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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

November 27, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Teacher bonuses: A smart way to boost low test scores?

Mark Weber / Op Art

Mark Weber / Op Art

What would happen if teachers with a track record of raising test scores transferred into low-performing schools, enticed by a $20,000 bonus?

In middle school, not much, according to a new study by Mathematica Policy Research.  In elementary schools, however, the study found the transferring teachers raised test scores more than a control group.

The study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, was conducted in 10 school districts in seven different states. The districts offered the bonuses to teachers who ranked in the top 20 percent in their districts in raising student test scores, and 81 teachers participated. To get the bonus, they had to agree to stay at the low-scoring school for at least two years.

Those who worked in elementary schools raised test scores 4 to 10 percentile points more than a control group, but in middle schools, there was no increase.

The results can be seen as one way that incentive pay for teachers might work. See this take on the study in Slate. They also can be seen as unimpressive, as by this writer in Education Week, given that  few of the eligible teachers chose to transfer.

According to Mathematica, about 22 percent of eligible teachers applied to move, and only about 5 percent of them actually switched schools.

The study’s authors also weighed in on the debate over whether we should lower class sizes or find less expensive ways to raise student achievement. They say that transfer programs like the ones in their study could be a more cost effective alternative.

But that’s a hot issue. See related study we wrote about last week, and this guest post, published yesterday.

Comments | More in News | Topics: bonuses, student performance, teacher incentives

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