That left many wondering why the Bush and Obama administrations want to persue a system that included merit pay. Now, a new study drives a stake through the heart of the whole teacher incentive pay idea.
Education Week: The most rigorous study of performance-based teacher compensation ever conducted in the United States shows that a nationally watched bonus-pay system had no overall impact on student achievement—results released today that are certain to set off a firestorm of debate.
Nearly 300 middle school mathematics teachers in Nashville, Tenn., voluntarily took part in the Project on Incentives in Teaching, a three-year randomized experiment conducted by researchers affiliated with the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University.
But it yielded only two small positive findings, limited to 5th graders in the second and third year of the experiment. No effects were seen for students in grades 6-8 in any year of study.
The findings arrive in a highly charged teacher-quality policy environment, in which many states and districts, with support from the Obama administration, are overhauling current practices for preparing, evaluating, and compensating teachers. And they come at a particularly inopportune time for the U.S. Department of Education, which is scheduled to announce a fresh slate of grantees this month under a federal program designed to seed merit-pay programs for teachers and principals.
On average, students taught by the teachers taking part in the program did not make larger academic gains than those taught by teachers in the normal wage group. The sole exception was in grade 5 in the second and third years of study. In those years, the incentive pay was linked to statistically significant increases in student scores—an increase, the report states, equal to between a third and a half year of learning. But the effect did not appear to persist. “By the end of 6th grade,” the study states, “it does not matter whether a student had a treatment teacher in grade 5.”
“It’s a really well-designed study, and it’s really important because a lot of the debate about performance pay has been evidence-free,” said Steven N. Glazerman, a principal researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, a Princeton, N.J.-based evaluation firm.
“A lot of the discussion about performance pay is based on a faulty assumption that the reason we don’t have higher test scores is that teachers are shirking their responsibilities,” said Helen F. Ladd, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University in Durham, N.C., about the findings.
Mr. Mance of the Tennessee Education Association said the study confirms what many teachers and unions have long believed: that teachers are already hardworking. For this study to show positive results, he said, “you’d have to have teachers who were saving their best strategies for an opportunity to get paid for them, and that is an absurd proposition.”