Study: $5,000 teacher retention bonuses up reading scores
- A recent study published in the Economics of Education Review journal revealed the positive effect selective teacher bonuses had on students in low-performing and high-poverty schools in Tennessee. After 2012, when the state instituted a one-time $5,000 bonus to teachers who both ranked high on the state's effectiveness scale and agreed to teach at the same high-needs school the following year, students' reading test scores increased, Education Week reports.
- A past study of the program showed the incentive's effectiveness in retaining high-performing teachers; however, this study focused on the increase in reading scores, which jumped about .1 standard deviation — the equivalent of between eight and 11.5 weeks of additional learning, compared to a school without this initiative, the article states.
- As compared to performance-based bonuses tied to test scores, retention bonuses like this one seem to be more beneficial overall, because they target the composition and stability of school staff and encourage a more equitable distribution of high-performing teachers at high-needs schools.
As district and school leaders advocate for more state funding, retention-based bonus programs may be something to consider. One of the biggest equity issues facing high-needs schools is an insufficient number of experienced and high-performing educators. And in some cases, offering more money to teach at high-needs schools hasn't worked.
In a Houston Chronicle article, Steve Antley, president of the Congress of Houston Teachers – a union representing about 700 district educators – said money is not always enough of a lure to draw teachers to Achieve 180 schools, which historically performed worse academically and were often staffed with less-effective teachers. “If you’re at a higher-performing campus and you’ve got a good situation, there’s a lot of risk involved in going to an Achieve 180 school,” Antley said. “You’re moving into a new situation where it’s more unstable, with a principal and administration you’re not as familiar with. It’s just a really high-pressure environment.”
Retention-based bonuses seem to work better than student performance-based bonuses, which sometimes hurt teacher morale. Though some studies show positive results from performance-based bonuses, others indicated flat, or even declining, metrics. And some experts say increased pay is only part of the equation, and that states also need to provide better education and mentoring for teachers.
An article published by the American Federation of Teachers points out the need for school districts to improve other areas to attract and retain teachers. The article states: “Few teachers will be swayed by financial incentives if they suspect that they are purely compensatory measures to make up for bad working conditions, lack of resources, and poor leadership, rather than part of a larger plan to make teaching in hard-to-staff schools personally and professionally rewarding. As Harvard education professor Richard Murnane points out, "Paying people extra money to do an impossible job doesn't work, and you need to make the jobs doable such that at the end of the day, people feel glad that they're there."
While there are some strategies to help attract and retain high-quality teachers in high-needs schools, one of the most effective seems to be providing a way for highly effective teachers to grow and expand their leadership roles. Districts offering staffing structures that provide opportunities for advancement, or that offer programs such as the Opportunity Culture, can help meet these needs.
A report by Teach Plus suggests a reason for the high attrition rate is “the dearth of opportunities for teachers to grow and lead ... Research on the attitudes of these teachers indicates that they want to grow as teachers and leaders and serve in different capacities as educators over their career, but by and large, these needs aren’t met by the education system.”