What is the impact of pay-for-performance?

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants were awarded in 2010 by the US Department of Education to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

In order to assess the impacts of pay-for-performance on educator (teachers and principals) and pupil outcomes, an experimental study design was used in ten US school districts to randomly assign elementary and middle schools to treatment and control groups. Both groups implemented the same performance-based compensation system, but in the control schools, the pay-for-performance element was replaced by a one percent bonus paid to all teachers and principals regardless of performance. A fourth and final report from this evaluation has now been published, covering all four years of the programme (between 2011 and 2015).

Among the key findings are that pay-for-performance had small, positive impacts on pupil achievement by the second year of implementation. From that year onward, reading and maths achievement was higher by 1 to 2 percentile points in schools that offered performance bonuses than in schools that did not. However, it was not entirely clear how this improvement was achieved. The impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

Source: Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Final report on implementation and impacts of pay-for-performance across four years (NCEE 2017-4004),(December 2017), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

The impact of pay-for-performance

A new report from Alison Wellington and colleagues, published by the Institute of Education Sciences, looks at the implementation and impacts in US schools that offered pay-for-performance as part of their 2010 Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants. These grants, now named the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program, support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

An experimental study design was used to assess the impacts of pay-for-performance on educator and student outcomes. Elementary and middle schools within the evaluation districts were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The treatment schools were to fully implement their performance-based compensation system. The control schools were to implement the same performance-based compensation system with one exception—the pay-for-performance bonus component was replaced with a one percent bonus paid to all educators regardless of performance.

For the 10 evaluation districts that completed three years of TIF implementation (between 2011 and 2014), key findings showed that pay-for-performance had small, significant positive impacts on students’ math and reading achievement. The report notes that after three years of TIF implementation, the average math score was 2 percentile points higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. The average reading score was 1 percentile point higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. This difference was equivalent to a gain of about four additional weeks of learning.

Source: Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Implementation and Impacts of Pay-for-Performance After Three Years (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

Teaching in Europe

Eurydice has published a new report about the teaching profession in lower secondary schools (approximately ages 12-15) in Europe. It uses the findings of the the 2013 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and Eurydice and Eurostat data on the 28 EU Member States, and seven other European countries. In all, 40 different education systems (including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), and around two million teachers were included.
The extensive report examines five areas considered important for policy: (1) demographics and working conditions; (2) initial teacher education and the transition to the teaching profession; (3) continuing professional development; (4) transnational mobility; and (5) attractiveness of the profession.
Findings include:
  • A degree is the minimum entry level for teacher training programmes in 15 countries, and 17 countries require a Master’s;
  • The minimum length of initial teacher training is usually between four and six years;
  • Within the EU, 91.2% of teachers have completed an initial teacher training programme;
  • Teaching time is contractually specified in 35 education systems. The majority of countries also centrally regulate the total working time of teachers, which averages 39 hours a week;
  • On average, teaching time constitutes 44% of a teacher’s total working time. England, Estonia, Sweden, Wales, and Northern Ireland are the only education systems that do not contractually specify the number of teaching hours;
  • In 29 education systems CPD is a “professional duty”, although around a third of these (including England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) do not specify how much time should be spent);
  • Incentives to participate in CPD exist in almost two-thirds of the education systems surveyed; and
  • In general, teachers are satisfied or very satisfied with their profession but consider that society does not value it.
Source: The Teaching Profession in Europe: Practices, Perceptions, and Policies (2015), Eurydice.

Do higher salaries lead to better teachers?

New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies explores the question of whether offering higher teacher salaries improves pupil attainment, and finds little evidence that it does.

Estimating the impact of teachers’ pay on pupil attainment is difficult as salaries tend to reflect the experience of the teacher, therefore making it difficult to separate the impact of teacher pay from teacher experience.

However, the authors of this study have dealt with this problem by comparing pupil attainment in primary schools close to the London “fringe boundary” (on the outskirts of the city). Teachers inside this boundary receive a London weighting – around £1,000 extra each year. The researchers compared schools that were broadly comparable in pupil composition, but either side of the boundary.

The results showed little evidence that higher teacher salaries increase pupil attainment in English and maths at the end of primary school. In fact, the difference in pupil attainment between schools on either side of the pay boundary is very close to zero for both English and maths.

The authors conclude that if individual schools offered salary differentials on this scale, they would not necessarily attract more effective teachers. They also argue that there is a remarkable lack of clear evidence about which combination of measures is likely to be most effective in attracting more high quality teachers into the profession or in attracting the best teachers to particular schools.

Source: Does Offering Higher Teacher Salaries Improve Pupil Attainment? (2014), Institute for Fiscal Studies (online ‘observations’ series).

Mixed success of moving the best teachers to challenging schools

Encouraging good teachers to work in low-achieving schools makes a positive difference at primary school level, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance in the US.

It presents findings from a randomised experiment that tested whether transfer incentives can improve student test scores and other outcomes in low-achieving schools. The intervention, known to participants as the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), was implemented in ten school districts in seven states. The highest-performing teachers in each district – those who ranked in roughly the top 20 per cent within their subject and grade span in terms of raising student achievement year after year – were identified. These teachers were offered $20,000, paid in instalments over a two-year period, if they transferred into and remained in designated schools that had low average test scores. The main findings of the study were as follows:

  • The transfer incentive successfully attracted high-performing teachers to lower-performing schools and retained them in these schools during the two years.
  • Transfer incentives had a positive impact on maths and reading achievement at elementary school level (age 6–11). These impacts were equivalent to raising achievement by between 4 and 10 percentile points relative to all students in their home state.
  • There was no impact on student achievement at the middle school level (age 11–14) in either maths or reading.

Source: Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment (2013), Institute of Education Sciences.

Pay-for-performance programmes that don’t perform

New research, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, has analysed the results of three randomised studies of pay-for-performance incentive programmes for teachers. The three programmes considered were: Project on Incentives in Teaching, Project on Team Incentives, and School-Wide Performance Bonus. Findings showed that the programmes did not motivate teachers to make the behavioural changes that lead to pupil achievement gains.

Similarly, the What Works Clearinghouse has released a review of a study into the Chicago Public Schools’ Teacher Advancement Program (Chicago TAP). Chicago TAP provides mentoring, leadership opportunities, and financial incentives to teachers. The study used a randomised controlled trial to examine academic achievement, and a quasi-experiment to examine teacher retention rates. After one year, pupils attending the Chicago TAP schools did not score significantly differently in maths, reading, or science, nor were there statistically significant differences in teacher retention rates between these schools and comparison schools after either one year or two years of implementation.

Sources: Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies (2013), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(1).
WWC Review of the Report “An Evaluation of the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program (Chicago TAP) After Four Years” (2013), What Works Clearinghouse.