Houston Teacher Bonuses Cause Controversy

teacher bonuses

As teachers lined up for cash, some applauding, it looked like Houston teachers won the lottery: $14 million in bonus checks were paid to more than half of the district's 12,000-plus teachers, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports.

The rewards went to teachers like Stephen Gittens, whose at-risk kids showed big gains in math test scores.

"I got a nice paycheck," says Gittens, who received $6,300. "I make sure they want to learn. I make them come outside their box. I make them think."

Last year, bonuses for teachers were based on the entire school's performance on standardized tests. The new system also judges teachers individually; if the kids in their own classrooms score well, they get a bigger bonus.

"I think we're going to start attracting more and more highly qualified teachers," the district's superintendent says.

The intent is to reward top teachers and motivate others. But some feel they're being graded on a test they don't even understand.

The formula is complex, and not everyone is eligible for the top money. That confusion, some teachers say, is creating frustration and resentment in the schools.

Margaret Garza's bonus was for $38.

"It was just a disappointment, a tremendous humiliation. I value my job. I value the work I do," Garza says.

Gittens hopes the long-term payoff for payouts will be better teaching. He says the money is a good way to motivate teachers. "It shouldn't be, but since money tends to rule the world, it is," he says.

If it passes this first test, the district plans to expand the program and the top prize to $10,000 for teachers who average about $48,000 a year.