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Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund

Congress created the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) in 2006 as a means of supporting performance-based compensation for teachers and principals in high-needs schools. Grants totaling $1.8 billion flowed to school districts willing to implement the four program components: measures of teacher/principal effectiveness involving student achievement gains; pay-for-performance bonuses; additional pay opportunities for extra responsibilities; professional development aiming to improve performance.

The 2010 round of TIF grants included funding for an evaluation the design of which promised to shed light on the value of performance-based compensation. The final results of this randomized controlled trial evaluation, conducted for the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences by Mathematica Policy Research published late last year, offers two key lessons. First, pay-for-performance led to slightly higher student achievement in reading and math by the second year of implementation. This finding contrasts with results of other high-profile studies of pay-for-performance, which found no impact on student achievement.

The second lesson is that fewer than half of the 62 TIF grantees planned to continue offering performance bonuses after the grant ended. Many initiatives prove financially unsustainable when their initial subsidies taper off.  But considering the strong opposition from teacher unions and others to changes to the traditional, credential- and longevity-based model of educator compensation, perhaps we should view the percentage of school districts planning to sustain their performance-pay experiments post-TIF as a success. What's more, 90 percent of grantees reported they planned to continue to inform teacher professional development using information from new, more rigorous performance-evaluation systems they introduced under TIF.