May 23, 2012
By Jaime Farrar
(Skip to the bottom to download the full research brief)
A 2010 Louisiana DOE grant application notes that “The single greatest factor in student achievement lies in the effectiveness of teachers and leaders.” In fact, a recent study by Milwaukee Public Schools found that 75 percent of the effect a school has on a student can be attributed to the individual teacher, while only 25 percent of this effect can be attributed to the school. The belief in the validity of these statements has led to a recent surge in the growth and popularity of performance-based compensation systems for public school teachers and principals, as these initiatives are believed to attract and retain high quality teachers to low-achieving schools.
The success rates of these systems vary considerably; some programs have exhibited a measurable, positive effect on school quality and teacher engagement, while others have failed to effect changes. North Carolina, for example, has had an incentive system called the “Teacher Bonus Program” in place since the late 1990s, which awards cash bonuses to teachers in schools that improve their students’ test scores by a set percentage. A recent study by Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor, of the University of Kentucky and Duke University, respectively, found that the program has decreased absenteeism among teachers and raised standardized test scores. Another similarly structured program in New York City, however, was canceled after it was shown to have no measurable effect on student achievement or teacher performance.
Despite the uncertain track record of incentive systems and the controversy surrounding them, many local and state education agencies are taking advantage of the government’s renewed focus on the issue of teacher effectiveness in order to develop new, performance-based compensation systems. Of the federal programs that are making funds available to support these efforts, the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) is the most prominent. Since its creation in 2006, TIF has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in five-year grants to education agencies that develop incentive plans with a performance-related component.
A recent research brief compiled by Hanover offers an overview of three aspects of the pay-for-performance concept in education: the structure of such programs, the criteria on which awards are based, and the amount of awards. The brief includes summaries of 13 state and district pay-for-performance models, as well as a sampling of projects commissioned by Hanover members between November 2011 and January 2012, which are available in our online Member Portal, as well as a sampling of proprietary data analysis projects.