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Teacher bonuses strike a nerve: 'Frustrating day' for those who don't agree with HISD's incentive formula

Ohanian Comment: The real point is not what the superintendent calls a "complex system"; the real point is that this pits teacher against teacher, destroying any hope of collegiality and/or concerted action. Which is the real point of the endeavor.

And to make a bad situation worse, Many teachers learned how much others earned from the Houston Chronicle, and some questioned its decision to publish the bonus amounts online.

My question: Why didn't the teachers strongly oppose this ahead of time? I mean strongly. I fear, lured by money, many people thought they'd be winners. In reality, everybody in such a system is a loser.

This is truly heartbreaking. If there were any degree of professionalism left in Houston after the grinding assaults of the last few years, it's gone now.

By Ericka Mellon

Teachers' lounges buzzed with frustration and confusion Wednesday when educators in the Houston Independent School District learned how much, if any, bonus pay they received and the amounts their colleagues pocketed.

The district doled out about $14 million in bonuses to nearly 8,000 teachers and other employees under the new performance-pay plan. The payout sparked delight among some, discontent among others.

"Today has been a pretty frustrating day for teachers across the board," said Amy Whitlow, a first-grade teacher at Eliot Elementary who earned a $500 bonus. "There were snide remarks made toward some teachers that got higher bonuses. A lot of teachers were very angry and upset."

Teachers across the district, for example, didn't understand how a nurse ended up receiving a bigger bonus than a math or science teacher.

They didn't understand how a teacher earned no bonus even though 100 percent of her students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

And they didn't understand how an admired educator who had been named "Teacher of the Year" received zilch.

The explanation for all those queries is simple, according to the superintendent's team: The teachers didn't meet the requirements of the district's unique formula, which spits out who gets bonuses and who doesn't.

Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra has conceded that the formula is both complex and imperfect, and he and the school board intend to tweak it. But overall he said he stands by the formula's emphasis on how much individual teachers helped individual students to improve on standardized tests.

"As complex as this is," Saavedra said during a celebratory news conference Tuesday, "this is a system that is the right system, and frankly, I'm willing to bet that a lot of teachers understand the system."

In addition, Saavedra repeatedly emphasized that the district's plan rewarded about four times as many teachers this year as last year, and this year's maximum payout topped $7,000, compared with the previous $1,000 flat rate.

Upset, some left early

As president of the district's largest teachers' union, Gayle Fallon said she received some 50 e-mail messages from teachers Wednesday and "lost count on the phone calls." Fallon said she heard from a couple of teachers who left school early because they were so upset.

"I have two that I know of that walked off the job and said, 'I'm not dealing with the humiliation,' " said Fallon, who runs the Houston Federation of Teachers. "One of them was still crying when I talked to her an hour later."

Put simply, under the district's bonus plan, all classroom teachers and other school staffers, such as nurses, librarians and counselors, are eligible for bonuses. But some qualify for more money than others, depending on the subject and grade level they teach. Those who teach core subjects that require standardized tests, including the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and the national Stanford 10, can reap the biggest rewards.

Common questions

Some common questions about the bonus formula:

How can a "Teacher of the Year" be denied a bonus?

Answer: The test scores of that teacher or that teacher's school didn't improve enough. The formula does not include other measures, such as awards or principals' evaluations.

How can a teacher whose students all passed the TAKS be denied money?

Answer: The formula does not care about the percent of students who pass the test. It looks at actual scores on the test, known as scale scores. A student could pass the test and still have room to improve. The formula looks at a student's score one year and the same student's score the next, and judges the teacher based on how much that student improved, compared with students of the same income level.

How can a nurse, counselor and other non-classroom teacher make more money than a core teacher in subjects such as reading and math?

Answer: The formula judges core teachers based on how much their own students grow on the standardized tests. Nurses and the others are judged on the improvement of all students in the school.

Some teachers complained the formula favors those who teach 11th grade because juniors must pass the TAKS that year to graduate which motivates them to do better on the test.

"Clearly, juniors try harder. They have incentive to pass the thing," said Ferryn Martin, an 11th-grade history teacher at Austin High School who earned a $3,075 bonus.

HISD officials disputed that 11th-grade teachers have an unjust advantage.

"Outstanding teachers motivate their children no matter what grade they're in," HISD spokesman Terry Abbott said.

Martin, who has been teaching for 22 years, said a couple of young ninth-grade teachers came to her upset because they didn't get a bonus.

Published online

Many teachers learned how much others earned from the Houston Chronicle, and some questioned its decision to publish the bonus amounts online.

Katie Coughlen, who is president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Bellaire High School, said she visited the Chronicle's Web site to check out the information.

"It was interesting to see how the bonuses were distributed around the different schools," said Coughlen, who has a son at Bellaire and a son at Johnston Middle School.

Still, she said she rates teachers by her own interactions with them and not by bonuses.

Editors said Wednesday that they published the information because the public had a right to know how the school district was spending the more than $14 million in bonus money.

"It's a matter of public record," Managing Editor John Wilburn said. "Which teachers get bonuses, and how much they get, is of great interest to our readers, particularly parents of HISD students."

Some people are so angry over the district's performance-pay plan that they are encouraging teachers to call in sick in protest. Fallon said her union is not advocating skipping work.

"Trust me," she said, "... if the law permitted, we would be out there screaming for it, but it doesn't."


What teachers are saying about HISD bonuses

Scores of teachers and parents were moved Wednesday to share their opinions on the Houston Independent School District's new performance-pay system that rewarded some teachers with checks for thousands of dollars while others got nothing. This is a sampling of the 100-plus comments received by the Houston Chronicle's School Zone blog:

"Let me just say that the BEST teacher at my school received NOTHING!!! One of the WORST received over $4,000. Teachers who co-teach on the same team received different amounts. Tell me how that's fair because one is labeled the language arts teacher and one is labeled the reading teacher??? What this incentive pay did was divide teachers and build resentment. If parents choose teachers based on incentive pay they will be TERRIBLY disappointed." A TEACHER

"I am very upset that this information is published. It is a gross invasion of my privacy. Already, at 7 a.m. I have received calls from peers expressing their anger at being overlooked. Why was my information released? This will surely make me a target for snide remarks and lead to an uncomfortable atmosphere.." LAURA

"My children's science teacher at their elementary receives no bonus. She has won many awards and has been featured in the Chronicle." FRUSTRATED HISD PARENT

"Let's just say that once we got the list and printed it out gossiped about it all day and absolutely no teaching occurred one of the teachers just left work because she was so upset. Just left the kids, etc. Thanks Houston Chronicle!" DISGRUNTLED TEACHER

"Its a shame when school nurses get the incentive money and classroom teachers do not. HISD is wasting taxpayer money again." ANNY

"So much whining, so little teaching. Sigh." MARK

"I think it is offensive and insulting that anyone, especially the HISD Administration, would think that I need an incentive to do my job. I chose to become a teacher, not for performance pay, but to teach children." FOURTH-GRADE TEACHER

"I think the complaints on here are pointless and full of jealousy. I am a student at an HISD school and yes, some teachers received bonuses that I feel should not have. ... We don't have much to look for in the future if we look to teachers clawing at each other because they feel they are more "superior" and deserve the bonuses that others receive. J

Some teachers deserving of bonuses, students say
High schoolers are harsher judges than their younger counterparts

By Cynthia Leonor Garza
Houston Chronicle

All the conversations Wednesday among Houston ISD teachers about which of their colleagues earned bonus checks didn't escape the attention of the students whose test scores were used to decide who got paid.

"I was listening to a teacher talking to another teacher ... I was hearing in the school how much some (employees) got," said Reagan High School freshman Anthony Stewart.

The teacher was venting a frustration that some nonteachers had received a bonus through the Houston Independent School District's merit-pay program while many classroom teachers were snubbed, Anthony said.

But he doesn't think every teacher deserves the raise.

"Only a handful of those here" deserve it, he said. "Some do good, but some don't. ... Some just come for the pay. I really believe that."

Samantha Rojas, a senior at the school, said one of her teachers told students that not many of Reagan's teachers got bonuses. Most of the cash went to the other, high-performing schools in the district, the teacher said. Samantha didn't seem surprised by that.

"The ones that do do the job deserve it. But there's also teachers who slack off and let students do whatever," she said.

HISD cut bonus checks totaling $77,050 for 39 Reagan employees, records show.

Meanwhile, the elementary and middle school students who streamed out of E.O. Smith Education Center into the afternoon drizzle had not heard about the bonuses, although the parents picking them up had.

Either way, 10-year-old Crystal Cabrera said all teachers deserved a bonus because "they're the reason we can be something in the future." She didn't know whether her teacher got a bonus, "but I hope she does." Her teacher did not receive a bonus, according to HISD's list.

Joseph Armelin, 36, said instead of doling out bonuses to everyone, "I wouldn't mind it if they gave it to the teachers in the schools that really need it."

The father of four said, "The schools that are in the minority neighborhoods, they're the ones that need" the money.


And the winners are ...
HISD gave us the list of teachers who earned bonuses under the new incentive pay system today. We put together a database that lets you find out which teachers got bonuses, how much they were paid, and where they work. You can check it out here.

Here are a few questions, now that we know who got what:

Parents: Will you pay attention to whether your child's teacher got a bonus? Since HISD says teachers who get these bonuses are the best and the brightest, will you try to get your kids into classes taught by those who got the most money?

Teachers: Did you get what you were expecting? Do you agree that the money went to the best teachers? What's it like in the teachers' lounge this week?

UPDATE: Many of you have asked me to explain why we decided to publish the names of teachers who received bonuses and the amount of money they got. We did it because we think parents, taxpayers and HISD employees have a right to see for themselves which teachers HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra considers "the cream of the crop," as he put it yesterday. Those of you who know the teachers whose names appear on this list can judge for yourselves whether they deserve what they got.

We realize that it's uncomfortable for the teachers on this list to have their pay information made public. But we believe the public value in seeing how HISD decided to dole out $14 million in tax dollars outweighs those concerns.

Posted by Jason Spencer at 07:46 PM | Comments (230)

First off, I do believe in bonuses for teachers. It's not easy what they do everyday for our children. However, they must not be grading the teachers correctly. My husband is a writing teacher, nominated for teacher of the year for his school, has 97% passing and his school was recognized in Texas Monthly as one of the best writing schools, yet he received zero dollars as a bonus. I understand that math and sciences are important - but writing and teachers who teach other subjects should not be overlooked.

Posted by: kam at January 23, 2007 08:26 PM

The performance pay system isn't based on passing rates on the TAKS. It's based on scale scores and student growth compared to students in similar classrooms. If this writing teacher's students had more growth on the TAKS and the Stanford test last year than most other comparable classrooms, he earned the bonus pay. If the teacher didn't get that kind of growth, he didn't get the bonus pay. This is all about rewarding the teachers who get the most improvement among students.

Posted by: anonymous at January 23, 2007 09:07 PM

I am the librarian at Lovett Elementary and I found out today that ancillary/support staff will never receive individual performance pay. We only receive performance pay based on the overall scores at our school. This fact breaks my heart because I know we work as hard as the grade level teachers, but the performance of our students is much more difficult to track. There needs to be a better way of calculating individual excentive pay for us rather than strictly on school performance.

Posted by: Teresa Coulthard at January 23, 2007 09:09 PM

Let me just say that the BEST teacher at my school received NOTHING!!! One of the WORST received over $4,000. Teachers who co-teach on the same team received different amounts. Tell me how that's fair -- because one is labeled the language arts teacher and one is labeled the reading teacher???

What this incentive pay did was divide teachers and build resentment.

If parents choose teachers based on incentive pay they will be TERRIBLY disappointed.

Posted by: a teacher at January 24, 2007 06:33 AM

Last year I taught 2 classes of 11th grade and 3 classes of 10th grade in one of the worst schools in HISD.

All core subject classes, all tested by TAKS. 100% of my students passed. My bonus? $0. I guess 100% isn't progress.

Apparently I'm not one of HISD's top teachers.

Very inspiring news to get up and come to work today.

Posted by: Amy at January 24, 2007 06:34 AM

It must be very subjective. I get an award every year for 100% on TAKS. Yet I received no bonus while those without 100% passing receive thousands. Morale is VERY low among most teachers.

Posted by: Miles Maresh at January 24, 2007 07:52 AM

I am very upset that this information is published. It is a gross invasion of my privacy. Already, at 7:00 am I have received calls from peers expressing their anger at being overlooked. Why was my information released? This will surely make me a target for snide remarks and lead to an uncomfortable atmosphere. What I want to know was a freedom of information act filed or did HISD release this information deliberately. We all work terribly hard and none of the teachers awarded bonuses at my school feel they're superior. I don't see any administrator bonus information. How can that be fair?

Posted by: Laura at January 24, 2007 08:13 AM

I also received no bonus. Nice to know that I am considered in the bottom half of HISD teachers although I have always received good evaluations and have been honored with teaching AP classes.

This performance pay issue is definitely going to damage morale. While at least 99% of the teachers who received bonuses are deserving and excellent teachers, I see that teachers with extremely poor attendance, teachers who teach their classes in Spanish (not bilingual or ESL classes), teachers with minimal knowledge of their subject area and teachers the schools have been trying to get rid of for years got bonuses also. I resent my tax dollars are going to bonuses for these kind of people.

HISD WILL lose good teachers over this issue. When you work as hard as you possibly can and sacrifice time with your family and apparently it's still not good enough, what else is there to do?

Posted by: An HISD science teacher at January 24, 2007 08:29 AM

My children's science teacher at their elementary receives no bonus. She has won many awards and has been featured in the Chronicle.

Posted by: Frustrated HISD Parent at January 24, 2007 08:42 AM

I'm with Amy. Many of us with 100% passing rates essentially "weren't allowed" a bonus because our kids had done well the year before. There are people in my building who teach no students at all and who work only from bell to bell who got four times the bonus that I did. And the fact that these are all posted on the chron is certainly not helping morale at all. Very bad idea.

Posted by: another teacher at January 24, 2007 08:43 AM

I think the performance pay is a joke. At our school the nurse got more than many of the teachers! This is not a fair representation of the work teachers do every day regardless of the incentive pay they are offered! And where are the administrative bonuses published?? I was very disappointed to know that the Chronicle had the information before I could even log on to the portal to find it for myself.

Posted by: A at January 24, 2007 09:17 AM

we have a reading teacher who had great scores and improvement...but our last principal has her listed as a science teacher so she got nothing...and that quote from Abe--so now he's saying that those of us who didn't get anything are not at the highest levels of teaching performance? Maybe if we didn't have to go to mandatory pre-ap trainings we would have more time with our kids--thanks for the slap in the face, Abe

Posted by: lgarcia at January 24, 2007 09:26 AM

Teresa, I am so sorry to hear about your situation. It's the opposite at my school; our "support" staff got more than half the bonus money here. Go figure. The part I mind the most is that our bonuses are public information. I wonder how that would go over in the real world...

Posted by: Sarah at January 24, 2007 09:27 AM

--and I don't resent any of the teachers who got money though I didn't, even the ones that may not be considered the best. They reaped the rewards of a screwed up system--how can you fault them for that?

Posted by: lgarcia at January 24, 2007 09:28 AM

The teachers listed above apparently did not make as much progress with their children as teachers in similar classrooms. Had they made as much progress with their children as other teachers, they would have gotten the bonus. Nearly 8,000 teachers across HISD got bonuses under this program. That's well over half the teachers.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 09:30 AM

Winners? The only winners in this debacle are HISD's top management and HISD's Public Relations office. The teacher incentive pay program is nothing more than a shell game.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 24, 2007 09:44 AM

and why do they not publish the administrators information? why was this released to the public prior to the individual being told what exactly was the scoring criteria? this is one of the most demeaning occurrences to take place in HISD.

Posted by: bailey bob at January 24, 2007 09:46 AM

As an ancillary teacher I have been required to teach TAKS and Stanford objectives for years now. Without objection I incorporate these objectives in my lessons and move forward. My bonus for helping in the success of our children in Strand II and III was $0.00. Yet the classes that we helped to succeed get credited with having 'the best teachers'. I would laugh if it wasn't such a tragedy.

Posted by: Tammy Teacher at January 24, 2007 09:52 AM

oh, and anonynmous-hee hee- I taught a section for one of the teachers who got a large bonus, but since they were listed as hers, I got nothing. Also, I taught, and am teaching, a math tutorials class, though I am a language arts teacher. Those math teachers got bonuses, whereas I did not. So don't presume to think that we all have sour grapes. While I think a performance pay system is a good idea in theory, this one is obviously skewed.

Posted by: lgarcia at January 24, 2007 10:11 AM

"The teachers listed above apparently did not make as much progress with their children as teachers in similar classrooms. Had they made as much progress with their children as other teachers, they would have gotten the bonus. Nearly 8,000 teachers across HISD got bonuses under this program. That's well over half the teachers"

I am one of those teachers listed above and I made quite a bit of money as a result of my making progress with my students. However, my partner teacher taught the same group of kids but had a different homeroom group of students and made $1,000 less. Is that fair? Yes, half of the "teachers" got money...that includes nurses, librarians, 3 day a week support teachers as well who were given money based on all students, not a select group of homeroom kids! And the main problem is that it should never have been published!

Posted by: A at January 24, 2007 10:21 AM

This incentive program rewards the teachers who are smart enough to know how to get bigger bonuses. The complainers who are teachers seem to not be able to comprehend the system for the bonuses. If they can't comprehend this, what does this say about them being able to comprehend materials to teach our kids? They do not deserve their bonuses because they didn't do what it took to get it.

Furthermore, someone complained about HISD giving out information on teachers' salaries. This law is public information just as are firefighters, police officers, etc. It might be upsetting and I can see why. However, it is public record. If you don't agree with it, change careers or educate yourself on the law and reasons for it.

Bonuses are just that - bonuses. Teachers have continued to gain increases in salaries and are no longer at the bottom of the rung. They keep begging for more. They can earn more. It seems some would prefer to whine. Get over it and do something about it!

The issue is divisive because peoples ego's are shot. As far as I'm concerned, take out bonus pays. If it causes more strife than not, then they shouldn't allow incentives because the underachievers will continue to whine.

Posted by: Mark at January 24, 2007 10:26 AM

One last thing, this was a Teacher's Bonus. So those complaining about Administrator's, they are not included in this incentive program. Gripe at the Chronicle if you want them to include administrators instead of just you. It's public knowledge. Anyone can find out if s/he so chooses to do so! Get out of the profession if you can't handle the reason for the law - and that's to make you, my employees (I pay for your salaries through taxes) accountable.

Posted by: Mark at January 24, 2007 10:32 AM

Yes, the incentive sounded like a good idea until the checks were actually issued. I know many teachers in my school who are not TAKS teachers, who received more than TAKS subject teachers. Come on. Bear in mind that these TAK teachers bear the brunt of the school's TEA rating and are often the ones who tutor daily and on Saturdays. Many of the lower grade teachers waltz out everyday at dismissal time, oblivious to the pressure that these teachers bear. Why doesn't the district just consider paying longevity pay based upon a teacher's loyalty and commitment to the district? That way, my incentive pay will be determined by only me and not on the academic ability of my students. Because believe it or not, all students are not capable of learning all things.

Posted by: Jo ann at January 24, 2007 10:36 AM

I recent teachers getting bonuses for doing their jobs. Weren't they hired to do a good job. In any profession, there are outstanding workers, however, no bonsus, nor recognition

Posted by: Lessie at January 24, 2007 10:38 AM

The incentive pay program is screwed up. I am the daughter of two HISD teachers and a teacher myself at a low performing school. I was a first year teacher last year. My students did wonderfully on the exit level TAKS for US History. I had higher scores over all than my fellow teachers that teach the same course as I do and yet I did not recieve money while they did. How can that be? What is the reasoning behind this? I feel now that I have no incentive to do better since my best efforts were deemed unworthy.

Posted by: morgan camp at January 24, 2007 10:38 AM

The houston chron is sick for what they did. Teachers have enough to deal with, why would they do this? So, instead of thousands of our kids bing taught this morning across Houston this is what's going on. The person who published this article needs to put their salary in tomorrows editon for everyone to see. I will never have this filthy rag delievered to my house!

Posted by: j at January 24, 2007 10:42 AM

Its a shame when school nurses get the incentive money and classroom teachers do not. HISD is wasting taxpayer money again.

Posted by: anny at January 24, 2007 10:44 AM

I am a teacher who didnt receive as much money as other teachers, but Im quiet ok with that. People have to remember that this is the first year of this Performance pay system, is it perfect, absolutely not, can it be improved, yes.
I just feel that as teachers we have to be happy with the simple fact that the district is trying to put more money in our pockets and reward us for a job well done. I am quite upset that some teacher are " well i just received 1,500", be happy with what you received and put in suggestiongs to improve the current system. Good job HISD!!!

Posted by: HISD TEACHER at January 24, 2007 10:47 AM

As a non-content area teacher that incorporates content area activities in her class I find the entire system unfair. Also it seems that at some point your students have no room for improvement, especially if students consistently score high each year.

Posted by: an annoyed teacher at January 24, 2007 10:47 AM

If you teach in a low-income school and get 90% of students to pass TAKS - you should receive the top bonus. And if you go from 95%-92% you should still receive a bonus. I'm embarrassed to be a part of HISD today.

Posted by: Matt at January 24, 2007 10:48 AM

Hah is all I have to say. In my school the ancillary staff and PART TIME EMPOLOYEES made more than core teachers!! The kindergarten teachers made more than TAKS subject teachers? What scores do they compare those teachers to? The incentive pay is flawed in so many ways it is very disappointing and uninspiring.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 24, 2007 10:51 AM

My daughter has a english teacher at her middle school who in my opinion does not care about the students who have reading problems. My daughter is one of those students she is under special ed. I see this teacher got a nice size bonus. What a joke.

Posted by: Dena Heslep at January 24, 2007 10:53 AM


Posted by: LM at January 24, 2007 11:03 AM

The names and earnings of teachers clearly are public record, which must be released to the media under the Texas Public Information Act. HISD administrators have had their salaries published by the newspaper for years. Every penny that everyone who works for HISD makes is a public record, fully disclosable to the public. The school district should be applauded for immediately making this information available to the public.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 11:07 AM

"This incentive program rewards the teachers who are smart enough to know how to get bigger bonuses. The complainers who are teachers seem to not be able to comprehend the system for the bonuses. If they can't comprehend this, what does this say about them being able to comprehend materials to teach our kids? They do not deserve their bonuses because they didn't do what it took to get it."

This is a ridiculous statement. I received one of the highest bonuses at my school, and I have no idea what it was based on. The information HISD provided us was extremely unclear. I have friends who are teachers and administrators at other school, and ALL of them have different explanations for the incentive pay. No one understands the formula. I'm happy I got the money, but there are many other teachers who deserved more. A clear explanation that breaks down the way bonuses were calculated is needed before teachers start taking their frustrations out on each other.

But here's the most important factor: Are you a teacher that is there for the kids? The kids are what matters. Yes money is important, but people, let's get our priorities straight!

Posted by: H at January 24, 2007 11:37 AM

JoAnn.....This is what you said "Bear in mind that these TAK teachers bear the brunt of the school's TEA rating and are often the ones who tutor daily and on Saturdays. Many of the lower grade teachers waltz out everyday at dismissal time, oblivious to the pressure that these teachers bear."

Shame on you for thinking that. You obviuosly have only taught TAKS grades.
Just because I teach a lower grade does not mean I am not responsible for those test scores as well. Who do you think teaches the students to read initially? Do they come to you with the knowledge they have on their own? NO!
And I tutor after school. I also mentor some of the upper grade students and help them when needed.

Posted by: Amy at January 24, 2007 11:39 AM

Again, the teacher performance bonuses are NOT based on TAKS PASSING rates. They are based on TAKS scale scores and Stanford scores, and the improvement in those scores from one year to the next as compared to the scores of similar classrooms. The HISD performance pay system is an excellent system: It rewards actual strong progress in the classroom from one year to the next. That's why nearly 8,000 teachers are financially better off today than they were yesterday -- their children made better than average progress and they've been rewarded for it. Let's be happy for these wonderful teachers that they've gotten recognition and financial reward for it now.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 11:45 AM

Mark.....I saw people complaining that teachers bonuses were posted. Everyone knows our salaries are but let's be fair, bonuses.
I have worked in the business world and pay as well as bonuses were and are always confidential. SO get off your high horse!

In addition, the complainers also got bonuses. Like me and I am upset with the fact that other teachers did not get bonuses. I think it is unfair that our co-workers know what we got. This does not happen in the real world.

I think the real problem is that our school environment, resources, budget, parental support (at my school is non-existsent-our kids raise themselves), the additional help we give students that need help was not put into account.

Last year I washed some of my students clothes and this year I tutor (without getting paid) some of my former students because their parents do not help them. Why teach in HISD? No one tells me what a good job I do for these students that need help.
It seems like this performance pay was luck of the draw.

Posted by: AW at January 24, 2007 11:49 AM

As a teacher with my private information splashed all over the paper and internet, I don't care about the Texas Public Information Act. My salary can be posted, as it is on the salary ladder. This bonus being posted is outrageous. I was keeping my amount personal to not hurt or discourage other teachers.
All morning long I have received emails and phone calls disrupting my classes to listen to other scorned teachers complain about my bonus. Administrators' salaries are posted, but I would like to know how much the administrators of each school will make this year. I would like their colleagues to be jealous and feel unworthy as well.
As for working in another profession as commented above, is that the purpose of the bonus? My mother works in a corporation and their bonuses are HUSH, HUSH! Management keeps those private so they don't lower the morale of other hard-working employees.
I am not apologizing for doing well, but this has put me in an uncomfortable position and caused a lot of tension in my building.

Posted by: SMAD at January 24, 2007 11:51 AM

I teach at a school with 100% TAKS pass rate. Our school did not "improve" enough so many teachers were not eligible for bonuses based on that alone.

Furthermore, I teach 6th grade Reading. The 6th grade English teacher (who teaches the exact same kids that I do) received a hefty bonus while I received nothing. The English teacher is a wonderful teacher and truly deserves the money, but it is insulting to say that I had nothing to do with our students' progress.

Also, the distribution of the large bonuses to only those teachers who teach a TAKS related class is an injustice. Example: an 8th grade History teacher could receive a large bonus for his or her work, but the 7th and 6th grade history teachers would never receive comparable sums. This fails to acknowledge these teachers' efforts. Teaching is a community affair - no one teacher does it alone.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 11:56 AM

Mark - would you please stop putting apostrophes where they are not needed? God help our students if you're a teacher.

Posted by: Pete at January 24, 2007 12:00 PM

I taught in HISD last year and I can tell you for sure that assistant principals did receive bonuses and their information was published. However, there was no bonus information for head principals that I could see.

Posted by: Wendy at January 24, 2007 12:09 PM

All teachers should have received some kind of bonus. I thank the teachers who taught me. Keep your head high

Posted by: JG at January 24, 2007 12:16 PM

Mark...administrators ARE included in this system...as are nurses, PE teachers, and librarians! Get your facts straight!

Posted by: A at January 24, 2007 12:22 PM

I am thrilled to have been rewarded in this program. I know teachers whom I believe to be better teachers than me, who received lower awards, or even none at all. I do not know why that is. I also know that the development of this reward of program is extremely complicated, but that there is no formula that is "perfectly fair." How does one quantify what our students have learned? Or what we have taught?

HISD administration must have a spent an enormous amount of time doing the math that resulted in these awards. The logistics of measuring the progress of each student, of each core teacher, in each school in HISD, is truly mind-boggling. This is the kind of effort that is expected of the teachers, for each student. I am encouraged that so much effort was taken on my behalf, and I know I will work even harder on behalf of our students, knowing my efforts are appreciated by HISD. HISD has shown its appreciation monetarily, and by taking the time and making the effort to create a reward that refects my personal contribution.

Posted by: ELA teacher at January 24, 2007 12:25 PM

"This incentive program rewards the teachers who are smart enough to know how to get bigger bonuses. The complainers who are teachers seem to not be able to comprehend the system for the bonuses. If they can't comprehend this, what does this say about them being able to comprehend materials to teach our kids? They do not deserve their bonuses because they didn't do what it took to get it."

Mark - You're right, we (the teachers) dont understand the incentive system. It has never been adequately explained to us.
I graduated college with Honors and I certanly know my curriculum. I received nothing because 100% of my kids pass TAKS, so guess what? No improvement.

I found your comments to be pretty offensive. You need to recongize that many deserving teachers did not get bonuses today.

We here on my campus think the Principal should distribute the funds - they have a better idea of what's going on.

Posted by: upset teacher at January 24, 2007 12:28 PM

Teachers who have ALWAYS had 100% pass that TAKS and Stanford didn't get a bonus. Go figure.

Posted by: Tired Teacher at January 24, 2007 12:30 PM

I completely agree with the principal being in charge of distributing the performance pay.

Posted by: A at January 24, 2007 12:37 PM

Please explain to me how every ancillary staff and part time staff recieved more incentive pay than I did. I had 100% of my 90 students pass the math TAKS with more than 1/2 recieving commended performance. Yet I was "ranked" lower than the ancillary staff. Thanks for a great day at work!!!

Posted by: Rachel at January 24, 2007 12:40 PM

At my high school, most teachers who got bonuses teach juniors. What a coincidence it is that suddenly as juniors the students take the test seriously because they are actually penalized for not passing.

Those of us teaching sophomores didn't get it because those students have no motivation to pass. There is no penalty for sophomores who fail TAKS. This is an across-the-board problem.

Further evidence of the invalidity of this formula.

Posted by: HISD science teacher at January 24, 2007 12:46 PM

The majority of teachers at our school received nothing. We are a top performing school, but I guess that does not make us worthy of the title, "Cream of the Crop."

Posted by: angry teacher at January 24, 2007 12:57 PM

I feel this performance pay system is messed up. I taught 2 different grade levels last year. My kids made progress. Was it as good as the classes I was compared to - obviously not. But I know I am a good teacher because my students grew educationally. They just did not make as much progress as the classes I was compared to. At my school almost everyone got money. My problem with this system is that non-core teachers received more money than some classroom teachers. I agree that they help us with our kids but they only spend 45 minutes a week with them. We have them at least 30 hours a week. Why did we not get at least the same amount as them? Dr. Saavedra needs to think about his comments. I don't think you can judge teachers as being "excellent" or "awful" based on the amount a teacher received. Some schools that are EXEMPLARY did not get any money because they did not improve very much. But they are still great teachers. He needs to think how his comments will affect morale and "his" district. Some of the comments I have heard make me angry. Just because someone did not get as much money as anyone else does not mean you are a bad teacher. Let's rework this system to reward all teachers whose kids improve, not just teacher's whose students improved more than the classes they were compared to. I had 100% passing rate for TAKS but I received less money than the "non-core" teachers.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 24, 2007 01:01 PM

To HISD science teacher:
So it's the kids fault that you didn't earn a bonus?

It's disappointing that you would blame your students for not helping you to get a bonus. Isn't a teacher's job to motivate, inspire and teach children so that they learn?

We should be praising the teachers who earned the bonuses and thanking the teachers who didn't but worked hard anyway. We shouldn't be blaming the kids.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 01:03 PM

By the way Mark, administrators ARE included, even office staff are, so do some research first. I am a teacher and taxpayer as well, and I don't consider myself self-employed because I pay for my own salary. YOU are not my boss!

Posted by: a at January 24, 2007 01:11 PM

There is a unique issue for high schools. If this continues there are going to be fights in all high schools over who gets to teach 11th grade courses. Here's why...There are huge incentives for 11th graders to pass TAKS. They must pass it to graduate. They try very hard to pass TAKS their 11th grade year. For the most part, they go to class, tutorials, and they study before the test. This is understandable since they have been tested and trained their whole lives but it only makes a difference to them that exit level year. I received a large bonus but it is not fair. I would have to be a pretty bad teacher not to show improvement from the 10th grade, when students are so sick of testing they just bubble in designs, to the 11th grade year when they actually have something to lose.

Posted by: Richer but discouraged at January 24, 2007 01:14 PM

Already this has been a bad day...while some teachers are pissed off because they didn't get more than other teachers bonuses, there were other teachers who didn't get (anything)...

and what about teacher aids and teacher assistants who work in the classrooms and work with students, why didn't they get a bonus. I tell you, teacher aids and teacher assistants do not get recognized for nothing and they work just as hard as the teachers do, well at least the aids and assistants at our school work hard.

and nurses, come on, i don't know about the nurses at other schools, but the one here, i just don't understand, she is not a teacher. she is not in a classroom all day. she's in her clinic.

HISD is just screwed in the head.

Posted by: v at January 24, 2007 01:19 PM


Posted by: Nina at January 24, 2007 01:43 PM

I seen that a Band director got a bonus and it was a 4 digit bonus!!! Tell me the system isn't flawed. There's no spite and/or discredit to the band director but shouldn't the merit bonus system should be geared toward educators that are putting forth the in classrooms versus the band hall?

Posted by: Anonymous at January 24, 2007 01:43 PM

It's funny how the published information says that 8,000 teachers received bonus pay, but when each of the HISD employees recieved their phone calls about this over the weekend the message said nearly 4,500 will benefit from the bonus.

It is wonderful for those teachers who will benefit from this. It is a shame that the rest of us, who bust our @#%$# to meet the No Child Left Behind Act, have just been left behind.

Also, how is what children do on a state and standardized test the real measure of adequacy in a "Professional" teachers ability to be the "cream of the crop"? Thirty-three out of my forty students received Commended Performance honors last year. What did I receive - $0. I guess their acheivement had nothing to do with my hard work in the classroom or the teachers in the prior grades who have laid the foundation for each year to come.

Likewise, our Ancillary staff works hard to incorporate the TEKS into their curriculum. What did they receive for the team work they played in progress of these students? $0.

Thanks Abe and the HISD school board for telling me and the rest who received no bonus that we are zeros. "Thank you for your hard work" is just a band aid to correct an illogical bonus system and hopes that you will not have a mass exitous at the end of the schooolyear.

Posted by: annonymous at January 24, 2007 01:44 PM

This is not right!!!!!!!!!!

I see the list of teachers that got bonuses and I didn't get a thing! BUT here is the WORST thing: there were plenty of "teachers" that did absolutely NOTHING to improve grades! They had NO academic classes! The NURSE, PE, ART, COUSELER, BAND, LIBRARIAN!!! They did nothing! The absolute LEAST thing they could have done was to put the rest of us that are in the "FRONTLINE" in with those "teachers!"
Saavedra, YOU SUCK!

Posted by: annonymous for fear of HISD retaliation at January 24, 2007 01:52 PM

It is truly disappointing to see such harsh, negative statements coming from educators. There is so much to celebrate today for the nearly 8,000 teachers and support staff who earned the bonuses. It's disappointing for the public to see us being petty in this way.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 02:01 PM

I am an HISD teacher that received money. I am furious that the district publicly listed the names of teachers receiving money and how much. I believe this puts teachers in danger and it has incapacitated our campus. I had a colleague scream at me today in utter disregard for professional behavior. Additionally, I find it reprehensible that certain teachers were rewarded, while other, hard-working and dedicated teachers were not. The incentive program is a giant FLOP, much like Dr. Saavedra's Superintendency with HISD.

Our campus is infurated, divided, and many people are planning on resigning. The campus morale has declined dramatically, and rightfully so. Dr. Saavedra has indeed created a working environment of "incentive to quit teaching entirely."


Posted by: Anonymous at January 24, 2007 02:02 PM

So much whining, so little teaching. Sigh.

Posted by: Mark at January 24, 2007 02:07 PM

Teaching is a team sport. Everyone on the campus is a part of the team. These bonus plans just turn the team members against each other. This blog is the proof of it. Incentive pay plans make for great sound bites for politicians but they make for poor education for our children.

Posted by: John O'Sullivan at January 24, 2007 02:12 PM

1) Posting bonus amounts and names is wrong
2) Excluding any teacher from bonus pay is wrong
3) This has been great reading
I respect all teachers, you all work very hard to educate our children for little reward and definitely not enough pay. It is time for a new federal education program "No Teacher Left Behind"


Posted by: Searcher at January 24, 2007 02:22 PM

"This incentive program rewards the teachers who are smart enough to know how to get bigger bonuses." --Mark, if you really want a teacher to manipulate the system in order to achieve a bigger bonus, I certainly hope that you, Mark, don't have children going through HISD. The ONLY way to get any money is based upon improvement from year to year.

I received $4000, rewarded for individually scoring above 90% at a school that averaged in the 60s the previous year. I achieved such high passing TAKS rates by tutoring after school and on Saturdays in addition to implementing effective practices daily in the classroom.

This school year, I was able to transfer to a school that has consistently scored in the high 80s and 90s. However, this achievement is NOT any easier for them, as many of the teachers also provide tutorials after school and work on Saturdays in addition to providing stellar daily instruction. In order for these teachers to get bonuses during their teaching career, Mark, you are suggesting that they ever so astutely blow off their passing rates this year and resume their excellent performance the following year. Thus, they would show the required "growth" and be compensated under the current system.

Fortunately for your children's sake, I don't know any teacher that would sacrifice the education of your child in order to receive any amount of money.

I believe an improved pay performance system would be to reward any teacher who meets exemplary standards (ie; 90%) regardless of the previous year's performance. Period.

Posted by: Marie at January 24, 2007 02:32 PM

We have all been ripped off. Schools that are high performing or very close to being exemplary got hardly anything. Schools that are poor and always poor received a great deal of money. In my opinion High performing schools are being punished for doing their jobs. It almost makes me, (I work at a school that has made remarkable improvements over the last 5 years)want to not teach so next year my students will show improvment and then I will get a bonus. The sad part is that my co-workers and always work hard and many got nothing others got the pity bonus and then after taxes you get nothing.
The early childhood centers got more money that the schools that actually take the Staford/Aprenda and TAKS. It was all wrong.

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 02:34 PM

I received a bigger bonus than the kinder teacher even though my students take no standardized tests and hers do. Is this fair? Of course not, neither is it fair that I can NEVER get the big bonus because my students don't take the tests. I am also angry about how this performance plan was put into place. Saavedra called in a bunch of teachers and hashed it out last year and then changed it THIS MONTH giving the teachers in Strand III even more money. Our teaching assistants who spent time and money being certified as No Child Left Behind Teaching Assistants got peanuts, who do you think tutored some of those kids whose teachers got the highest bonuses? I am ok with teachers whose students improve from the year before getting more money, I just don't think it has to be so much more that other hard working teachers are overlooked.

Posted by: sp. ed. teacher at January 24, 2007 02:37 PM

Mark...get back to YOUR work and keep your inaccurate comments off the blog!

Posted by: harry at January 24, 2007 02:39 PM

What happen to we don't compare students? I thought HISD IDEALOGY was for PLCs to give support to the student growth no matter how much it was and should be adopted from the custodians all the way to the up! There goes the PLC ideology out the window along with the millions invested.

WE NEED TO SHOW SUPPORT AND LET THE DISTRICT KNOW HOW WE FEEL!!! We need to take 2 personal, or sick days on Jan. 30 and 31 to express how we feel.

Since all our union does is talk. I know that we are not allowed to go on strike but no one said you couldn't take a day off for a good cause!!!

Posted by: A Friend at January 24, 2007 02:46 PM

BOGUS. That is what this all is. First of all, I am an ART teacher and did not get one cent. I only qualified for Strand 1, and because I don't teach standardized tests I don't even get considered for the other money, so I don't really know how many other "ancillary staff" made much money at all with this.
I am not surprised that HISD has caused a fiasco with this. Just par for the course of my 20 year run as an HISD teacher. Obviously I am not in it for the money, but I always considered myself to be a GREAT ART TEACHER, and I refuse to let HISD tell me otherwise. They might think I am the bottom of the district, and not the cream of the crop, but let me tell you something, ask any of the 700 kids I teach and they will tell you otherwise. I am embarrassed to teach in HISD today. Mr. Abe said that this was a GREAT DAY for HISD teachers in the press, and I am here to say that this is the saddest day I have ever seen.
It's hard to keep our heads high when you have been kicked in the rear by your employees. It's obvious how little they think of me. For Abbot to say in the paper on Monday," if they do a better job teaching children than most other teacher do, then they'll get the money"...well, Abbot, Abe and the rest of you HISD goons, pull your foot outa your mouth!

Posted by: ashamed to be an HISD teacher at January 24, 2007 02:49 PM

This one's for all those IGNORANT people who are making silly comments about teachers whining and 'so little teaching." HA! It cracks me up how stupid people are about what is going on in education; you know absolutely nothing about the hell teachers go through! If your smart enough to accuately have a degree in something, go out there and get an alternative certification, and get a job at an inner-city school, and see if you last! There are too many things we deal with to list but, i'll put it this way, there's a reason why the average teacher only lasts 6-7 years! We earn every penny we get! Don't forget that!

Posted by: anonymous at January 24, 2007 02:57 PM

It is amazing how educator's have spent the day searching out what you have recieved and the amount of teaching that had not occurred today. Some teacher's fighting with others! It is just ridicuous! This is a reality check for those educator that know teaching is not occurring in their classrooms, and before you point your finger at the process evaulate what did not occur in your classroom last year. An change it before the testing this year! So many teachers teach out of textbooks, do not attending any trainings and it has not bitten you on your butt. The bottom line is that you need to improve in your teaching methods or find a place that works better for you. All these sour attitudes today have taken away from another day of instruction.

Posted by: Did you work today? at January 24, 2007 02:57 PM

This is my fourth year teaching in a low-income HISD school. For three consecutive years, I have managed to have altogether 62 low-income, at-risk students pass all three sections of TAKS (reading, writing, and math). My bonus does not reflect the endless hours I have spent in preparing and teaching these students for the TAKS and Aprenda, because other teachers in my campus have never managed to achieve what I have achieved, and they received some the highest bonuses at our school of over $4,000. According to the article in the Chronicle, "[Saavedra] said the teachers receiving the largest bonuses represent 'the cream of the crop.'" Since my bonus was significantly lower than that of my fellow colleagues, I suppose I am not considered a piece of "the cream of the crop." As a result, HISD can find a new replacement for my position next year, a challenging position teaching difficult at-risk students in my area, because, obviously, my hard work and endless hours of mind-breaking planning are not valued individually as Saavedra promised.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 24, 2007 03:00 PM

Some of us teachers have been in classrooms for thirty years or more and have seen incentive plans come and go, and the bases for alloting funds have taken on various forms of creative justice. Yet not one of them has ever achieved anything but division and ill will among teachers. Most significantly, research has never been able to attribute student progress to teacher incentive pay or bonuses.In a profession in which faculty and staff need to pull together as a team and work for the good of children and adolescents, one should wonder why the authors of these plans would subject educators to the chaos of a bonus system that is the antithesis of cohesiveness and harmony.

A bit of proverbial wisdom attributed to Einstein goes something like this: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get different results. In my own personal opinion, this scheme is the most insane and insanely dangerous I have experienced in my history as an educator. How disappointed and sad that makes me feel as I come to the end of my career.

Posted by: an effective teacher at January 24, 2007 03:21 PM

Though cliche, doesn't it take a village to raise a child. How can we possibly say to all of the support staff, PE teachers, and other "non-core teachers" they their daily effort does not matter. Aren't the people who greet our kids everyday when the arrive at school important? Aren't the people who serve our children their lunches important? This is a travesty, rewarding some while punishing others. How can you possibly rate one teacher against another by a few test scores. I hope every teacher in HISD takes some time to really think what kind of atmosphere HISD has created. Are they still going to want to work there next year?

Posted by: Andrew Boring at January 24, 2007 03:25 PM

I am appalled by the Houston Chronicle's decision to publish the names of individual teachers who received bonuses and the amount each teacher received. I did not find out about my bonus in a communication from HISD. Instead, my tearful colleague, a person who works tirelessly to ensure that the students in her class receive a high-quality education, offered me "congratulations" on my good fortune. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She told me that she had seen my name and bonus amount on the Chronicle website. She felt very dejected. This teacher is dedicated, capable, creative, compassionate, and effective - but not according to HISD. I could only put my arms around her and assure her that her value as a teacher could not be measured solely by test scores and bonus amounts. This ill-conceived attempt to inspire teachers to perform better will back-fire when many qualified teachers (including, perhaps, those who did receive bonuses) decide to take their talents to a district that recognizes that good teaching is so much more than whether or not children do well on a standardized test.

Posted by: Teacherkel at January 24, 2007 03:27 PM

Abe Saavedra, you should be ashamed of yourself. You have devalued most of your teaching staff and have created a poor working environment. You are mistaken if you think that incentive pay will increase performance or a positive competitive working environment. You will lose teachers. Haven't you heard "THERE'S A TEACHER SHORTAGE!"

Posted by: unknown at January 24, 2007 03:27 PM

I live in NY area but I have a friend who is a teacher for HISD, and she was in a "pissy mood" since sunday. Reading these posts, makes me realize how important our teachers are to our society. I work for a Fortune 100 investment firm on wall st and I was a little upset because I thought my bonus wasn't as much as I deserved at the time. Now Im just glad I recieved something for my efforts.
I think posting the bonus/salary information was just wrong, sure its public information, but it has to be requested via a letter. I cant imagine if my firm posted everyones salary like that, the resentment it would bring would be overwhelming... I just hope you guys keep doing what you are doing, and know that the general public respects the job you are doing.
Heres another thing to think about (not sure about Texas State Taxes) but your bonus is subject to much higher taxation than your paycheck, close to 45%. and its only money, the service you do for our young people goes far beyond any monetary gains....

Keep your heads up Teachers of HSID

Posted by: DN at January 24, 2007 03:29 PM

Won't it be par for the course if the lovely Houston Chronicle POSTS all these comments? Think Abe has a newspaper next to his bowl of cornflakes every morning? I sure hope so.

Posted by: Pete at January 24, 2007 03:31 PM

Harry, thank you for posting something about Mark. His remarks have been driving me crazy.

Posted by: Andrew at January 24, 2007 03:32 PM

I work at an HISD elm school where most of the teachers did get a bonus. However there were two teachers who did not get anything. One of whom is probally one of the hardest working teachers in the school.
Another teacher who only teaches to the test did get a bonus. How would you like to be in a 3rd grade class and only do 'drill and kill' for a whole year.

Posted by: teacher at January 24, 2007 03:34 PM

A friend has a point. If all our unions can do is talk and offer condolences, maybe it's time for the teachers of HISD to take a stand, those who receieved money as well as those who did not. Can we stand together and walk out of our classrooms? Can we show this district that we do not appreciate what they are doing to our profession? Will we end up a pack of snarling, petty dogs lunging at any little bone thrown our way? Well teachers of HISD, what will you do?

Posted by: Andrew at January 24, 2007 03:34 PM

This is extremely divisive for education. I work at an incredible school with a family of people who try their best to improve the lives of children, no matter their level. We stand on the shoulders of all the teachers who came before us from Pre-K up. I should not receive blame or credit for what my student did on a test one hour of one day, because they happened to be in my homeroom that year. I say bag it and give us all a raise.

Posted by: Debbie Lancaster at January 24, 2007 03:36 PM

"Many of you have asked me to explain why we decided to publish the names of teachers who received bonuses and the amount of money they got. We did it because we think parents, taxpayers and HISD employees have a right to see for themselves which teachers HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra considers "the cream of the crop," as he put it yesterday. "
--Providing the information is one thing but to pimp it for readership is twisted. I have an idea "Performance pay for students."

Posted by: random at January 24, 2007 03:47 PM

I think this incentive program is a joke but no one is laughing. This is the single most demoralizing event in my 21 years of teaching. The district spent a fortune this summer on creating Professional Learning Communities

— Ericka Mellon and Cynthia Leonor Garza
Houston Chronicle





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