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Problem-Solving Application—Incentives, Performance, and Schools...

Problem-Solving Application—Incentives, Performance, and Schools

 

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) attempted to improve the performance of its poorest-rated schools by offering a monetary incentive to teachers. However, the desired result—that better teachers would migrate to worse schools and improve their ratings—did not materialize. This activity is important because it demonstrates how performance management decisions such as these have multiple effects, not all of which are desired.

 

The goal of this exercise is for you to consider what went wrong with HISD's plan and what alternatives may now exist.

 

Read about HISD and its incentive plan. Then, using the three-step problem-solving approach, answer the questions that follow.

 

Like organizations in other industries, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) believed it could direct, motivate, and improve performance with monetary rewards. The goal was to improve the skills and test scores of students at 40 underperforming schools.

 

Officials thought the underlying reasons for the underperformance were low performing teachers, as those at the target schools were twice as likely to be rated "ineffective" or "needs improvement" than in in well-performing schools. Worse still, teachers at these same schools were half as likely to be rated "highly effective." School district leaders reasoned that offering money—$5000 signing bonuses—would attract better teachers to the poor performing schools.

 

Officials spent nearly $7 million to incentivize highly rated teachers to move to the target schools in the 2017-2018 school year, and they planned to spend a similar amount in 2018-2019. But there was a problem—it didn't work. The 40 schools experienced tremendous turnover—40-60 percent of teachers at the worst schools quit—but the teachers who replaced them had nearly identical (poor) ratings when they arrived.

 

This left officials scratching their heads. The dismal results might have been due to the fact they had no performance criteria for teachers to qualify for the bonus and move to one of the 40 schools. Moving to the worst performing schools could be perceived as very risky, as highly rated teachers' performance could drop in a more challenging, underperforming school. Adding to the risk, some teachers would presumably be giving up a position at a "better" school. Of course, it also was possible $5000 just wasn't enough for many.1

 

Apply the 3-Step Problem-Solving Approach

  • Step 1: Define the problem HISD officials wanted to fix.
  • Step 2: Identify the potential causes of this problem. (Consider also the common reasons rewards fail to motivate.)
  • Step 3: Make your recommendations.

 

Footnotes

Adapted from J. Carpenter, "Millions Spent on Incentives Failed to Get Better Teachers in High-Need HISD Schools," Houston Chronicle, December 7, 2018, https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/education/article/Millions-spent-on-incentives-failedto-get-better-13450913.php.

 

Question:

Which of the following does not represent potential reasons the HISD incentive plan may not be working as originally hoped?

 

Multiple Choice

  • The plan did not have clear criteria for someone to qualify for the bonus.
  • Highly-rated teachers may not want to risk their reputations by moving to lower-performing schools.
  • $5000 may not be enough to attract highly rated teachers to lower-performing schools.
  • Highly-rated teachers are concerned that they will not receive the bonus even if they qualify for it and move to a lower-performing school.
  • Highly-rated teachers may not want to give up positions at better schools by taking HISD's offer.

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