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New York City Ends Performance Pay Program

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 6:00 AM

As some Ohio schools move towards paying teachers based on their performance in the classroom, one big city district is ending its teacher performance bonus program.

The New York City Department of Education will shut down the program that distributed $56 million in performance bonuses to teachers and other school staff members over the last three years.

The decision to end the program was tied to a RAND Corporation study that found that the bonuses did not improve student achievement or affect teachers' attitudes or behaviors in the classroom.

Under the New York program, schools qualified for bonuses if they met certain performance goals. Schools that met goals were allowed to choose how to distribute their bonus money of up to $3,000 per teacher. Most decided to distribute it equally among staff.

Results were "mixed," the study's authors wrote:

Although teachers reported being aware of the program and generally supportive of it, more than a third did not understand key elements of the program, including targets, bonus amounts, and how committees decided on distribution plans. The vast majority of teachers suggested that they had not been informed about distribution plans at the start of the year. The majority of teachers and compensation committee members felt bonus criteria relied too heavily on test scores, indicating limited buy-in for program performance measures. Teachers also seemed to overestimate the likelihood that their schools would receive an award. And although the majority of teachers expressed a strong desire for their schools to win the award, many recipients reported that, after taxes, the amount seemed insignificant. Each of these factors could have affected the program's success.

The researchers offer four lessons to learn from New York City's experiences with performance pay. A quick summary of those lessons:

  1. Teachers should understand how they'll be paid, be prepared for the new bonus system and believe the bonus system is fair.
  2. Money might not be enough to truly affect motivation.
  3. Paying people different amounts can stir up all sorts of unpleasant internal politics.
  4. Pilot testing and evaluation are essential before rolling a program out widely.

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