Performance pay primer - teacher motivation

In a February 2000 policy brief, the Consortium for Policy Research and Education (CPRE) examined the motivational effects of School Based Performance Awards (SBPA) on teachers and principals in three sites across the country; the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, the Kentucky Accountability Program, and the Maryland School Performance Program. According to this study, school-based performance awards are a popular accountability strategy intended to align individual- or school-level monetary incentives with the school’s ability to meet student achievement standards.

The results of the CPRE research showed teachers working in school-based performance awards programs knew the goals of the program, understood them, and were committed to their achievement. The research suggested that providing rewards for too many goals could defuse effort and responsibility so teachers would lose focus. Goal clarity was positively related to school performance. The overall impact of the performance awards programs indicated the programs motivated teachers, focused them on goals, and organizational resources were channeled to support goal achievement.

The study also showed the most important motivational factor was the teacher’s belief they could achieve their specified goals and that their individual actions could positively influence their student’s achievement. While teachers consistently rated personal satisfaction for meeting the goals and for improving student performance high, actual teacher expectations were quite low in the programs they studied.

The study found teachers were under increased pressure and stress, particularly in programs with externally imposed standards and continuous improvement components. These demands resulted in more hours of work, which make a monetary bonus an inadequate incentive. Furthermore, some teachers were not certain if they achieved the goals, they would actually receive the bonus. Teachers in schools that actually received a reward were more likely to believe that if they met the goals, they would be rewarded again in the future.

The research also underscored the concept that a successful school-based performance award must be perceived as both substantively and procedurally fair for all involved. Substantive fairness includes a program that adequately accounts for differences in student populations and school resources. Procedural fairness includes procedures to insure the rules are known and followed by all and that teachers know what is expected of them.

The CPRE study concluded that the power of school-based performance awards programs is in their ability to focus teacher efforts and channel organizational resources to key educational goals. The motivational power of these programs could clearly be enhanced by better communication of goals, improving teacher expectancy, enhancing teacher perceptions that earned rewards will be funded, and experimentation with larger award amounts.

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