On Thursday the State Board of Education will learn how many teachers will be eligible for ABC bonuses. ABC bonuses are cash awards provided to teachers and staff from schools that meet academic progress targets. The awards, started in 1996, are popular with educators. And, many educators have come to expect that extra check.
This year it seems teachers are noticeably more anxious about the bonuses. The final state budget included $90 million for ABC bonuses, $17 million less than requested by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). In addition, the final state budget included a provision that limited what DPI could spend to $94.3 million, the average expenditure of the program over the last eleven years. It seems in years past, DPI supplemented ABC bonus money with monies from other budgets. That may help to explain why no teacher has ever been awarded less than $1,500, the maximum award amount allowed by law. This year’s tighter state budget may change that. There was growing pressure within the Legislature to “fully fund” the ABC bonuses, but a majority never developed.
I’m all for rewarding a job well done. However these bonuses raise too many questions. Do ABC bonuses really reward good teaching? If your school meets target goals, bonuses are paid. However, good teachers and bad teachers in the same school receive the same reward. How does that policy reward good teaching? Over the past few years, high percentages of the state’s public schools have received the bonuses. Last year seventy-two percent of the state’s public schools met academic targets on state exams. Still, why isn’t this progress reflected on student test scores or in more favorable comparisons with other states?
Since 2004, North Carolina has spent $454 million on ABC bonuses. Considering our test scores and poor performance on many national tests, we should ask: was it money well spent? While no system is perfect, a system that rewards individual performance is far superior to one that negates good teaching and rewards group membership over excellence.