NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Teacher Incentives

"Teacher attendance did not improve, homework assignments did not increase, and pedagogy did not change. There is, however, evidence that teachers increased effort to raise short-run test scores by conducting more test preparation sessions. The test score gains evaporated after the end of the incentive program."

Giving merit pay increases to teachers in U.S. schools with improved student scores on standardized tests has been promoted enthusiastically as one solution to the dismal performance of some public schools. In Teacher Incentives (NBER Working Paper No. 9671), co-authors Paul Glewwe, Nauman Ilias, and Michael Kremer analyze data from a randomized evaluation with similar teacher incentives in Kenya and find "little evidence" that "teachers responded to the program by taking steps to reduce dropouts or increasing effort on stimulating long-run learning."

As in the United States, teacher salaries in Kenya are set primarily through collective bargaining. Hiring is based on academic qualifications, and salaries depend primarily on education and experience. Strong civil service and union protection make teachers difficult to fire. With benefits included, Kenyan teachers' total compensation is earn up to 5 times the average annual per capita income in that country.

There are waiting lists for jobs and substantial unemployment among people qualified to be teachers. Absenteeism is also a serious problem. Teachers are absent from school about 20 percent of the time; one study from 1999 suggests that about 45 percent of the time, classes go unattended.

In 1997, a Dutch charity sponsored a two-year program of prizes for the top-scoring and most-improved schools based on 4th through 8th grade student scores on district exams in two Western Kenyan districts. Fifty schools were randomly selected out of the 100 that applied. To discourage schools from manipulating the pool of students taking the exams, students who did not take the exam were assigned low scores. Prizes were comparable to merit pay programs in the United States, ranging in value from 21 to 43 percent of teacher monthly salaries.

Students in the incentive program schools were more likely to take the exams and had higher test scores, primarily in geography, history, and Christian religion, the subjects most susceptible to gains from extra coaching and memorization. The authors conclude that "Teacher attendance did not improve, homework assignments did not increase, and pedagogy did not change. There is, however, evidence that teachers increased effort to raise short-run test scores by conducting more test preparation sessions." The test score gains evaporated after the end of the incentive program.

-- Linda Gorman


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