May 2015

The benefit of paying the best teachers to teach more students

Paying the most effective teachers in a district more for adding students to their classroom can improve student performance and remain cost neutral or even achieve cost savings, according to a new study from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University. Edunomics Lab is a university-based research center focused on exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions.
 
While the researchers acknowledge that surveys have found parents typically support smaller class sizes, they also cite research that shows student gains from smaller class sizes are far outweighed by gains from being taught by a more effective teacher.
 
Using Cypress-Fairbanks ISD data from 2012‒13, the researchers modeled how a growing district could get more of their students in front of their best teachers. By adding three students to the classroom of every teacher in the top performance quartile, while maintaining current class sizes for all other teachers, the district could offer bonuses of about $8,000 for those teachers taking on additional students. The bonuses would represent a 16 to 17 percent salary increase for those teachers.
 
Growing districts would have more opportunities for realignment of students than flat-growth districts, according to the study, but even districts that aren’t growing could free up funds for bonuses over time through staffing adjustments and enrollment management (e.g., increasing enrollment capacity at some schools).
 
But other researchers, including a professor of education at Penn State University, contend that the Georgetown report lacks empirical evidence to support the findings. Some of the criticisms levied include that districts have difficulty reliably identifying their most effective teachers, and that bonuses don’t offset poor working conditions, so more focus should be given to more wholesale change.
 
The Edunomics study is not the only report to offer a conceptual shift in school staffing with the goal of getting more students into the classrooms of highly effective teachers. The education consulting firm Public Impact also has released some potential models that would revamp the workloads of the most effective teachers to expand their reach to more students.
 
(Editor’s note: Cypress-Fairbanks ISD did not actively participate in this research.)