Houston math teacher Ronee Finch knows numbers and how to get students to understand them. So the school district rewarded her a bonus of nearly $9,000 this year.
The district is giving out a record, extra $41 million this year to teachers who improve their students' scores on standardized tests.
"We're just being asked to make sure that they improve," Finch said of Houston's 200,000 students. "And if you keep a student in your classroom for an entire year and they don't improve, there is something wrong with that and it needs to be fixed."
The Houston Independent School District came up with a fix for teachers who don't produce students with high enough test scores: fire them. School board members voted last week to do more than reward teachers based on test scores. Beginning next school year, teachers whose students consistently fail to improve on standardized tests may be let go.
Evaluating teachers based on students' test scores is one way of introducing workplace accountability into the classroom, something that is long overdue, Houston School Superintendent Terry Grier said.
"Teachers who either will not or cannot meet our standards, those folks don't need to be in education," Grier said.
Critics argue that schools are different and shouldn't be treated like businesses where employees are rewarded and fired based on results.
At the sometimes angry and rowdy school board meeting Feb. 11, teachers derided the decision.
"We deal with children in poverty," teacher Tuesdey Neal said at the meeting. "We deal with lack of parental support. We do the best with what we can. I do not want to suffer and lose my job because I love what I do."
Teachers like Neal say they're being unfairly blamed. The Houston Federation of Teachers and the Congress of Houston Teachers unions are threatening to sue, arguing that teaching is about more than what's on a specific test.
"I would want my children to learn to think, to reason, to write and do critical analysis, not just bubble in answers, and that's the only thing that's going to be taught in an Houston Independent School District classroom," Gayle Fallon of the Houston Federation of Teachers said.
The Houston district is the largest public school system in Texas with 295 schools. Three percent of Houston's teachers, 400 teachers total, could be fired.
The district's superintendent said that training and mentoring will be available to teachers in danger of losing their jobs.
"Students know which teachers are doing a good job, teachers know which teachers are doing a good job, and we, as administrators," Grier said, "should also know."