Steven Glazerman and Allison Seifullah
Mathematica Policy Research
The federal government has been handing out big bucks through the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) for performance-based teacher pay programs: approximately $937 million since 2006, including $437 million to come this fall. But are we getting our money’s worth? This study suggests not. Analysts examined 2008-09 data from sixteen schools in Chicago that were using the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which awards teachers annual bonuses based on their value added to student achievement and their demonstration of key teaching competencies. Eight of the sixteen were randomly assigned to a treatment group that began using TAP in 2007, and eight were assigned to begin using TAP in 2008. The advantage of this design is that differences between the cohorts can be attributed to experiencing an additional year of TAP; the disadvantage is that the comparison group disappears after year 2. So to supplement this design, researchers created a matched control group of schools that did not use TAP but had similar academic and demographic characteristics. Neither design showed significant program impact on student achievement in 2008-09, or on rates of teacher retention. But before declaring TAP—or performance-pay generally—a bust, we should remember a few things: reforms like TAP seek to alter the culture of teaching, including attracting different types of folks to the profession, which means they take time to put down roots (certainly more than this study’s two years); TAP’s performance bonus amounts are low (an average of $2,600 in year 2) and are likely perceived by teachers as temporary, lasting just until the federal spigot runs dry. Moreover, TAP is being phased in so it’s not yet at “full strength”; and the 16-school sample is very small. Still and all, the study highlights a problem with TIF programs in general: They’re typically layered onto traditional salary scales, not substituted for or used to overhaul them, which means that the aforementioned “cultural” shift is nigh impossible to bring about. That’s a big problem for a billion dollar price tag. You can find the study here.