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Thomas Dee wins award for research on Washington DC school program

Thomas Dee
Thomas Dee

Thomas Dee wins award for research on Washington DC school program

Professor Thomas Dee shares the Vernon Memorial Award for "cleverly and thoughtfully" analyzing IMPACT, Washington DC's teacher incentive program.

Thomas Dee, professor of education at Stanford Graduate School of Education and faculty director at Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, is this year's Raymond Vernon Memorial Award winner. The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (JPAM) made the announcement earlier this month. The award will be presented on Nov. 13.

From JPAM:

The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (JPAM) is pleased to announce that the winners of this year’s Raymond Vernon Memorial Award are Thomas S. Dee, Stanford University, and James H. Wyckoff, University of Virginia, for their paper Incentives, Selection and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT. The paper was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of JPAM.

The paper is a great example of how careful analysis of non-experimental data can shed light on an important and controversial issue like teacher compensation.

The authors rigorously test whether and how the performance incentives put in place by then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee in the District of Columbia public schools affected teacher retention and performance. It would be highly difficult if not impossible to study the impacts of such performance incentives through random assignment, so it is critical to come up with alternative evaluation strategies.

The Vernon Memorial Award, created by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), seeks to annually recognized excellence in research through the selection of a paper published in the current volume of JPAM. This year’s committee, appointed by Kenneth Couch, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, included; Ingrid Gould Ellen (chair), New York University; along with John MacDonald, University of Pennsylvania; Harold Pollack, University of Chicago; and Jenny Schuetz, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

Dee and Wyckoff cleverly, and thoughtfully, use regression discontinuity analysis to compare the performance and retention of teachers whose ratings placed them near the thresholds for the program’s performance bands. Their results show that dismissal threats increased the voluntary attrition of low-performing teachers and improved the performance of those who remained. Further, financial incentives appear to have improved the performance of high-performing teachers as well.

Readers walk away from this clear and careful paper with a strong sense that performance incentives – combined with multi-faceted measures of teacher performance as well as support and resources for teachers - can improve teacher effectiveness.  The authors do not oversell their results and thoughtfully explore potential limits to generalizability. They also acknowledge the potential downsides to such high-stakes teacher evaluation systems and caution care in weighing costs. 

The award will be presented to Dee and Wyckoff on Friday, November 13 during the Membership & Awards Luncheon at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) Fall Research Conference, held this year November 12–14 in Miami, Florida.

Other resources:

Read the Stanford GSE press release announcing the IMPACT research findings: Incentive plan for Washington DC teachers drives performance gain, scholars say.

Watch the CEPA video of Dee presenting the findings:

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