In a recent NBER working paper, researchers Sarah Cohodes, Ozkan Eren, and Orgul Ozturk examine the effects of teacher performance pay on three sets of long-term student outcomes900. graduation rates, involvement in the criminal justice system, and economic self-sufficiency. They inspected the implementation of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) in South Carolina between 2007 and 2012, and followed cohorts of 8th graders taught by teachers who participated in that program until 2017 (meaning between 1 and 6 years post graduation).
The TAP is a unique model of teacher performance pay. It offers higher pay for higher teacher performance, measured by test scores and classroom observation. Alongside these monetary incentives, the program seeks to strengthen teachers' performance by offering comprehensive evaluation that includes post-observation feedback,901 professional development, and opportunities for career advancement. But wait, there's more! Not only were individual teachers able to earn bonuses, but in schools that raised student outcomes, all teachers, school leaders, and school administrators would also be eligible to receive a bump in their paychecks.
The study finds that eighth grade students taught by teachers in the TAP program were more likely to graduate high school on time, had a lower arrest rate in adolescence and early adulthood, and relied less on social welfare programs in early adulthood.902 The researchers also found that teachers in the TAP program improved both students' tested and non-tested outcomes during their school trajectory (e.g., students with teachers in the TAP program were less likely to be retained in 9th grade; and 8th graders with TAP teachers had higher 10th grade math and ELA scores). In schools with teachers who participated in the TAP program, there were also greater reports of both parent and teacher satisfaction with the learning environment. The improvement in shorter term tested outcomes is consistent with some of the findings provided by other studies that have looked at more immediate outcomes of TAP implementation in other states.903
The main takeaway from this study is the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to improving teacher performance, as opposed to relying exclusively on monetary incentives. The researchers did not find that any one particular component of the program (e.g., performance pay, increased feedback to teachers, career growth opportunities) was responsible for these improved outcomes. Similarly, the study suggests that programs designed to improve teacher impact are stronger when they take into account factors like observation of teaching practices and both teacher- and school-performance value added evidence, rather than solely relying on student tested outcomes. While the outcomes observed by this study, aside from graduation, have a more negative focus (e.g., involvement in crime and welfare receipt), the results of the study do emphasize the importance of looking at longer-term student outcomes when evaluating interventions such as TAP.