Findings from Mathematica Policy Research show that a federal program providing bonuses to educators based on their performance had a small, positive impact on student classroom achievement.
In the first report to describe the effects of pay-for-performance bonuses within the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) program on student achievement, researchers found that student scores on standardized reading tests rose by 1 percentile point—the equivalent of about three weeks of additional learning. The study also showed similarly positive, but statistically insignificant, improvements in math.
Established by Congress in 2006, TIF aims to boost student achievement in high-needs schools. TIF grants are intended to help those schools attract and keep high-performing educators by supporting comprehensive, performance-based compensation systems, which include bonuses for high-performing educators. The new report primarily focuses on 10 districts in seven states that had implemented a TIF program for two years.
Most teachers (over 60%) received a bonus, suggesting that bonuses were not challenging to earn. The average bonus awarded to teachers was about 4% of average salary, less than the 5% recommended by TIF grant guidance for substantial bonuses. In the second year, substantially higher percentages of educators understood that they were eligible for a bonus, but many teachers in the evaluation districts (38%) were still not aware that they could earn a bonus. Teachers also continued to underestimate the size of the bonus they could earn.