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How Bonuses Affect Teacher Staffing and Student Achievement

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education established requirements for states to create plans for addressing inequities in school staffing. Several states proposed offering additional financial incentives (salary bonuses, loan forgiveness, signing bonuses, etc.) to attract teachers to high-poverty schools. One such state was Washington, which is the case analyzed by James Cowan and Dan Goldhaber in a report titled, Do Bonuses Affect Teacher Staffing and Student Achievement in High poverty Schools? Evidence from an Incentive for National Board Certified Teachers in Washington State.

Washington state created the Challenging Schools Bonus (CSB), which awarded a $5,000 annual bonus to teachers who earned the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification. In addition to obtaining this certification, teachers had to work in schools with a high percentage of students qualifying for subsidized meals to receive the bonus. This bonus policy increased the proportion of certified teachers by 4 to 8 percentage points in certain schools over the first five years of eligibility.

Despite the improvements in staffing, the analysis did not find positive student achievement effects from the this bonus policy. The effects were near zero and not statistically significant. It is possible that the bonus policy influenced student outcomes in other ways, but there is little direct evidence for this. Several prior studies have found that National Board Certified Teachers are more effective in the classroom, and thus, findings from this study should not be generalized to other policies.