Vanderbilt University released a new study yesterday that deflates one of the trendiest ideas in education reform: performance pay. After a three-year experiment in the Nashville school district, in which teachers were eligible for up to $15,000 in extra pay if their students scored well on tests, researchers found no impact on academic achievement. Is this bad news for the Seattle School District, which just signed a much-ballyhooed teachers' contract that doles out extra pay to teachers based partly on their performance?
In the new contract, teachers are eligible for "stipends" of $2,500 to $5,200 a year if they get high "student growth ratings," based on a two-year average of their students' test scores, and earn high marks on evaluations that look at their teaching style, preparation and the like. (See pdf with details of the Seattle teachers contract).
But district spokesperson Patti Spencer-Watkins says the stipends do not count as merit bonuses per se. That's because teachers do not automatically receive the extra pay if they and their students do well. Rather they have to earn the money by helping their peers improve--specifically by becoming either a "demonstration," "mentor" or "master" teacher. (Spencer-Watkins did not immediately know the exact requirements of each role.)
The Vanderbilt experiment did not study this precise system, which asked a narrower question about whether performance pay alone boosted student achievement.