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.

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  1. Owinok says:

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

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    • Steve says:

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

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  2. frankenduf says:

    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

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  3. Cañada Kid says:

    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.

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  4. brandon says:

    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.

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  5. Jon VP says:

    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.

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    • Steve says:

      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.

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  6. Dr. Sparky says:

    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.

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  7. Clancy says:

    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.

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  8. Fritz3 says:

    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.

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