Surprise! Paying teachers for their effectiveness works

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A new comprehensive study of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant program recently showed modest gains in student achievement over the program’s four-year run. The program, created by the Obama administration’s Department of Education, funded teacher bonuses based on student achievement.

Performance pay has been a mainstay in the education reform movement for decades. The concept has received massive pushback in that time from proponents of step-and-ladder pay structures that reward teachers for years of experience or advanced degrees.

 

Professionalizing teacher compensation

Policymakers have long resigned themselves to the one-size-fits-all teacher pay system we currently have in Texas. The problem therein is that teachers, regardless of performance, are compensated roughly the same as teachers with a similar professional profile. The same cannot be said for doctors or lawyers or mechanics. In those professions, becoming a better practitioner means more opportunity for higher pay.

When that idea is applied to the teaching profession, research has shown students learn more. Here’s what we learned from the most recent study on the effectiveness of TIF grants:

  • Students received the equivalent of three to four weeks of extra instruction in schools that received TIF grants.
  • Teacher performance grants were more cost-effective than often-suggested class-size reductions.
  • The grants proved to be just as impactful as efforts to attract high-performing teachers to low-income schools.
  • Introducing incentive pay had no negative impact on teacher morale or collaboration.

All of these results were achieved despite the fact that approximately 40 percent of teachers didn’t even know they were eligible for additional compensation. On top of that, those who were aware thought they would receive less than half of the money they were actually awarded. It’s reasonable to assume if teachers had been aware of the potential rewards, student results would have been even higher.

 

Making pay work for Texas teachers (and students)

The funding stream for TIF grants has since run dry, resulting in around half of the participating districts discontinuing the program. This has long been a concern because incentive pay presents added cost. That’s where state policymakers come in.

In Texas’ most recent special legislative session, Rep. Travis Clardy proposed a new teacher pay structure that Gov. Abbott (and Texas Aspires) quickly got behind. In the break-neck pace of a jam-packed session, the legislation failed.

It’s time we seize the opportunity to continue the conversation about incentive pay for all Texas teachers. And with a year until the next legislative session, we have time to do this right.

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