New analysis of an expensive teacher incentive program backed by the Gates Foundation found startlingly disappointing results.
Bill and Melinda Gates poured $212 million into the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative. It had a simple premise: Give teachers incentives to do a better job and they will. And they might have, but the analysis found it didn’t make a difference to student outcomes, which is always the end goal in education. The seven public school districts and charter groups that participated spent $575 million on the project and about $73 million per year on evaluating the outcomes, bringing the total cost to about $1 billion, a whopping investment with little to no return.
According to the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research, schools that participated in the program didn’t implement the incentives evenly and principals often didn’t pair incentives with disincentives, like negative evaluations. The schools saw no improvement in students’ math and reading scores, or in their graduation rates. But that’s putting it mildly, wrote Jay P. Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Not only did the scores not improve, they actually got worse in a majority of grades.
“It is pretty clear that the Gates effective teaching reform effort failed pretty badly,” Greene wrote. “It cost a fortune. It produced significant political turmoil and distracted from other, more promising efforts. And it appears to have generally done more harm than good with respect to student achievement and attainment outcomes.”
But Greene doesn’t consider the effort a complete waste, noting that learning from mistakes is key to finding education reforms that work. Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute credited the Gates Foundation for taking an honest look at its own failure—so that others can craft better solutions in the future: “In this case, the Gates Foundation has done its part, funding a remarkably honest and informative postmortem. The task now is to be sure that we learn the lessons it has to teach.” —L.J.