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Teacher Performance Pay Has No Motivational Effect on Teachers, Study Finds

A new study by researchers at Vanderbilt’s Project on Incentives on Teaching (POINT), which was the subject of a recent Washington Post article, found that teachers offered up to $15,000 in performance pay linked to their students’ test-score gains did not outperform teachers who were not offered the bonuses. The researchers concluded, “there is little evidence that [the experiment’s] incentives induced teachers to make substantial changes to their instructional practices or their level of effort, and equally little evidence that the changes they did make were particularly well chosen to increase student achievement.” The study used a random assignment design.

The only other randomized assignment study of performance pay was for Chicago’s Teacher Advancement Program -- and the second year evaluation, released in May, also found no effect.

That said, there is a difference between motivational effects (teachers trying harder because of the dangled carrot) and employment effects. The latter could take place through greater retention of teachers at hard-to-staff schools, greater differential retention at such schools of ‘better’ teachers, greater or differential attraction of teachers to certain jobs, and even greater attraction of highly qualified candidates into the profession. This new study didn’t attempt to answer those employment questions.

For a comprehensive and clear discussion of what we know about teacher pay options, we suggest this policy brief by Debbi Harris, which NEPC published a few years back: The Promises and Pitfalls of Alternative Teacher Compensation Approaches.