The National Center on Performance Incentives issued study results that found performance pay to individual teachers, provided without other supports for teachers, did not help students.
WASHINGTON—This study, the most robust to date, concludes that individual performance pay based on test scores doesn’t work. It isn’t the motivational carrot its advocates believed. Education reform that actually improves teaching and learning requires a much more comprehensive approach, not just the implementation of one reform. 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. There is a role for performance pay as part of a larger education reform plan that should also include providing teachers with the necessary tools, resources and conditions to do their job and using a robust curriculum. As this and several other studies show, performance pay doesn’t work by itself to boost test scores.
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 the 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.
This study investigated the flawed assumption that teachers currently are not working hard enough and that a bonus “carrot” would motivate them to raise student test scores. The carrot didn’t work. Teachers want to help their students succeed, but they need the tools and resources to make that happen. Furthermore, the researchers said the findings were not the result of poor implementation of the performance pay plan, so even a well-executed bonus plan, in isolation of other reforms, makes no difference.
Our challenge must be to provide all kids with great neighborhood public schools that have excellent teachers and strong, supportive leaders. After numerous studies of student outcomes in world-leading countries, it’s clear we must focus on a system that invests in teachers’ growth, gives them the tools and conditions that improve teaching and learning, and addresses how to help all students learn and build teaching into a respected profession.