New York City schools’ now-suspended experiment in schoolwide bonus pay for teachers didn’t seem to raise student achievement overall—and in schools with many teachers, it also may have diluted individual incentives for boosting achievement growth, concludes a new study by two Columbia University economists.
But in those schools with high levels of teacher collaboration, and a small staff, the report goes on, it might have had some slight benefits.
For the study, scheduled to be published this spring in Education Next, the economists focused on the first two years of the district’s schoolwide performance-bonus program, instituted in the 2005 contract and begun in 2007. Under the program, schools that won bonuses for reaching schoolwide-achievement goals received a lump-sum payment equal to $1,500 or $3,000 per teacher. Teams of two administrators and two teachers in each school had freedom to allot the awards as they liked as long as every teacher got at least some bonus payout.
The researchers compared results for 181 schools implementing the bonus program with those of 128 schools in a control group with similar characteristics that didn’t implement it. They found that the schoolwide bonus pay didn’t seem to affect student achievement, teachers’ instructional techniques, absenteeism rates, or the quality of the teaching pool for the majority of schools. In the second year, eligibility for the program may have even slightly depressed mathematics achievement in general.
Signs of student-achievement growth were found, however, in participating schools with the fewest math teachers, where incentives for individual teachers to work hard were stronger. Schools with more math and reading teachers did not show such growth. The authors said such findings suggest that some teachers may have been “free-riding” on their colleagues’ success.
High levels of teacher collaboration (as measured by a “cohesion index” based on teacher-survey reports) did exert a slight upward pressure on math scores, but in most instances, it wasn’t enough to improve students’ test scores, according to the study.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as No ‘Bonus’ in Pay Study