The Best Laid Plans: Designing Incentive Programs for School Leaders

WCER Working Paper No. 2014-07

Peter Goff, Ellen Goldring, and Melissa Canney

December 2014, 24 pp.

ABSTRACT: Notable attention and effort has been directed toward improving educator productivity through the use of performance incentives. Little of this work has focused on incentive systems for school leaders (principals) and less yet examines performance pay systems used in practice. This research uses 34 funded grants from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund to document how schools across the nation (N=1,315) are structuring their pay-for-performance systems. Focusing on elements related to measurement, rewards, and program structure, we find that most programs are poorly defined and often lack the requisite design components to ensure successful implementation. Elements that are close to the practice of educators, such as defining professional development activities, tend to be well articulated; however, non-instructional program considerations, such as psychometrics, the aggregation of measures, and the distribution of rewards, were poorly defined. We anticipate that the impact of pay-for-performance programs may be substantially improved if districts are provided a more comprehensive system of supports to help construct the incentive systems.

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keywords: performance pay, merit pay, compensation, leadership evaluation, school leadership