Incentive plan for Washington DC teachers drives performance gains, Stanford/Virginia researchers say

October 17, 2013

By Brooke Donald

New study counters earlier research showing performance pay is ineffective, and suggests that under certain conditions incentives influence behavior.

IMPACT, the controversial teacher-evaluation system recently introduced in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), appears to have caused hundreds of teachers in the district to improve their performance markedly while also encouraging some low-performing teachers to voluntarily leave the district’s classrooms, according to a new study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. IMPACT is a performance-assessment system linking high-powered incentives and teacher evaluations.

IMPACT grabbed immediate national attention for its explicit dismissal policy for teachers it rated as ineffective as well as for its substantial financial rewards for high-performing teachers. Specifically, high-performing teachers as assessed by IMPACT earn an annual bonus of as much as $25,000 as well as an opportunity for similarly large and permanent increases in their base salaries. In contrast, teachers who are unable to achieve an “effective” rating after two years are dismissed.

The findings run counter to a spate of recent studies that found that incentives linked narrowly to test scores were not associated with a change in teacher performance. The study will be posted this week as a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper.

“IMPACT provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of a multi-faceted system of teacher evaluation and supports coupled with non-trivial incentives for teacher performance. We find strong evidence that this system causes meaningful increases in teacher performance,” said James Wyckoff, professor of education at the University of Virginia and co-author of the study. 

Teacher Assessments

“We know that good teachers make a dramatic difference in the lives of their students. However, we also know that there is considerable variation in teacher quality and too many disadvantaged children don’t have access to the highly effective teachers they need to realize their potential,” added Thomas Dee, professor of education at Stanford and co-author of the study.