Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thoughts on pay for performance incentives

A very recent blog post by Daniel Pink offers yet more information that points to the suggestion that a financial incentive for teachers as a means to improve student performance do not work.  For those us us who work in schools, this is not likely to be ground breaking news.  I would assume that none of us became a teacher to begin with because of the money.  Therefore, the promise of more money is not likely to be a huge motivator.  The article does reference a recent study of New York City public schools.  Here are a few thoughts I have after reading Mr. Pink’s blog post and also his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

  • New York public school teachers are among the highest paid public school teachers in the country.
  • In Drive, Daniel Pink talks about external rewards (such as these pay incentives) as being effective in basically 2 situations:
    1. When the person is NOT being fairly compensated.
    2. When the task being paid for is menial or non-challenging by nature.
  • None of us would turn down more money to teach, but as an incentive to do a better job – that is tricky
    1. What else can be used to determine effectiveness?
    2. Is the reward enough to off-set the expenditure in time and effort to work “harder”?
    3. How many teachers are already doing a good enough job to not qualify for the incentive?  In other words, if my students do well all the time, is it harder to show improvement?
  • If the financial incentives do not work, what does that say about teachers’ own perceptions about how they should be compensated?
    1. Teachers will generally admit that they are underpaid and underappreciated.
    2. Educators also are traditionally quick to point out how money was not a factor in their decision to teach – thus sending a signal that money is not important.
    3. What incentives would work to help underperforming teachers do better?  Is there a price tag that can be placed on that figure?
    4. If I am a high performing teacher and an underperforming co-worker gets paid an incentive for doing a better job, is there a danger of fracturing a faculty?
  • Is it possible that it really isn’t about the money from the paying entity at all?  Is it possible that for years teachers have said that they are underpaid and in an effort to demonstrate that teachers are appreciated, these pay for performance incentives emerge out of a lack of better ideas? 

Money that is handed out politically will always have conditions attached.  If pay for performance programs do not work for our students (which I believe they do not), then in place of saying it doesn’t work, can we offer some politically attractive measures that will?

Ideas that improve student learning, motivate teachers to continue to do good work, and set up our public officials to benefit from good public relations will be the ideas that should get promoted by the educational community.

You can take that to the bank.  

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