Despite decades of union gridlock, the Washington, D.C., school board, with the help of school Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s leadership, has successfully contracted with teachers unions to implement performance pay.

The contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union is a huge triumph for Rhee in her fight for education reform in our nation’s capital. Rhee has battled with teachers unions for nearly two years over the new contract. The agreement offers teachers more compensation in return for greater accountability in their students’ academic achievement.

The contract will provide significant bonuses to teachers who demonstrate positive results in the classroom. Bonuses of up to $20,000 to $30,000 will be awarded to teachers whose students show better-than-expected growth in test scores—one of the primary benchmarks in the performance pay teacher evaluation system. This new teacher evaluation system will also allow principals to base their employment decisions on performance instead of seniority. The contract also offers development opportunities called “teacher centers,” where teachers can go to learn new approaches to improve their teaching skills in the classroom.

Michelle Rhee recently had this to say about the performance pay aspect of the new contract:

The new union contract passed unanimously by the City Council means students will have more effective teachers in the classroom and teachers will be rewarded monetarily for increasing student achievement. … It also tackles three of the perennial problems that have plagued school district agreements over time—lock step pay, seniority and tenure.

A report entitled “New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains” from the Goldwater Institute demonstrates how performance pay has the potential to dramatically improve the education system in our country. According to their study, performance pay makes teaching careers more attractive by treating educators as professionals—offering comfortable salaries without increasing the burden on taxpayers.

James Hall is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: