Teacher Incentives Ineffective in New York

Roland Fryer continues to work with incentives in education — for students, parents, and teachers. His newest working paper (gated) describes an experiment in New York City that was unsuccessful in moving the needle:

Financial incentives for teachers to increase student performance is an increasingly popular education policy around the world. This paper describes a school-based randomized trial in over two-hundred New York City public schools designed to better understand the impact of teacher incentives on student achievement. I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools. The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of theories that may explain these stark results.


I think unions should take a very good look at this.


Because as the primary opponents of merit pay they can use it as evidence to support their current positions?


paying teachers more $ does not improve student performance
paying bankers the most $ in their history led to the failure of the financial system
im working today, but i would probably work harder if i got paid more $...
or, maybe people work for other reasons, and what people get paid in the us is largely a statement of the power of the class of the individual (capitalist class makes inordinately more than the working class), rather than what they do to improve society

Cañada Kid

I've found that, in my experiences tutoring and teaching math, a reward-based incentive fails to bring improvement. On the contrary, a punishment-based incentive has. Threatening to take away or tell their parents brought much better results than rewarding good work with less work.


I am a teacher and think what I get paid is fine (I'm not looking to make a bunch more money) I wish education spending would go to lower class sizes.

Jon VP

I find it hard to believe there are people out there who don't respond to incentives. Perhaps the right incentives weren't used or performance wasn't properly measured. It's very easy not to find statistical significance if you don't want to find any. Due to tenure, one of the biggest incentives is off the table for teachers - the incentive to keep your job.


Most people don't respond significantly to financial incentives in the workplace. Why do you find that hard to believe?

Do you think that people who make $300,000 all work harder to do their best than people who make $30,000? I can tell you from years of experience with people making anywhere from subsistence to six figures, compensation has very little correlation to job performance in most cases.

Even fields where compensation is tied very directly to performance frequently compensate based on a poor model of performance that rewards bad behavior rather than productivity. For example, when I worked in insurance sales the people who sold the most high-profit policies got the most commissions, the people who sold the most efficient and properly sized policies made much less.

Dr. Sparky

Maybe teachers don't actually have any super-secret secret methods for making kids smarter and more conscientious. Maybe they're already doing the best they can with the students they have.


It doesn't surprise me that these incentives don't work. Most teachers are already working as hard as they can or are not in it for the money. No teachers are going to suddenly figure out how to teach better because of a few hundred dollars.
What incentives can do is to attract the brightest and best to become teachers and incentive pay can attract "go-getters" who are excited to be always improving. But if that has any effect it will be seen on the long term as a new crop of students becomes teachers and replace retiring ones.


Maybe the reason is that people who decide to become teachers aren't primarily motivated by money, and never expected to get rich teaching in the first place. They try to do the best job they can with the resources they have (or maybe started out trying to do that, before becoming disillusioned with the way the system actually works, and decided to simply settle for not rocking the boat). Has anyone ever asked teachers what incentives (or resources or policies) they think would most help them be more effective? Maybe the money would be better spent on resources than financial incentives.

Rob Sharpe

As a teacher I don't think incentives can't work to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. I feel there are too many variables to control for in a student to see a marked improvement simply by paying the teacher more. The extra money could be used in several other places and what I feel could help the most is to lower class sizes.


People are greedy/selfish by nature. Especially during this recession, EVERYONE wants more money, and they will do anything to get it. Making it more easily accessible to teachers just makes the process easier. I don't know why some education systems give incentives like this. Students will learn at school, but many factors play into their WILL to learn. For example, their culture, family education, parents, economic background, and neighborhood they reside in all significantly play a role in a student's school life. You can't change some people's behavior and thinking patterns. I say just don't waste your time or money.


i was actually very suprised when i read this becaue being a student myself, i understand that some teachers care more than others about the welfare of students' academic achievements. This led me to believe that the thing holding teachers together in with the students was their salary. If a teacher is offered more financial incentive, they'd be more likely to work harder, but saying it decreased students' achievements was very shocking.


The deal with having monetary incentives is that it can not make a bad teacher better. The Crescendo Charter Schools in Los Angeles have recently been voted to be closed because teachers were instructed by the superintendent to open state tests and give answers to the first and second grade students.
I know that most teachers would have the morals not to do this, but these actions were brought about by the idea of incentives.

Annes Kim

I find it very interesting that this study actually found that teacher incentives brought less student achievement. I would have thought that teachers and motivating them to push students to do better would bring higher performance but it was actually the opposite. I think it would be interesting to know the exact reasoning behind why it does not matter if teachers are paid more. I would think that it is because teachers would resort to immoral methods such as letting students cheat on their tests or giving them grades that they did not deserve in the class. However, I assume that there are other reasons as well.


Giving money as an incentive to teachers to do better is like giving extra treats to dogs for no reason, it'll just make them happier and lazier. What makes people think that teachers who are already and continuously doing a poor job of enriching a student's ability would change just because their pay gets higher? More money in their pockets without earning it will just encourage them to stay the same.


I don't know if I'm blessed with the teachers at Oxford Academy, but our teachers work diligently, without incentives (well at least none that I know of), to help their students do well on exams, including the AP exams. Most of the time, it's not even the teachers' fault but the motivation of the students. No matter how much you pay a teacher, if a student is unwilling, it's hard to increase their scores.


Although, we think that an incentive will bring better results we are actually wrong. The only thing that will improve our system of education is not the ideals of a better education with better teachers, but a better administration overall. The reason we need to revamp our entire system is because we need to have people who know what they're doing.. And in California the budget cuts are not helping..

Bill McGonigle

There's not enough information in the blurb to figure out what happened here. Did they pay teachers more money then looked at how they performed, or did they offer teachers bonus money if they improved their results?