A Crimson carrot will dangle in front of principals in Johnston and four other counties in an effort to improve school performance.
Harvard University’s Education Innovation Laboratory will study five North Carolina school systems to see if the promise of higher pay can raise academic performance.
The study, titled “Incentivizing Principal Inputs,” will focus on the next school year and hopes to determine the effectiveness of bonuses for schools’ highest paid personnel. In the five counties, principals or their leadership teams will receive up to $20,000 if their schools meet certain performance standards or practice certain methods. With 11 Johnston County schools taking part, the local payout could be as much as $220,000.
“There’s a lot of excitement from our principals ... not necessarily about the monetary compensation but the examination of best practices, which ones have the most impact on students and teachers,” said Superintendent Ross Renfrow. “I think the district can learn a lot that could be applicable to all of our schools.”
The incentives project has roots in other Harvard education studies done around the country over the years. One such study, for examples, determined that paying students to do homework actually worked. Another found that offering performance bonuses to teachers by group rather than individually could hurt student performance.
In this study, principals can earn extra money two ways. Principals in one group will do four things in their schools: draft a comprehensive plan for their school, review lesson plans with teachers before they make it to the classroom, observe classes every two weeks and give teachers same-day feedback from those observations. The principals will earn $5,000 for each of the four tasks they complete.
In the other group, principals can earn all or part of $20,000 if the school makes certain gains on end-of-year standardized testing. A control group will maintain the status quo. Harvard will randomly select which group each school falls in.
In its proposal, Harvard wrote that it thinks the study will show one of two things: that best practices can guide or focus principals to be more effective, or that a $20,000 year-end carrot will free up and motivate already effective principals.
Eddie Price, assistant superintendent for middle and high schools in Johnston, said former superintendent Ed Croom signed Johnston up for the study. The county’s association of principals and assistant principals then chose the schools that would take part. Harvard originally wanted eight Johnston schools but agreed to allow 11 in, Price said. Wake County, which is also taking part, will have 75 schools in the study, Price said.
“This could mean $220,000 in incentive pay for principals coming into Johnston County, or it could mean zero,” Price said.
It takes more than one person to run a school, though, board of education chairman Larry Strickland noted at the board’s May meeting. “Is there a ground rule that the $20,00 goes to the principal or can they share that love around?” Strickland asked.
Price said most Johnston schools have opted to spread any incentive money among their administrators.
Participating schools are Cooper Elementary, Corinth-Holders Elementary, Four Oaks Elementary, Polenta Elementary, Princeton High, River Dell Elementary, Selma Middle, Smithfield-Selma High, South Campus High, South Johnston High and West Clayton Elementary.
School board member Peggy Smith, a former principal in Johnston County, worried that frequently reviewing lesson plans for every teacher would lead to a stack of paperwork. Price said principals have the freedom to choose how extensive or brief they want the lesson plans to be.
“They have to do what’s best for the culture of their building, the size of their building,” Price said.
Harvard researchers will be in the county next month to meet with school officials about the study. Schools receiving money will get paid next July.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson