NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Offering middle-school math teachers bonuses of up to $15,000 didn't produce gains in student test scores, Vanderbilt University researchers reported Tuesday, in what they said was the first scientifically rigorous test of merit pay for teachers.
The results could amount to a cautionary flag about paying teachers for the performance of their students, a strategy that the Obama administration and many states and school districts have favored despite lukewarm support or outright opposition from teachers' unions.
The report's authors, from the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education, stress that more research is needed to determine whether different approaches that link teacher performance to pay or additional training could help boost student achievement.
Matthew G. Springer, the director of the federally funded center, said pay-for-performance wasn't "the magic bullet that so often the policy world is looking for."
At least in this experiment, Springer said, "it doesn't work."
The test was conducted from 2006 to 2009 in partnership with the nonprofit RAND Corp., a research center. A local industrialist and Vanderbilt benefactor, Orrin Ingram, put up the nearly $1.3 million in bonuses.
Some 296 middle-school math teachers in the Nashville school district — two-thirds of the total of middle-school math teachers — volunteered to participate in the experiment. About half were placed randomly in a control group, while the rest were eligible for bonuses of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 if their pupils scored significantly higher than expected on the statewide exam known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.
One-third of the eligible teachers — 51 of 152 — got bonuses at least once. Eighteen teachers received bonuses all three years.
Except for some temporary gains for fifth-graders, though, their students progressed no faster than those in classes taught by the other 144 teachers.
The teachers' union in Nashville agreed to the experiment in collective bargaining, according to Erick Huth, the president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association. He said the results weren't at all surprising.
"I've believed for a long time that what improves instruction is having an instructional leader who is able to get all players in a school to collaborate," Huth said.
Great - now tell that to President Accountability and his band of Broad Foundation-trained merry men and women at the DOE who are still pushing this stuff like it is a "magic bullet."