DURHAM – Durham’s school board appears divided over offering incentive pay to teachers and administrators at the low-performing Y.E. Smith Elementary School and Hillside High School as part of about $12 million in federal grant money aimed at improving student performance.
At a board meeting this week, Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown described using part of the federal School Improvement Grant funding to attract quality teachers and administrators and reward them for student growth as a “no-brainer.” The schools, consistently ranking low on student-performance measures, “have languished at the bottom for far too long,” she said.
But fellow board member Nancy Cox appeared to be firmly against the district administration’s recommendation to use $363,000 for incentives at Y.E. Smith and $450,000 at Hillside, rattling off concerns about the negative message such a program might send to students’ parents and the potential for merit pay to promote cheating or to encourage principals to focus too much on test scores.
She also expressed doubts about the impact incentive pay has on student achievement.
“The problem with merit pay is that it assumes that the people there are not already working a hard as they possibly can,” Cox said. “If you talk to teachers, they will tell you, ‘This is the problem: I’m already working as hard as I can. It won’t matter if you give me $500 or $5,000.’ ”