Inflection Point: Teacher Pay for Performance (TIF) Shows Mixed Results

Photo of teacher and studentsIn 2006, the U.S. Department of Education set up a TIF (Teacher Incentive Fund) program that was later expanded to a $1 billion federal investment in more than 150 school district experiments around teacher pay for performance programs.  The idea is that, with bonus pay available, teachers will work harder and/or smarter, to improve student outcomes.

Mathematica was hired to evaluate the program.  Jefferson County and Eagle County in Colorado were among the TIF sites.

A September 2015 report from Mathematica finds some success and some disappointment, after two years of implementation in 13 districts that were evaluated in detail, and also including survey data from more than 150 TIF districts in total. A summary of the report is easier to read for the main points.

One problem with the TIF program is that more than a third of teachers in TIF districts don’t really know much about it, so it is hard to believe that they changed their behavior, based upon something they didn’t understand.  They also underestimate the bonuses available, again suggesting that it is unlikely that they actively worked “harder or smarter” to win the bonuses.  And, 60% of eligible teachers earned bonuses (averaging $1,800 per), which suggests they might be “too easy” to earn.

In associating TIF bonuses with student outcomes, there is a significant effect for Reading scores– about 3 weeks of additional gains, which is not enormous, but not completely trivial either.  For Math, they found no significant effect.

I was fortunate to co-author a book on Denver’s Procomp Pay for Performance plan that was started in 2006.  Studies of Procomp have shown similar mixed success to this TIF evaluation. DPS is currently in discussions with Denver teachers about possible changes, to what would become Procomp 3.0.  Hopefully we can get improved communication and align the incentives better, to see more success.


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