So another few evaluation reports have been released with little evidence of student achievement flowing from performance-pay systems. This is going to sound like a broken record from me, but I don’t make too much out of one or two studies in policy research. These studies on systems in Chicago and New York confirm something any historian (or anyone who’s read education historians) could have predicted: even if there is some benefit from changing a pay system, it’s a darned hard thing to try. This is one of the reasons why I dislike the boutique, closed evaluation tradition in education research: every evaluation collects data, walls it off, and then presents (only) conclusions to the public. When there are millions of dollars being spent through the Teacher Incentive Fund in addition to privately-funded efforts (or any program with an interesting but untested theory of action), there have to be data archives so that other researchers (those not on the original evaluation team) can conduct secondary analyses.
But having put forward these caveats, I’m going to guess that most studies of performance pay are going to show negligible effects on test scores. This may be my inner cynic (okay, not very inner), but the long-term questions on performance-pay policies revolve less around whether it is consistent with the theory of action proponents have but focus instead on whether the politics demand something regardless of effects and what is workable from a variety of standpoints.