Performance Pay Scheme Fails to Improve Student Results

One of the most ambitious efforts to link teacher pay to student achievement in the United States has done little to improve test scores or retain teachers according to an independent study released this week.

Schools participating in the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program are performing no differently than schools that did not implement the program, according to the research group Mathematica which conducted the study. Student achievement in reading and mathematics was no better than in the non-participating schools. The study also found that the program did not improve the rates of teacher retention in participating schools.

The Chicago program has been operating for three years after it was announced to great fanfare by former schools head, Arne Duncan, now US education secretary. The program enables teachers to earn extra pay and responsibilities through promotion to mentor or master teacher. Teachers can also earn annual performance bonuses based on the value they add to student achievement and their performance in the classroom.

The study compared results from the 16 participating schools with a group of 200 schools with similar student demographics, school size, teacher-retention rates, accountability status, and levels of student achievement. It found no statistical difference between student achievement and teacher retention in the two groups.

One of the schools taking part in the program has been closed for poor performance. A few others have opted out of it. A surprising result is that schools in the program for two years actually scored lower on assessments than schools in their first year of implementation.

These results are an embarrassment for Arne Duncan and the Obama administration. Duncan has initiated competitions between states and school districts through the economic-stimulus program Race to the Top and the Teacher Incentive Fund to push the introduction of performance pay schemes for teachers and principals based on student test scores.

Trevor Cobbold

An Evaluation of the Teacher Advancement Program in Chicago

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