Senate Democrats Propose Unproductive Cut To The Teacher Incentive Fund

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Our guest blogger is Cindy Brown, Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

In the latest update to the continuing Fiscal Year ’11 budget saga, the Senate Democrats countered the Republicans’ slash-and-burn H.R. 1 with their own proposal, released Friday. Although the measure wisely provides support for the key Title I, Race to the Top, and Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods programs, it shortsightedly cuts $150 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF).

A viable budget proposal should at least maintain the current funding level of $400 million for TIF, a federal program that supports compensation reforms for educators in high-need schools. The program catalyzes the kinds of reforms human capital systems in our schools need. For instance, it requires participating states and districts to develop comprehensive and aligned approaches to attracting, evaluating, and developing educators.

This alignment is particularly important because recent research supports the view that compensation reforms that are not combined with and aligned to other district reform strategies — such as professional development and high-quality evaluation — are not likely to improve teacher practice or student achievement.

Researchers at the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University conducted a rigorous study that evaluated the impact of a performance pay program in Nashville. It found that paying middle school mathematics teachers performance incentives based solely on test scores without other supporting strategies like strong evaluation systems or aligned professional development had no impact on student achievement:

[We] tested a particular model of incentive pay [and found that] it simply did not do much of anything. Our negative findings do not mean that another approach would not be successful. It might be more productive to reward teachers in teams, or to combine incentives with coaching or professional development.

In contrast, a recent analysis of the Teacher Advancement Program found the program had a positive impact on student achievement gains. TAP is a comprehensive school reform that includes performance pay, professional development, rigorous evaluation, and career advancement opportunities for teachers. A Stanford student studied TAP’s effect on student growth in 151 TAP schools in 10 states and found greater achievement gains in mathematics and reading in TAP schools than non-TAPs. Several of the TIF programs implement the TAP program.

The TIF program allows continued experimentation with promising approaches that produce results for students. States and districts are often forced to spend all their dollars to maintain existing programs in difficult economic times, and many are unable to free new dollars to invest in innovations that will yield dividends in the future. Fortunately, that’s a perfect role for a federal government that has its priorities in the right place.