Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT

Issue/Topic: Teaching Quality--Compensation and Diversified Pay--Pay-for-Performance; Teaching Quality--Evaluation and Effectiveness
Author(s): Dee, Thomas; Wyckoff, James
Organization(s): Stanford University; University of Virginia
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published On: 10/1/2013

While it is accepted that teacher quality is important in student development and achievement, it is also generally accepted that "single salary" schedules commonly used in U.S. public schools aren't linked to teacher quality. This has led to a drive to assess and reward teacher performance in a new way. One such system is IMPACT, a controversial teacher evaluation and compensation system implemented by former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Michelle Rhee.

To discover how the District of Columbia Public Schools teacher evaluation and compensation system, IMPACT, influenced outcomes

  • Dismissal threats implied by a "minimally effective" rating had meaningful effects: inducing voluntary attrition among low-performing teachers and improvements in the subsequent performance of those teachers who decided to remain.

  • For high-performing teachers, a stronger financial incentive did not induce detectable changes in retention but did meaningfully improve subsequent teacher performance.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • The performance of teachers should be more responsive to incentives they face when they have the knowledge and support to understand how their effort can clearly map into the stated goals.

  • High-powered incentives linked to multiple indicators of teacher performance can substantially improve the measured performance of the teaching workforce.

  • Any teacher evaluation system will make some number of objectionable errors in how teachers are rated and in the corresponding consequences they face. Districts may be able to reduce these errors through more sophisticated systems of teacher assessment (e.g. higher-frequency observations with multiple, carefully trained raters) but, in so doing, they will face both implementation challenges and possibly considerable direct financial costs.

  • Policymakers must weigh the increased costs of reducing errors in teacher evaluation against the substantive and long-term educational and economic benefits such systems can create for successive cohorts of students both through avoiding the career-long retention of the lowest-performing teachers and through broad increases in teacher performance.

For access to full text: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19529

Research Design:
Regression-discontinuity analysis

All DCPS teachers and their students over the first three years of IMPACT

Year data is from:
2009-10 through 2011-12


Data Collection and Analysis:
Regression-discontinuity estimates compared retention and performance outcomes among low-performing teachers whose ratings place them near the threshold that implied a strong dismissal threat. Also compared are outcomes among high-performing teachers whose ratings placed them near a threshold that implied an unusually large financial incentive.


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