The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday afternoon that New Haven’s school system has been awarded a $53.4 million grant to reward its top teachers and to encourage high-quality teachers to work in its impoverished schools.

This Teacher Incentive Fund will last five years and will go to help 46 high-need schools in New Haven. According to the announcement, the money will be used to enhance the district’s existing teacher evaluation system by adding the funding for professional development and differentiated career opportunities and differentiated compensation based on those evaluations. Dave Cicarella, the leader of New Haven’s teachers’ union, said this merit-based compensation will not be based on how students perform on standardized tests.

“Our best teachers and principals are invaluable leaders in changing life outcomes for students. They are desperately needed in our struggling schools, and they deserve to be recognized, rewarded and given the opportunity to have a greater influence on their colleagues, students and in their communities,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said when announcing the grant.

The average salary of a general education teacher in New Haven was $58,300 in the 2010-11 school year, almost $10,000 less than the state average and below its surrounding communities, according to the State Department of Education. The teachers in New Haven also have fewer years of experience than the state average and fewer with a master’s degree, according to the State Department of Education.

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