Another Independent Study Finds No Impact From Performance Pay for Teachers

Texas Gov. Rick Perry likes to boast that Texas on his watch has created the biggest performance-pay program of any state in the country, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on bonuses tied mainly to the scores of students on standardized achievement tests. It’s not much to boast about, however, in light of studies that show no positive impact on student learning.

One recent study by Vanderbilt University scholars found that the initial years of the Texas experiment had no significant impact. Now comes a new Vanderbilt study of a Nashville, Tennessee, experiment, involving 300 middle-school math teachers over a three-year span, that likewise found performance pay “did not do much of anything.”

It is not just Gov. Perry who is inconvenienced by the research results. As Education Week magazine noted in an online report today, “The findings arrive…at a particularly inopportune time for the U.S. Department of Education, which is scheduled to announce a fresh slate of grantees this month under a federal program designed to seed merit-pay programs for teachers and principals.”

The Nashville experiment was designed so that some teachers received significant bonus pay while a control group earned normal wages. Bonuses ranged from $5,000 to $15,000 based on students’ achievement gains, as measured by value-added methodology that attributed gains to individual teachers. (The study did not address performance-pay plans that have other features valued by educators, such as professional development or improved teacher-evaluation methods.)

Duke University professor Helen Ladd suggested a possible reason for the “no impact” findings of the study. She told Education Week: “A lot of the discussion about performance pay is based on a faulty assumption that the reason we don’t have higher test scores is that teachers are shirking their responsibilities.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten commented that “simply providing the motivational carrot of individual bonuses to teachers for test scores does not work. Education reform that actually improves teaching and learning requires a much more comprehensive approach, not just the implementation of one strategy, such as performance pay, on its own. It’s time to end our love affair with simplistic strategies that don’t get us where we need to be, in order to provide a great education for all children.”

Added Weingarten: “The countries where students outperform our students, such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea, do the hard work of focusing on teacher preparation, recruitment and retention, and on making all schools places where parents want to send their children and the best teachers want to work. That should be the strategy for U.S. education reform, and it is the focus of AFT’s work. We have created a teacher development and evaluation framework that is a comprehensive approach to better teaching; more than 50 school districts and teachers unions jointly are using it as a model to revamp their systems.”