Radical Washington D.C. teacher-evaluation plan worked, study says

October 17, 2013

When Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of the D.C. public schools, announced a radical plan to rate teachers’ effectiveness on a numerical scale, then fire the worst and give the best huge pay hikes, even her staff wondered whether it could possibly work.

A study out Thursday concludes that it did — but skeptics remain unconvinced.

The paper, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that in the three years after Rhee’s system was implemented in 2009, the D.C. school district shed many of its lowest performing teachers, kept its superstars and improved the quality of classroom instruction.

Numerous other studies in cities across the U.S. have shown that straight-up merit pay — promising teachers bonuses if they can boost student test scores — does not work.

But D.C.’s IMPACT system used a unique combination of carrots, sticks and a helping hand: Good teachers earned bonuses of up to $25,000 and were eligible for permanent raises of up to $27,000. Low performers were given a year to improve or face dismissal. And the district invested heavily in instructional coaches to help all teachers grow. Over time, those forces created a more effective teaching corps, said Thomas Dee, an education professor at Stanford and co-author of the study.