Teachers play a critical role in determining how much students learn, yet in many countries, they lack the support, motivation, and training to do their jobs well. Many don’t know their subjects or don't have the pedagogical skills to effectively transmit knowledge to students. Teacher absenteeism is another problem. As a result, many children worldwide are failing to master basic skills. Incentive schemes can motivate teachers by rewarding good performance, encouraging them to expend more effort in teaching and preparation, or even to show up in the classroom.
Evidence on the effectiveness of teacher incentives is limited due to the small number of interventions that have undergone rigorous evaluation. Findings so far suggest mixed results. Some programs appear to boost student performance; others have little or no effect. Incentive schemes tend to have more impact in developing countries, though the reason is hard to pin down. Evidence suggests design and context are also important. For example, schemes that reward teachers based on the number of students who meet a threshold encourages teachers to focus on students close to that threshold and to ignore the rest.
Several questions must be resolved when designing teacher incentives, including what to incentivize, whom to target, and how to measure results. Traditionally, incentives reward outcomes (such as student results), or effort (intermediate outcome or outputs, such as teacher attendance), with the latter often seen as easier to attain. Another consideration is whether to link incentives to individual or group improvement. Individual incentives could in theory work better because they directly connect effort and reward, though group incentives can sometimes be effective, too. A third question involves choosing the metric for measuring success: by level (for example, number of students hitting a set target), piece rate (total increase in test scores for a class), or rank (teacher’s ranking compared to that of other teachers); hybrid methods are also possible. Finally, designs should consider potential behavioral responses. High-stakes incentives can lead to stress and poor performance; bonuses linked to attendance might make teachers feel untrusted and dampen morale.
Implementation and Monitoring and Evaluation
When money is tied to a performance indicator, cheating and gaming emerge as potential risks, so this issue should be considered in the implementation of any incentive scheme. Teachers may share answers with students for high-stakes exams if the exam results are used to evaluate teacher performance. While it’s difficult to prevent such practices, the use of additional metrics to measure performance can help reduce such behavior. However, adding more indicators can confuse teachers in terms of what to prioritize, and teachers may focus on goals they feel are easier to achieve. Even if gaming takes place, improvement in outcomes is still possible. Another factor to consider is the financial and general sustainability of the intervention. The impact of schemes tends to dissipate after the incentive is removed, in part because schemes often seek to increase teacher effort without introducing new teaching practices. Strengthening training as part of an incentives program can bring longer-term change and boost learning outcomes.
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