Study: D.C. Teachers Improving Performance

October 17, 2013

Public school teachers in the District of Columbia are improving their performance because they're motivated by the possibility of substantial pay raises or because they don't want to get fired, according to an academic study of the groundbreaking teacher-evaluation system implemented by former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

The school system in the nation's capital is unique among large school districts for the complexity of its teacher-evaluation system, which scores the performance of teachers based on classroom observations, student test scores and other factors.

Previous studies of pay-for-performance systems in public schools have found little to no correlation between merit-based pay and teacher performance. But the study released Thursday by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Virginia found that teachers in the district did improve, at least based on the criteria devised by the school system to evaluate their performance.

Professor Thomas Dee of Stanford, one of the study's authors, said the district appears to have found a more effective pay-for-performance model than those studied previously.

"D.C. is fielding incentives that are just very different from what we've seen before,'' Dee said. "Part of that is, it's not just cash for test scores. It's instead incentivizing things that teachers can control more directly.''