Feb. 29, 2008, 6:31AM
AUSTIN — Texas school districts are paying teachers smaller bonuses than what was recommended by lawmakers, one factor that has led to mixed results in the first year of the nation's largest merit pay plan, according to an independent study funded by the state.
The $100 million Texas Educator Excellence Grant program received a favorable response from teachers in the 1,148 schools where bonuses were awarded, according to the study.
But researchers said they are unsure if the program will prove to be a long-term success, in part because of massive turnover among schools participating in the merit pay program and smaller-than-expected bonuses. Although the Legislature recommended awarding teacher bonuses between $3,000 and $10,000, the average bonus awarded across the state was $2,263.
The study has also produced mixed reactions from supporters and opponents of the merit pay program.
"We think the program is accomplishing what the Legislature intended," said Jerel Booker, the state's director of education initiatives and performance. "One of the primary goals was to retain good teachers in our schools, and at least 70 percent of these teachers said they have a strong desire to participate in the program."
But the merit pay program's detractors, including many teacher associations, said the study proves the program had little effect on teachers. One element of the study indicated that 85 percent of teachers in the program said the bonuses did not change their approach to classroom work.
"What did the $100 million accomplish?" said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. "These teachers were already doing a good job."
Although teacher associations generally support pay raises for all teachers in Texas as opposed to merit raises for some, the study indicated that teachers in the program generally supported performance incentives.
"Most teachers responded favorably to their school's program ... ," the study said.
The National Center on Performance Incentives produced the 161-page study under contract from the Texas Education Agency. Researchers were from Vanderbilt University, the University of Missouri and the RAND Corp., a nonprofit think tank.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com
© 2008 The Associated Press