Edward Wiley, Eleanor Spindler, and Amy Subert
University of Colorado at Boulder
April 2010

Here’s yet another merit pay system that’s come under recent scrutiny: Denver’s flagship Professional Compensation System for Teachers (a.k.a., ProComp), one of the first merit pay schemes in recent history. Initially piloted in 1999, ProComp layers bonuses onto teacher base salaries for any number of activities and/or accomplishments: raising student achievement, obtaining a master’s degree, completing specialized professional development, demonstrating instructional proficiency, working in a high needs school, etc. The program was made mandatory—in other words, teachers hired after this point had to participate—in 2006. Analysts examined eight years of achievement data (2001-02 to 2008-09) and found that student achievement steadily increased during this timeframe in both math and reading. The kicker: Teachers hired in 2006 or later demonstrated greater first-year gains than those hired prior to the program going district wide—and those differences persisted for the next three years. Schools with greater rates of ProComp participation also had higher rates of retention. The implications are noteworthy: ProComp may actually have succeeded in changing the composition of the teacher workforce, potentially luring in a higher caliber of teacher to Denver schools. Unfortunately, the study’s design is not experimental (unlike a similar analysis of Chicago’s TAP program), so the results are particularly prone to selection bias. In other words, it’s hard to tell the impact is due to the ProComp program or to differences between ProComp participants and non-participants; other variables, such as reforms implemented at the same time, might have also affected the results. Still, the “composition” finding is definitely one worth keeping an eye on. You can find it here.

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