaching for the love of children and that we don’t expect to be paid. Well, I do. I was promised the bonus and studied, and worked twenty hours a weekend for the better part of a year to get my National Boards. I expect the State to live up to their promise and pay up. As for the article they should have asked a few of us who work in these challenging schools what we thought.