School & District Management

Sharing the Wealth: Findings From a Study of a Texas Merit-Pay Program

By Debra Viadero — August 24, 2009 1 min read

When teachers are given the opportunity to design their own performance-pay programs, they tend to choose relatively modest bonuses and spread them around more widely.

That’s what researchers from Nashville’s Vanderbilt University are discovering as they evaluate a performance-pay program that was piloted in Texas between the 2005-06 and the 2008-09 school years. Over those years, the Governor’s Educator Excellence Grants program distributed more than $10 million a year in federal grants to 99 schools that managed to turn in high scores on state tests despite enrolling large numbers of students from low-income families.

What made the program different from some other merit-pay schemes, though, was that it required schools to involve teachers in designing the performance-incentive plans for their own schools.

Most of the plans they developed called for individual staff bonuses that were, on average, less than the $3,000 minimum that state education officials recommended—and less than most such bonuses in the private sector. (Think Wall Street.) In fact, 80 percent of the teachers who received a bonus under the program got less than $3,000.

The teacher-designed plans also turned out to be highly egalitarian: 78 percent of the teachers in the bonus-eligible schools got an award. That percentage even included some teachers who had not worked at the same school the year before.

Even a modest $3,000 bonus was enough of an incentive to dramatically reduce teacher turnover at the schools involved, the researchers found. Still, there’s no clear evidence on whether the program is having an impact on student achievement, according to the report, and that, of course, is the bottom line.

But stay tuned. The final report on the program has yet to be issued, and sources tell me that it’s just weeks away. In the meantime, you can read the newly released second-year report at the Web site for Vanderbilt’s National Center on Performance Incentives.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.