Economists to look at better ways to reward good teaching

The challenge of financially rewarding teachers for outstanding performance will be the focus of a conference on education April 7-8 at the University of Chicago.

Leading researchers from around the country will discuss “Economic Models in Education Research” at workshop sessions organized by Derek Neal, Professor in Economics, and Stephen W. Raudenbush, the Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology and chair of the Committee on Education.

Neal said most of the current programs reward teacher performance have failed because they rely on metrics for teacher performance that were not designed as part of a reward system. 

“Many accountability and performance pay systems employ test scores from assessment systems that produce information used not only to determine rewards and punishments for educators, but also to inform the public about progress in student learning,” he writes in a paper “The Design of Performance Pay in Education,” which will be a chapter in the upcoming Handbook of Economics of Education.

A potential problem is that rewarding teachers for their students’ high test scores encourages the best teachers to seek transfers to schools with high-performing students, abandoning the students who need them most, Neal pointed out.

Economists are well prepared to understand the role of incentives to improve performance, and a number of related topics will examine the issues, he said.

“This workshop provides an overview of basic tools that have been developed in the fields of mechanism design, personnel economics and organizational economics with the aim of providing the next generation of education researchers with the basic tools required to inform the design of new incentive and accountability systems in education before they are tested in the field,” Neal said.

Ph.D. students from around the country will join faculty in discussing the issues at the conference, which will be held in rooms 232 and 233 at 1155 E. 60th St.

On April 7, Neal will discuss, “Personnel Policy in Public Education as a Design Problem,” in the opening talk at 9 a.m.

Douglas Staiger, the John French Professor of Economics at Dartmouth University, will discuss “Educational Productivity and Rules for Retention and Promotion,” beginning at 1:15 p.m. Canice Prendergast, the W. Allen Walls Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, will discuss “Subjective Evaluation and Rent Seeking in Bureaucracies” at a dinner meeting for scholars participating in the workshop.

On April 8, C. Kirabo Jackson, Assistant Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, will talk at 9:15 a.m. about “Match Quality, Worker Productivity and Worker Mobility.” The conference will be concluded by a talk at 11 a.m., titled “Schools as Organizations,” by Robert Gibbons, the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Organizational Economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

The conference is supported by the Searle Freedom Trust, the Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at Chicago Booth, and the Institute for Education Sciences (part of the U.S. Department of Education).

Although registration for the workshop has closed, papers from the sessions will be posted at