Education: More A's, More Pay

Meet the fourth R: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic--and a reward. The Department of Education just launched the first federal program that uses bonuses to motivate teachers who raise test scores in at-risk communities, awarding $42 million this month to 16 school systems in places like Chicago, Dallas and South Carolina.

Similar ideas are used in the private sector all the time. "In any other profession, when you do well, you get rewarded," says Lewis Solmon, whose National Institute for Excellence in Teaching runs an incentive-based program in 131 schools. Jason Culbertson, who won a $4,500 reward in 2003 through South Carolina's pilot program, says the incentive "kept me in education." He now leads projects related to the state's grant.

With an average incentive of $5,000 at stake, some teachers may be tempted to cook the books. "I'm not going to say they will. But it's a lot of money, and teachers are not well paid," says Eric Anderman, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Kentucky. Arne Duncan, superintendent of Chicago's public schools, says the city has "a huge amount of safeguards" in place, like statistical analyses that spot testing irregularities.

Incentive pay doesn't address schools' other woes, like large class sizes. But many observers see it as a huge advance. Teachers will never get Gordon Gekko-like bonuses--but $5,000 is a nice start.