STUDY: Students Perform Better When Teachers Receive Performance Based Bonuses


By Andrew Pillow

Almost every teacher I know claims that they “don’t do it for the money.” However, this hasn’t stopped people from asking the question: Can you pay teachers to teach better?

According to a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research and the US Department of Education, the answer is yes.

The study was an evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund. The Teacher Incentive Fund was established by Congress in 2006. It was a grant that was meant to create a performance-based compensation system for educators in “high need” schools. This study examined 10 of the 130 school districts that received the grant.

So what did they find?

1.       The districts that were evaluated did have higher student achievement in reading and math due to the pay-for-performance mechanisms.

"Student reading achievement was higher by 2 percentile points at the end of the first year in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. The total difference remained at 1 to 2 percentile points across the subsequent three years and was statistically significant in most years. From the second year onward, the total difference in math achievement was similar in magnitude, but was statistically significant in only one year. In both subjects, these differences were equivalent to about three to four weeks of learning."

2.       The districts had trouble sustaining the program after the grant was gone.

"In each year, about half or more of the districts reported that sustainability of the TIF program was a major challenge (63 percent in the second year, 48 percent in the third year, and 58 percent in the fourth year). Consistent with these concerns, slightly fewer than half (47 percent) of the districts planned to offer bonuses to teachers based on their performance in the 2015–2016 school year, the year after their grant ended."

None of this is exactly groundbreaking information. Other studies have come to the same conclusion. Many wealthier districts have been using performance bonuses for years, and it’s certainly not because “they don’t work.”

However, this study is valuable because of how comprehensive it is and the fact it was a study of a government program using government money. These types of studies and programs tend to go further in terms of creating policy recommendations.

If nothing else, it’s further proof that well-compensated teachers, teach better, in spite of what they may say on a survey.

Read the full study here. (IES.ED)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.