Incentive Pay Schemes do not Change Teaching Practices

A study of three teacher performance pay schemes in the United States has found that they did not change teaching motivation and practices.

The study concluded that “there is limited evidence that any of the three programs changed teachers’ instructional practices, especially practices significantly associated with student achievement”. It said that “the lack of program impact on teachers’ practices suggests that more careful thinking about the logic model of incentive pay programs is necessary.”

Performance pay schemes, also referred to as incentive pay programs, in which teachers’ pay is linked to some aspects of their performance, have gained substantial popularity in the last decade around the world. However, the research evidence indicates that they have little effect in terms of improving student achievement.

The new study examined the effect of three recently implemented pay-for-performance programs in the United States on teachers’ motivation and teaching practices. These programs were the Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) in Tennessee’s Nashville public schools, the Pilot Project on Team Incentives (PPTI) in Texas’s Round Rock Independent School District and the School-Wide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP) in New York City public schools.

All three programs rewarded teachers primarily on the basis of student achievement gains but differed in program design, such as unit of accountability and incentive structure. Each program was conducted as a randomised controlled trial in which teachers were randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who were eligible to receive a bonus) or the control group (who were not eligible to receive the bonus).

The study examined the extent to which three incentive pay programs motivated teachers to achieve program goals and changed teachers’ instruction methods, number of hours worked, job stress, and collegiality.

The results showed that teachers did not consider their programs as motivating. First, teachers’ level of goal acceptance was not high due to a lack of understanding of the program among some teachers and teachers’ concerns about using student test scores to measure teaching performance and the fairness of the program. A large majority of POINT (90%) and SPBP (81%) teachers agreed that rewarding teachers based on student test score gains was problematic because student test scores did not capture important aspects of teaching performance.

Second, teachers did not have high expectancy that their personal efforts would lead to student achievement gains due to concerns about the influence of family environment on student achievement. Third, although teachers would have liked to earn a bonus, they did not see the opportunity as worthy of changing behaviour.

Nor did the analysis find that any of the three programs had affected teachers’ reported instructional practices. The large majority of incentive eligible teachers in all three programs reported that their programs had no effect on teaching (85% in POINT, 78% in PPTI, and 90% in SPBP). One difference was the POINT treatment group teachers reported greater emphasis on test preparation and collaboration among colleagues than their counterparts in the control group. However, classroom time on test preparation was not associated with student achievement.

The lack of impact on teaching practices is consistent with the findings of several other experimental studies on performance pay that also compared treatment and control group teachers.

The analyses did not find any evidence that incentive pay programs increased teachers’ number of hours worked. Teachers in the treatment and control groups of all three programs reported that they worked for 2.6 to 2.8 extra hours beyond their contracted hours per work day, on average. No difference was found in the reported numbers of extra working hours between two groups in any program.

The study also found no evidence that the programs damaged teachers’ relationships with their colleagues. It could not determine whether the programs increased teachers’ job stress.

Given these findings and that of previous studies that found weak effects of performance pay for teachers, the study suggests that policymakers should look to other reforms. For instance, they might look at compensation tied to career options and other professional growth and goals or compensation for work in challenging schools might be alternatives to bonus-based compensation reform.

The authors state if teacher bonuses are to be pursued, policy makers need to recognize the lack of evidence on improving results and take steps to monitor program implementation and evaluate program impact on targeted outcomes. Further, they should also look at different incentive models such as rewarding teachers based on their teaching practices and job responsibilities rather than on student outcomes.

Yuan, Kun; Vi-Nhuan Le; Daniel F. McCaffrey; Julie A. Marsh; Laura S. Hamilton; Brian M. Stecher and Matthew G. Springer 2013. Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 35 (1): 3–22.

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