Study: Performance pay system leads to small gains in student learning
- A final evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) finds that students perform slightly better in reading and math when their teachers receive performance-based bonuses.
- Conducted by Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) for the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the study shows that the difference in student performance between schools where teachers received the bonuses and those where they didn’t amounted to about three to four weeks of learning.
- Since its establishment in 2006, TIF's grants have been supported by around $1.8 billion from the Education Department as of 2012, helping states and districts create performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools. Over 130 districts received grants in 2010, and 10 districts participated in the random assignment study to determine the effectiveness of the program.
Research on pay-for-performance systems has been mixed. A RAND Corporation evaluation of the Schoolwide Performance Bonus System in New York City schools found no achievement benefits for students or changes in teachers’ practices. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found similar results when they studied the Project on Incentives in Teaching in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. But the voter-approved ProComp incentive pay system in the Denver Public Schools has been viewed as fairly successful, even if teachers sometimes complained that the system was confusing. A study by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver found improved operations in the district, higher teacher retention, somewhat improved recruitment and a correlation with improved student achievement.
The 2010 TIF grants included four components: student achievement growth and at least two observations to measure teacher effectiveness, substantial bonuses that were challenging to earn, additional pay for added responsibilities, and professional development to help teachers understand the system and make further improvements. MPR also found that districts report sustaining the program to be a challenge and that less than half planned to continue offering the bonuses once their grant ended. Last summer, ED awarded 14 grants totaling more than $88 million in the new Teacher and School Leader Incentive grant program, which picks up where TIF left off.
RAND researchers suggested that staff buy-in for bonus requirements, an understanding of the system, and a perception among teachers that the bonus is fair and worth the effort would make pay-for-performance systems more successful.
- Mathematica Policy Research and the Institute for Education Sciences Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Final Report on Implementation and Impacts of Pay-for-Performance Across Four Years
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