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Do Incentive-Based Programs Improve Teacher Quality and Student Achievement? An Analysis of Implementation in 12 Urban Charter Schools

by Girija Kaimal & Will J. Jordan - 2016

Context: Policymakers have increasingly advocated for incentive-based approaches for improving urban schools.

Purpose of the study: Few studies have examined the implementation of incentive based approaches in the urban charter school context. This paper presents research findings from a 4-year longitudinal study of the implementation of a comprehensive incentive-based program for school improvement.

Setting: The study was conducted in cluster of 12 charter schools in a large urban school district.

Participants/Subjects: Participants in the study included classroom teachers, administrators, and staff in the charter schools; program staff from the school district; and consultants to the project.

Research Design: The study used a mixed methods design, which included a comparative case study, and quasi-experimental design.

Data Collection and Analysis: Qualitative data elements included semistructured interviews and observations of program activities. Quantitative data elements included the official classroom teaching evaluation scores, teacher attitudes survey data, standardized student achievement scores from state and district assessment programs, and researcher-developed surveys of teacher and administrator perceptions.

Results: The results suggest that, in addition to questions about the viability of this comprehensive incentive model, there were several challenges related specifically to the context of the schools that affected program implementation. These included: misconceptions about performance pay; difficulties learning, understanding and sustaining a complex professional development model; poor fidelity of program implementation; varying capacities of the leadership teams; inability to sustain the incentive component; differences in the contexts and missions of the participating schools; and high teacher turnover at the schools. All the 12 schools reported some improvement in student achievement which led to performance rewards; however, this was not substantial or consistent over the course of the 4 years of implementation. The program also did not impact teacher retention at the schools. Schools that benefited the most from the program demonstrated an alignment of goals between the program staff, school leadership, and teachers.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The study findings suggest that even comprehensive incentive-based models are not yet viable and have limited effectiveness. Educators needed significant salary increases to be incentivized by money and incentive-based models need to be simpler in design for participants to understand them. The aspect that was somewhat sustained was the professional development and collegiality among the teachers indicating that a professional community is what teachers appreciated most from the program.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 7, 2016, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20450, Date Accessed: 10/26/2020 5:43:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Girija Kaimal
    Drexel University
    E-mail Author
    GIRIJA KAIMAL, PhD, is an assistant professor at Drexel University. She currently leads a multi-year evaluation study on leadership development funded by the U.S. Department of Education and Lehigh University. As part of this study, the research team is examining the effectiveness of an urban leadership preparation program including how participation in the arts could ignite learning transfer to leadership practices. She is conducting research on the impact of creative self-expression on psychosocial and physiological outcomes. As part of her interest in internationalizing the context of scholars and students, she serves as a research adviser on international development projects related to gender equity and arts-based psychosocial support for vulnerable children in trauma zones.
  • Will Jordan
    Temple University
    WILL J. JORDAN is an associate professor at the Temple University College of Education. His recent scholarship has focused on conducting empirical research to enhance program and policy development for improving the conditions of education in urban schools. In recent years, he has engaged in a variety of research projects on issues such as high school and postsecondary collaborations, the connection between school leadership content knowledge in mathematics and instructional quality, and interventions to improve failing comprehensive high schools. His primary interests and expertise fall in the areas of sociology of education, urban education, high school reform, resiliency among adolescents of color, and at-risk students.
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