Math teacher pointing at blackboard of equations

RAND Solution

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Teacher Pay-for-Performance

Challenge

As public attention to improving teacher quality continues to grow, many states and school districts are exploring pay-for-performance programs as a potential way to motivate and reward high-quality teaching. However, questions persist about the efficacy and design of these programs, as well as their effects on student achievement.

Context

A teacher reading to a classroom of students

Most school districts continue the long-standing practice of determining teacher pay based on years of service and education level. However, some districts, schools, and states have begun experimenting with systems that tie bonuses or salary increases to measures of student achievement as a way to align incentives with goals for improving student learning.

Advocates of these types of pay-for-performance systems argue that the status quo provides little incentive for educators to focus on improving student achievement. They see pay-for-performance as a way to fix this, as well as retain and attract high-quality teachers.

Opponents claim that performance-based compensation leads to less collaborative school environments. They argue that it is difficult or impossible to devise a measure of student achievement that accurately reflects the teacher's efforts and that isn't unduly influenced by factors outside the teacher's control.

Districts, schools, and states have begun experimenting with systems that tie bonuses or salary increases to measures of student achievement as a way to align incentives with goals for improving student learning.

Project Description

In 2007, the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers began a three-year pilot of the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program. The program provided financial rewards to educators in high-needs schools that met annual performance targets determined in part by student growth on standardized tests.

Using independent analysis of test scores; interviews with school administrators, teachers, and other personnel; and teacher and school staff surveys, RAND provided critical insight into the program’s design and implementation.

Research Questions

  1. How was the pay-for-performance program implemented?
  2. What were its intermediate outcomes?
  3. How did it affect student performance?

Key Findings

  • As designed, the pay-for-performance program did not produce its intended effects:
    • It did not improve student achievement at any grade level.
    • It did not affect teachers' reported attitudes, perceptions, or behaviors.
      • Many teachers reported that while the bonus was desirable, the program did not change their teaching practices.
  • Key conditions that would enable the program to be successful—such as buy-in for bonus criteria, understanding of the program, perceived value of bonus, and perceived fairness—were not present in all schools.

Using independent analysis of test scores; interviews with school administrators, teachers, and other personnel; and teacher and school staff surveys, RAND provided critical insight into the program’s design and implementation.

Impact

RAND's work in New York City was one of three such studies conducted to assess the effects of teacher pay-for-performance. Experts also examined the Round Rock Pilot Project, in which bonuses were awarded to Texas teachers based on their shared contribution to student test scores. They also carried out the Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT), a three-year study in Nashville and the nation's first randomized experiment to test teacher incentive pay.

This substantial body of work provides policymakers with a strong evidence base on the design, implementation, and potential results of pay-for-performance programs.

“This study … provides us with important information as we continue to think about compensation models that differentiate among the performance of our teachers.”

Barbara Morgan, NYC Department of Education