It’s no secret that online education has influenced student achievements for the worst. Hechinger Report reveals schools adopting outcome-based contracts for better educational results.

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Key takeaways:

  • Schools are experimenting with paying vendors based on student performance.
  • Planning and data analysis for these contracts can be time-consuming.
  • Initial results show mixed effectiveness and logistical challenges.

Schools are shaking up how they spend money on educational products and services by trying out outcome-based contracts. This means they pay vendors based on how well students do. It’s a model borrowed from healthcare, and now schools want to see if it can make their spending more effective.

How Did the First Attempts Go?

The idea took off during the pandemic when Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research started a pilot program. They tested paying tutoring companies based on student test score improvements. With $190 billion in federal funds aimed at helping schools bounce back, it seemed like perfect timing. Districts like Duval County in Florida and Ector County in Texas joined in, linking vendor payments to student success.

Planning these contracts wasn’t easy. It involved a lot of data analysis and setting performance targets. Jasmine Walker from the Southern Education Foundation pointed out:

“It’s important that everyone understands the mission.”

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Leadership changes and layoffs caused disruptions, making it hard to track the tutoring’s effectiveness. Plus, delays in finalizing contracts meant tutoring started late, reducing the number of students who could benefit. For example, in Duval County, only 451 students got tutoring instead of the expected 1,200.

Despite these issues, there were some wins. In Duval County, students who got tutoring met 53 percent of the growth and proficiency goals, leading to a partial payment to the tutoring company. But it’s still unclear if these gains were solely due to tutoring or if regular classes helped too.

What Now?

Outcomes-based contracting in education is still new. The Southern Education Foundation is expanding the initiative nationwide, with more schools set to try it. Walker thinks this model builds better vendor partnerships and accountability. She suggests schools make at least 40 percent of the contract contingent on outcomes to motivate vendors. Also, getting teachers, parents, and students involved early is key.

“I don’t care if I spent the whole contract amount if the students actually met the outcomes, because in the past, let’s face it, I was still paying and they were not achieving outcomes.”

As this approach grows, it might extend beyond tutoring to include ed tech, curriculum development, and teacher training. The ultimate goal is to boost student achievement and make sure every dollar spent leads to real improvements in education.

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