Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Are Achievement Gains Worth-To Teachers? School Performance Bonuses in New York City Did Not Appear to Inspire Teachers to Work Harder or Differently and Had No Effect on Student Outcomes

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Are Achievement Gains Worth-To Teachers? School Performance Bonuses in New York City Did Not Appear to Inspire Teachers to Work Harder or Differently and Had No Effect on Student Outcomes

Article excerpt

Using financial incentives tied to performance has become a popular re-form strategy in the education sector and beyond. Advocates of such incentives argue that they'll motivate educators to improve their practice and attract more teachers to the profession; detractors say they'll negatively affect morale and collegiality.

In the 2007-08 school year, the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers introduced the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP). Unlike other pay-for-performance programs, groups of educators in schools were accountable for meeting program goals, not just individuals. The theory was that incentive pay would motivate educators to improve student achievement and that the chance to earn a bonus on the basis of school performance would enhance collaboration, leading to better outcomes.

Over two years, we surveyed teachers and staff in all participating schools and teachers in all of the eligible schools that were not selected for the program. We interviewed more than 130 individuals in 14 case study schools, interviewed program leaders, and analyzed administrative, individual, and schoollevel student achievement data. We issued our final report, A Big Apple for Educators: New York City's Experiment with Schoolwide Performance Bonuses, in July 2011 (Marsh et al., 2011).

We found that SPBP didn't improve schools or student outcomes. Student achievement didn't improve in schools randomly assigned to the program compared with control schools not assigned to it, and there were no differences in teachers' attitudes or practices, or the school climate. Moreover, as we were completing our study, two other studies on the effects of SPBP were released and reached a similar conclusion: The program did not yield positive effects on student achievement (Fryer, 2011; Goodman & Turner, 2011).

As a result of these studies, New York City abandoned its performance pay program in July.

Why didn't SPBP achieve its goals? And what does this imply for performance bonuses broadly? Simply stated, SPBP didn't create conditions necessary for performance-based incentive programs to change behaviors and didn't appear to motivate teachers to change their behaviors.

Overview of SPBP

Introduced in the 2007-08 school year, this voluntary program provided financial rewards to educators in high-needs elementary, middle, K-8, and high schools. Each school's union-represented employees--teachers, support staff, and counselors--voted whether to participate, and participating schools were eligible to receive school-level bonus awards equal to $3,000 for each full-time, union-rep-resented staff member to be distributed to staff if won by the school. Performance targets for awards were defined by the district's progress reports, the district's main accountability tool that measures student performance vis-a-vis standardized tests and comparisons with other schools, and the environment of all schools in the district. The program also required each participating school to establish a four-person compensation committee to determine how to distribute the bonus awards among staff.

In 2007-08, 427 high-needs schools were identified and about half were randomly selected to participate (called the "treatment" schools for the study's main analyses) and half not selected were called the "control" schools. There were 205 schools that participated in the first year, 198 schools in the second, and 196 in the final year. In the first year, 62% received bonuses totaling more than $20 million; in the second, 84% of eligible schools earned more than $30 million in awards. In the third year, due to the state raising its proficiency thresholds, only 13% of the schools earned bonuses totaling only $4.2 million. The district suspended the program in January 2011 pending our study results and officially discontinued it in July upon release of our final report. …

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