DO TEACHERS BONUSES WORK?
Thumbs down from New York at least
There has been a long running debate over whether or not employee bonuses work in incentivising individuals to improve their productivity and performance. It is often the case, and this includes in teaching, that it is difficult to disaggregate the work and efforts of one employee from that of others. When measuring outcomes, how do you fairly separate and distinguish the efforts of one individual from that of the broader team, and how much weight do you attach to the effects of collaboration and mutual support within the team? As far as schools are concerned the whole process can, it is thought by some school leaders, undermine collaboration between teachers and the teamwork central to the work of school staff. So there are some grounds, conceptually, for doubting the effectiveness of bonuses, and also some research that leads one to question whether bonuses have any link to improved performance. In the workplace bonuses, more often than not, are regarded now as part of the yearly remuneration package, as distinct from a specific reward for outstanding work over and above the call of duty and what might normally be expected from an employee. In the States reformers have focused on bonuses as a means of raising teachers and students performance although measuring teachers performance and how you do it to ensure fairness is itself a contentious issue. In the 2007–2008 school year, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) implemented a pay-for-performance program called the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP). Although most school districts in the US continue to tie educator pay to years of service and education level, many states, districts, and schools in recent years have experimented with alternative compensation systems that include not only performance-based pay but also bonus pay for acquiring new knowledge and skills, teaching particular subject areas, and working in hard-to-staff schools. The New York Times reported this week that a New York City programme that distributed $56 million in performance bonuses to teachers and other school staff members over the last three years will be permanently discontinued. The decision was made in light of a study that found the bonuses had no positive effect on either student performance or teachers’ attitudes toward their jobs. The NYT writes ‘The study, commissioned by the city, is to be published Monday by the RAND Corporation, the public policy research institution. It compared the performance of the approximately 200 city schools that participated in the bonus program with that of a control group of schools. Weighing surveys, interviews and statistics, the study found that the bonus program had no effect on students’ test scores, on grades on the city’s controversial A to F school report cards, or on the way teachers did their jobs.’ “We did not find improvements in student achievement at any of the grade levels,” said Julie A. Marsh, the report’s lead researcher and a visiting professor at the University of Southern California. “A lot of the principals and teachers saw the bonuses as a recognition and reward, as icing on the cake. But it’s not necessarily something that motivated them to change.” The Rand Report, in its Summary, states ‘Past research has found mixed evidence of the motivational effects of school-based bonus programs and has indicated that motivation is often mediated by perceptions of fairness and the size of the bonus. Research is also inconclusive about the effects performance-based incentives have on staff collaboration, while some of the broader accountability literature suggests that there are some potential desirable and undesirable effects on classroom practices. There is also limited and mixed research evidence on how these programs affect student achievement.’
The book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management ; Harvard Business School Press; by Jeff Pfeffer and John Sutton debunked a few management myths and reviewed the extensive literature on the links between incentives and teacher performance. It turns out that although there always have been people with great faith in pay for performance systems for teachers — going back to at least 1918 — careful studies show over and over again that they do not improve student performance. It doesn’t stop people though re-launching the idea from time to time, claiming its new, and finding out along the way that it doesn’t work (again)
Rand Corporation; A Big Apple for Educators New York City’s Experiment with Schoolwide Performance Bonuses: Final Evaluation Report