Creating Teacher Incentives for School Excellence and Equity

Ensuring that all students in America’s public schools are taught by good teachers is an educational and moral imperative. The teacher is the most important school-based influence on student achievement, and poor children and those of color are less likely to be taught by well-qualified, experienced, and effective teachers than other students. Yet teacher incentive proposals — including those promoted by President Obama’s Race to the Top program — are rarely grounded on what high-quality research indicates are the kinds of teacher incentives that lead to school excellence and equity. Few of the current approaches to creating teacher incentives take into account how specific conditions influence whether or not effective teachers will work in high-need schools and will be able to teach effectively in them. This review of research finds little support for a simplistic system of measuring value-added growth, evaluating teachers more “rigorously”, and granting bonuses. Instead, the brief supports four recommendations: use the current federal Teacher Incentive Fund to attract qualified, effective teachers to high-needs schools, expand incentives by creating strategic compensation, create working conditions that allow teachers to teach effectively, and more aggressively promote the best practices and policies that spur school excellence and equity. The accompanying legal brief offers legislative language to implement these recommendations.