A November 2013 Mathematica study conducted for the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education shows that paying good teachers $20,000 to transfer to a low performing elementary school raised the test scores of students by 4 to 10 percentile points. No positive effect was found at the middle school level. Mathematica found that the same test score increases could be achieved by reducing class sizes and filling the teacher vacancies as usual. But it’s more cost effective to pay the bonuses. “The cost savings could be as large as $13,000 per grade at a given school,” according to the report. Furthermore, 60 percent of the 81 teachers in the study stayed at the low-performing schools even after the bonus payments ended.
Last month I wrote a piece about a highly reputable RAND study that concluded bonus pay for teachers doesn’t work. So the takeaway from these two studies is that you can’t pay teachers to teach better, but you can pay an already great teacher to move to a poor school.
A separate Mathematica study, also released in November 2013, documents just how substandard teaching quality is for low-income students. It found that disadvantaged students had access to less effective teaching in the 29 school districts studied and that effective teaching would close the achievement gap between rich and poor by 2 percentile points in math and in reading each.