Review of Cross-Country Evidence on Teacher Performance

Ludger Woessmann
Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance
February 8, 2011
March 31, 2011

The primary claim of this Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance report and the abridged Education Next version is that nations “that pay teachers on their performance score higher on PISA tests.” After statistically controlling for several variables, the author concludes that nations with some form of merit pay system have, on average, higher reading and math scores on this international test of 15-year-old students. Although the author lists numerous caveats, his broad conclusions do not heed these cautions. The fundamental differences among countries in the types of performance pay system are not properly considered. Nations are simply lumped together as having or not having a performance pay plan. Also, the length of time the program had been in place in each country is not addressed and the unknown intensity of program implementations argue against drawing lessons from this study. The small sample size of 28 observations requires extreme caution in interpretation. For example, the inclusion or exclusion of a single country results in large shifts in the size of the reported relationships. That is, the numbers become unreliable and invalid. With any correlational study, attributing causality is problematic; the differences among nations could be due to any number of factors. Finally, the type of regression-based analyses used to support the performance pay conclusion does not properly consider that the background variables used in these analyses can vary in terms of relationships with student scores and have different definitions across the countries under study. Therefore, drawing policy conclusions about teacher performance pay on the basis of this analysis is not warranted. von Davier, M. (2011). Review of “Cross-Country Evidence on Teacher Performance Pay.” Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [date] from http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-pisa-performance-pay.

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