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Study Leads to End of New York City Merit-Pay Program

Those who worry policymakers don't use research when making program and budget decisions might take heart from this week's news out of New York City: A new study by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based RAND Corp. put the final nail in the coffin of New York City's teacher performance-pay program.

As my colleague Steve Sawchuk has reported over at Teacher Beat, the Big Apple's Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program has awarded $50 million to teachers during from 2007 to 2010, but there has been mounting evidence that all those bonuses weren't having much of an effect.

Apparently the RAND study, commissioned by New York City's education department, was the final straw. The RAND researchers, like those in the previous studies, found the program did not raise student achievement in mathematics or reading in any grade, nor did it improve teacher job satisfaction. The findings led to the city's decision last week to eliminate the program.

Researchers tracked the implementation of the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program from 2007 through 2010, when it was temporarily suspended due to city budget constraints. Roland G. Fryer, Jr., an economics professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who was not involved in the RAND study, randomly assigned 427 high-need schools to either participate or not in the program. RAND researchers used that treatment and control group, and conducted surveys of staff in those participating schools and conducted site visits and case studies of 14 participating schools over two years.

Researchers suggested that the program had not adequately motivated staff to understand the program or buy in to the criteria for the bonuses, and noticed that both participating and control schools already faced intense pressure to improve because of the city's accountability measures.

Moreover, the majority of schools split their bonus pay equally among teachers, rather than awarding individual teachers for higher performance. As the report noted, "Many case-study respondents reported viewing the bonus as a reward for their usual efforts, not as an incentive for changing their behavior."

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