A new study released this month in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that pay-for-performance programs do not affect teacher motivation. The article, “Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies,” looked at three schools that were testing pay-for-performance programs. Metro Nashville Public Schools took part in this study. The study was conducted with five researchers from the RAND Corporation and professors from University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University.
The abstract of the paper lays out the major findings of this project:
“This study drew on teacher survey responses from randomized experiments exploring three different pay-for-performance programs to examine the extent to which these programs motivated teachers to improve student achievement and the impact of such programs on teachers’ instruction, number of hours worked, job stress, and collegiality. Results showed that most teachers did not report their program as motivating. Moreover, the survey responses suggest that none of the three programs changed teachers’ instruction, increased their number of hours worked or job stress, or damaged their collegiality.” (emphasis mine)
When reading the article, the authors do a great job of explaining the three main rationales behind pay-for-performance.
- Performance pay will improve student achievement by motivating teachers to improve or innovate their teaching practices.
- Performance pay will improve student learning by changing the work environment of teachers.
- Changes the supply of teaching candidates and retain high performing teachers.
The research took place at three different schools systems.
- Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) – Metro Nashville Public Schools
- Pilot Project on Tea Incentives (PPTI)- Round Rock Independent School District- Texas
- School-Wide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP) New York City Public Schools
The researchers wanted to answer two research questions:
- Did teachers find these three incentive pay programs to be motivating?
- In response to the implementation of these programs, did teachers report changes in their practices or their working conditions?
-The majority of POINT and SPBP teachers agreed that rewarding teachers based on student test scores were problematic because those scores did not “capture important aspects of teaching performance.”
-Half of POINT and PPTI teachers said that they believed teachers were limited on what they could do because family environment played a larger role in student achievement.
-A little over 40% of POINT teachers and 20% of PTTI teachers reported that the chance of a bonus would energize them to improve their teaching.
-“In addition, the majority of incentive eligible teacehrs in all three programs reported that their programs had no effect of teaching, 85% POINT, 78% in PTTI, and 90% SPBP.”
We see that these pay-for-performance programs won’t change how teachers teach or even motivate these teachers to change their teaching styles. The majority of teachers who were participating in this program thought standardized test scores were a bad way to measure the bonus and half of the teachers believed home environment played a bigger role than teachers. If teachers don’t agree with the measurement, they won’t agree with the program.
The authors believe that the way pay-for-performance is designed right now is not the best.
“The lack of program impact on teacher’s practices suggest that more careful thinking about the logic model of incentive pay programs is necessary.”
The authors suggest that based on this study and others with weak effects, that policy makers should be looking at other ideas of reform.
If bonus-based policy is pursued, policymakers need to recognize this lack of evidence and take steps to monitor program implementation and evaluate program impact on targeted outcomes.
We know that some people are trying to bring pay-for-performance to Tennessee. Will this latest research slow them down? Doubtful, but at least we can show these people the research and open their eyes to some programs behind pay-for-performance.