(EDITOR'S NOTE: The headline on this story has been changed. The earlier headline may have given some readers the impression that one out of every five schools in HISD is failing. The story has also been updated (below) to state the number of schools rated "acceptable" and "unacceptable.")
Nearly nine out of every 10 Houston public school teachers are getting performance bonuses this year, even though one out of every five schools in the district has a low academic rating from the state.
Eighty-eight percent of the Houston Independent School District’s nearly 13,000 teachers will receive bonuses for their performance last year, the school district said.
The school system is handing out more than $42.4 million in performance bonuses to 16,500 employees. That includes 92% of its bonus-eligible employees, which include all of the district’s teachers and many non-teaching personnel, including principals and administrators. The bonuses will go to 99% percent of HISD teachers instructing students in core subjects like math, science and reading.
Close to 60 of HISD’s 298 schools received one of the two lowest accountability ratings from the Texas Education Agency last year: “Academically acceptable” or “academically unacceptable.” Students’ performance in core subjects like math, science and reading figure heavily into those ratings.
(UPDATE, 4:15 p.m. Thursday: Twelve HISD schools are rated "academically unacceptable," and another 47 are rated one level higher, "academically acceptable." Despite the name, HISD trustees have said in meetings that they cannot consider a school successful if it is merely rated "academically acceptable.)
The bonus program, called ASPIRE, is a key part of having an effective teacher in every classroom, according to a district press release. And having an effective teacher in every classroom is essential to HISD becoming “the best school district in the country,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in the release.
“In order to reach our goal of being the best school district in the country,” Grier said. “We must make sure we have effective teachers like Andres Balp in every classroom...”
Balp, a bilingual teacher at Lyons Elementary, is receiving an ASPIRE bonus of $11,330, the largest teacher award in the district this year, according to HISD. The average teacher is getting $3,614. Lyons, near the Northline neighborhood of Houston, was rated “exemplary” by the state in 2010.
Grier told the Houston Chronicle that the bonus program may be in need of some changes:
"We've got to take a hard look at that program, and we've got to be willing to change it," Grier said. "When you have 92 percent of your employees receiving a bonus, you've got to ask yourself, 'Is it really a bonus program, or is it a program where you're spreading out $42 million?'"
HISD began ASPIRE in January 2007 and, since then, has given out more than $155 million in bonuses, which equals close to 10% of the district’s $1.6 billion annual budget. According to the district, ASPIRE is one of the largest performance pay programs in the country.
As the district prepares for up to $348 million in budget cuts from the state, it gave out close to $1.8 million more in bonuses this year than last year. More than half of the money for the bonuses will come out of HISD’s general fund, and the rest will be paid for using state and federal grant money.
What do you think of the HISD ASPIRE bonuses? Texas Watchdog wants to hear from you. Contact Lynn Walsh, Lynn@TexasWatchdog.org, 713-228-2850 or on Twitter @LWalsh.
"Good job" ribbon clip art: Public domain