Just who is earning performance pay in Texas?

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Researchers have issued interim findings on the nation's largest experiment with performance pay,sponsored by the state of Texas, and they've turned up some new findings on which teachers are qualifying for bonuses, as well as giving us new insight into evolving teacher attitudes and behaviors.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Though we know from other research that there's little difference between the effectiveness of the average 5-year teacher and an average 20-year veteran, teachers with more experience were more likely to qualify for an award. From zero to 20 years of experience, the probability of receiving an award increased with each year of experience, not measuring a decline until a teacher had taught for more than 20 years.
  • More consistent with the research on teacher effectiveness, teachers who had an advanced degree were actually less likely to qualify for an award.

    With the state granting considerable leeway to schools in designing their pay plans, most schools developed relatively equitable pay plans, with all teachers receiving the same award amount. There were a couple of notable exceptions, however. Both charter schools and schools with higher shares of male teachers tended to adopt plans that awarded individual teachers within a school higher bonuses.

    The probability that a particular teacher received an award was significantly related to the teacher's subject area. Math and bilingual teachers were most likely to receive an award, while foreign language and special education teachers were significantly less likely. Vocational teachers were the least likely to receive an award.

    The study also surveyed teachers about the factors they viewed as most important in a performance plan. Teachers rated "improvements in students' test scores" as the most important determinant in deciding who should get a bonus. In fact, they rated this factor higher than performance evaluations, time spent in professional development or credit they might get for teaching in hard-to-staff schools. And consistent with findings from other studies, younger teachers viewed performance pay opportunities more favorably than veteran teachers.

    Teachers who worked in schools that participated in a program for two years (2007 and 2008) gained increasingly positive views toward performance pay, observing that the programs did a good job distinguishing between ineffective and effective teachers. Teachers were clearly motivated to earn the award, with 77 percent responding that they had a strong desire to earn the bonus and nearly half of all participants saying it caused changes in their instructional practice.