The Debate over Teacher Merit Pay: A Freakonomics Quorum

The term “merit pay” has gained a prominent place in the debate over education reform. First it was D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee trumpeting it as a key to fixing the D.C.’s ailing public schools. Then a handful of other cities gave it a go, including Denver, New York City, and Nashville. Merit pay is a big plank of Education Secretary Arne Duncan‘s reform platform. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has just launched his own version of merit pay that focuses incentives toward principals.

There’s just one problem: educators almost universally hate merit pay, and have been adamantly opposed to it from day one. Simply, teachers say merit pay won’t work.

(Creatas)

In the last year, there’s been some pretty damning evidence proving them right; research showing that merit pay, in a variety of shapes and sizes, fails to raise student performance. In the worst of cases, such as the scandal in Atlanta, it’s contributed to flat-out cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. So, are we surprised that educators don’t respond to monetary incentives? Is that even the right conclusion to draw?

For answers to these and related questions, we decided to convene a Freakonomics Quorum. We reached out to a handful of education researchers and experts, and asked them the following:

Why don’t incentives appear to be working in cases of teacher merit pay?

The result is a thorough discussion that mimics the national debate. While some participants argue that incentive-based systems are fundamentally flawed, no matter what institution they’re applied to, others believe that merit pay does work, and simply needs to be tweaked in order to realize its full benefits. Either way, there is a lot of information presented, some of it contradictory, all of it interesting. Thanks to everyone in the Quorum for participating, and as always, let us know what you think in the comments section.

Julie Marsh is an adjunct researcher at the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, and visiting associate professor at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

First, let’s be clear that not all pay-for-performance (P4P) programs are the same. These programs differ greatly, from the choice of collective versus individual incentives, to the criteria by which incentives are awarded, to the inclusion of additional capacity-building elements, to the amount of the reward. Also, very few of these programs in the United States have been tested empirically. The research we’ve done at RAND and elsewhere in recent years has focused on programs incentivizing educator performance based primarily on the results from annual state tests of student performance. While limited, this research, along with theory, nevertheless suggests that several core factors may have contributed to the poor results found in recent P4P programs.

One factor is program design. Many of the programs studied, including New York City’s Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program, have expected financial incentives alone to inspire improvement and have not included additional supports and resources potentially needed to bring about improvement. As others have argued in the past, motivation alone does not improve schools. Even if incentives inspire staff to improve practices or work together (in the case of collective incentives), educators may not have the capacity or resources (e.g., school leadership, social capital, knowledge, instructional materials, time) to bring about improvement.

The decision to link incentives to student test results exclusively or almost exclusively may be another design element contributing to the lack of observed results. Research and theory suggest that to achieve desired results, individuals and groups targeted by incentives must buy in to the program and its criteria. If, as we found in NYC, participants do not support the performance criteria (e.g., more than three-fourths of teachers surveyed in our NYC study felt bonus criteria relied too heavily on student test scores), the motivational power of the incentive could be greatly compromised.

A second factor is program implementation. For example, according to research, individuals and groups targeted by incentives must have a high degree of understanding of the program. Yet there is evidence that often too few do. In NYC, more than one-third of teachers did not understand the targets their school needed to reach to be eligible for the bonus, the potential bonus amount, or how decisions would be made regarding distribution within the school. Poor communication can severely limit the motivational effects of incentives. If individuals don’t understand the criteria, how will they know where to direct their efforts? If they don’t know the amount at stake, how can they gauge whether the payoff is worth the effort?

A third significant variable is the context within which P4P programs operate. Under current policies, all schools and educators face significant pressure to perform well on the same measures that are often incentivized by P4P programs. While educators are making changes in response to these broader accountability pressures, how much additional change can we realistically expect from added financial incentives? In NYC, we found that teachers in schools not assigned to the bonus program (control) were just as likely as those from assigned schools (treatment) to report undertaking a host of efforts to help their school achieve a high Progress Report grade, including efforts to improve student attendance, seek professional development opportunities to improve their practice, and work with students to set and monitor goals. In fact, teachers often reported that accountability pressures—to achieve their school’s Adequate Yearly Progress target and to receive a high Progress Report grade—were more salient than financial bonuses.

Finally, individual perceptions may also affect the outcomes of P4P programs. Principals and teachers in NYC, for example, consistently reported viewing the bonus as recognition for work they were already doing (e.g., “a pat on the back”) rather than a goal for which to strive. Also, intrinsic motivators—such as seeing themselves improve and seeing their students learn new skills and knowledge—ranked much higher than financial bonuses on the list of potential motivators cited by teachers on surveys. In this context, how much added motivational value should we expect from financial bonuses?

Chicago is now putting in place its own merit pay program, and it will be fascinating to see the results. Media coverage suggests the program design may anticipate some of the concerns mentioned above, for example, by using multiple performance measures beyond just test results and including training for principals. Yet the details of both program elements are still unknown. How much are test scores weighted? How are “quality management” and “school climate” measured? What kind of training will be provided? Program implementation, of course, cannot be judged right now. Lessons from past research suggest that communication will be important. And finally, there’s context. How much added motivational value will be gained from the financial incentives compared to other accountability pressures and intrinsic motivators? That remains to be seen.

Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute, and a senior fellow of the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC (Berkeley) Law School. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national education columnist of The New York Times. He is the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, and lectures widely about education policy issues.

The fatal flaw in education merit pay plans is failure to consider carefully what the plans attempt to accomplish.

Typically, as in Emanuel’s plan, the central goal is to get more students to achieve pre-defined proficiency cut-off scores on standardized tests of basic skills in math and reading. From what little we know of Emanuel’s plan, it seems that principals will also be evaluated by other “objective” measures but these, too, mostly rely on student math and reading scores – how students gain compared to students elsewhere, and how many teachers are “effective,” based also on math and reading scores. Principals will also be rated on student and teacher attendance, and on “school climate,” whose definition has, so far, been unstated.

But schools have many educational goals – not only easily tested basic skills in math and reading, but the sciences, history, good citizenship, appreciation of literature, the arts and music, physical fitness, good health habits, and character. With Emanuel’s accountability system, any rational principal will ensure that teachers devote excessive attention to drill and preparation for math and reading tests, while giving short shrift to other curricular elements they have been charged to deliver.

In any institution with complex or multiple goals, incentive systems that reward achieving only some of those goals (usually those most easily measured) will inevitably distort that system’s output. Rational agents, responding to incentives, will ensure that resources, time, and attention are redirected to goals being rewarded, and away from those (perhaps equally important but more difficult to measure) not being rewarded.

Thirty years ago, the methodologist Donald T. Campbell framed what he called a ‘law’ of performance measurement:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Since then, social scientists have documented how simple accountability or incentive systems based on quantitative output indicators have actually harmed the institutions they were designed to improve – not only in education but in business, health care, welfare policy, human capital development, criminal justice, and public administration.

When health care systems (such as Medicare) attempted to reward cardiac surgeons, or their hospitals or practice groups, for survival rates of their patients, medical professionals responded by declining to operate on the sickest patients. When the Department of Labor attempted to reward local agencies for placing the unemployed in jobs, the agencies increased placement rates by getting more workers into more easily-found short-term poorly-paid jobs, and fewer into harder-to-find but more skilled long-term jobs. When prosecutors have been rewarded for the number of cases cleared, more plea bargains based on false confessions resulted. When U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges partly by the share of applicants for whom they have no space, colleges respond by soliciting unqualified high school students to apply.

So it is no surprise that K-12 educators respond similarly. The current federal education law, No Child Left Behind, sanctions schools whose math and reading scores fail to improve at “adequate” rates. The result: a narrowing of curriculum, with the greatest losses of science, social studies, the arts, and physical education instruction in schools with more low-income students, because these are schools under the greatest pressure to raise math and reading scores.

Across the nation, NCLB has created incentives for principals to order teachers to focus attention on students whose prior performance indicates a likelihood of falling just short of the passing point. These are students for whom slight improvement will have disproportionate impact on a school’s (and thus principal’s) performance rating. There is no incentive to focus instruction on high achievers, who will pass in any event, nor on the lowest achievers, who may make great gains but who won’t “count” unless the gains are so great as to pass.

Such gaming is legal. Barely distinguishable is illegal cheating, documented now in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and elsewhere. This, too, is an almost inevitable consequence of accountability and incentives to raise test scores at all cost.

Even within math and reading instruction, incentives for test score improvement corrupt the curriculum. Standardized tests in Chicago and elsewhere cannot sample the full curriculum even in these core subjects. For example, the language arts curriculum calls for making oral presentations as well as decoding written text. But standardized tests include no oral presentations; these are then dropped from the curriculum.

There is now substantial evidence that pay for performance does not even work on its own terms – reading and math scores don’t increase when teachers or entire schools are offered bonuses for higher scores. But even if pay for performance did work on its own terms, it would harm public education.

David Figlio is a professor of education, social policy and economics at Northwestern University, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Associate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

One thing we’ve learned from our experience with No Child Left Behind — and the state accountability systems that preceded it — is that educators respond to incentives. Most people are familiar with stories of outright cheating by teachers in response to high-stakes tests. And there have been many other responses that are less blatant but every bit as manipulative. Educators have tried to gain an edge on the tests by focusing on so-called “bubble kids,” selectively disciplining slow learning students so that they’d be absent on test day and carbo-loading kids to give them a short-term brain boost.

School accountability systems have led to substantive changes as well.  There’s increasing evidence that at least some of the test score gains we’ve witnessed with school accountability have been genuine.  And my surveys of teachers and principals in Florida tell us that school accountability is leading to changes in practice, and not just changes in answers.

Given the mounting evidence that one form of educator incentives seems to improve student learning (at least along measurable dimensions), people should wonder why some prominent recent merit pay experiments haven’t led to improvements.  I can think of a few possible reasons.

One explanation is psychological.  There’s evidence that people who choose to become teachers tend to be more cooperative and tend to wish to avoid competition.  When policy-makers (or experimenters) impose merit pay systems on people who don’t like to compete with one another, they may find that teachers aren’t willing — or wired — to compete in meaningful ways.  School accountability systems might spur teachers on in part because they energize other stakeholders — parents and community members whose housing values are directly tied to school ratings and who put more constant pressure on teachers and principals.

Another possibility is that teachers may respond to policies they perceive as permanent, but not those they view as temporary or those where they believe the target is moving. Educators might believe that it is not worth the extra effort to change their behaviors in ways that might be rewarded one year but not the next. School accountability systems, though they change too, have more of the patina of permanence.

A third possibility is that the meaningful gains that resulted from school accountability have been due primarily to the actions of school leaders rather than individual teachers. School principals are largely responsible for the changes in instructional policies and practices associated with accountability policies, and school principals have control over how students are matched to teachers. If principal actions, and not teacher actions, are the cause of the improvements with accountability, then there is less of a disconnect between the school accountability research and the merit pay research. And it also suggests that the teacher merit pay research might be less helpful in predicting what might happen with Rahm Emanuel’s principal merit pay plan.

Suppose it’s really true that teacher merit pay does not spur teachers to meaningfully raise their game. This doesn’t necessarily mean that teacher merit pay is ineffective. Merit pay can affect student outcomes in two different ways — through changes in teacher effort and through changes in the set of people who decide to enter teaching. The recent merit pay experiments can only speak to the first question, but they can’t provide insight into the second.  Instead, we’ll have to wait to see what happens to teacher recruitment in places like Florida, which earlier this year reformed its teacher tenure system such that student test scores have the highest weight in determining whether a teacher is renewed. When merit pay is codified into law in such a powerful way, maybe different types of people — specifically, those who think they’ll be good at raising test scores — will choose to become teachers. Whether this would be a good or a bad development is in the eye of the beholder.

James Guthrie is senior fellow director of Education Policy Studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas and a professor at the SMU Annette Simmons School of Education. In addition to his academic career, he has been a high school principal and elected school board member.

Public schools are currently trapped by dysfunctional and perverse incentive systems. Most debates regarding merit or performance pay for teachers and principals miss this essential point. Taking protective cover under the results of a single failed experiments or ill design current performance pay programs only avoids the issue. The status quo is failing.

The challenge is overcoming existing incentive systems that promote and protect employees over students and their learning, existing incentives that act like magnets to suck effective teachers from their classrooms and place them in positions of greater privilege but lower priority.

Current systems, under which more than 90% of public school teachers and principals operate, reward conditions that were sensible a century ago, but today bear little or no relationship to effective classroom instruction or school leadership.

However, the current system is more perverse and insidious than immediately meets the eye. It does waste public money by paying professional educators for years of service or college credits. However, there is a deeper deceit.

Today’s hidden incentive system offers teachers rewards for putting distance between themselves and students.  Teaching is treated as the lowest rung on the totem pole of power. The path out of the classroom involves becoming a counselor, a reading specialist, a community liaison, an assistant principal, a principal, a central office administrator, a superintendent, and, perhaps onto becoming a state or federal government administrator or a professor.

The further one is removed from the daily rigor of actual teaching, escaping the classroom and being less concerned with the main business of the institution, facilitating students’ learning, the more one is rewarded with control over one’s time, more interaction with adults, higher pay, and greater prestige.

Replacement incentive systems must be designed to take into account the complexity of teaching and leading a school. That is, they cannot concentrate on one goal alone. However, they must include at their core measures of student academic achievement.

In addition, new incentive systems must create a hierarchy of rewards that enables an effective teacher to expand her influence and still remain a classroom teacher.  As matters now stand, principals have far too many teachers to supervise. The number of their direct reports would seldom be matched in the private sector or in the military. Creating a professional educator hierarchy, as part of a teacher performance pay system, would address this problem also.


Otto

What about a time-inconsistency problem? It takes a long time for a teacher's extra effort to pay off.

Chris Marks

Wow. Some awesome points from everyone. But, I think the biggest indicator of a child's success or failure is the involvement of the parent. Is there data to support or even measure this? If so, what are we going to do about it?

Cañada Kid

Speaking from experience, Chris, I'd have to disagree. My sister and I (as humbly as I can say this) are ahead of 99+% of teenagers on the San Fran peninsula in math and we both excel in most subjects (particularly econ :)). We have had little to no support, involvement, or any sort of aid from our parents. Four really great friends of mine, however, have had immense amounts of parental involvement in their educations and are among my sister and I academically, succeeding in most classes they've taken. All six of us have taken community college classes (three of us graduated a year early form high school and am enrolled full time as a college student). This may just be a handful of special cases, but I feel that academic success comes from within, the desire to do well and the ability to ignore society and our social lives, both of which say it's ok to not do well.

tekumse

I feel that one year is too short of a time for a teacher to have a good impact on students. AFAIK in most European countries teachers do not just teach one year but keep following the same class throughout one of three schools - elementary, middle, high. This gives the teachers about 4 years with the same kids and more time to work on long term goals with them. The problems I see with that system is that if a kid gets a bad teacher they would be stuck with them for a long time and thus ruining any chances of serious learning in that subject.

Dominic mckeever

W. Edwards Deming said it all many years ago. He ciited pay by performance as one of his 7 deadly diseases of poor management. The effectiveness of workers is dependent on the quality of the system of work they are presented with. A poor system cannot be improved by the kind of external tinkering exemplified by performance related pay.

Tammy

"new incentive systems must create a hierarchy of rewards that enables an effective teacher to expand her influence and still remain a classroom teacher"

This is such a good point. As a teacher, the only way for me to be "promoted" for being an effective teacher is to leave the classroom to become an administrator.

JeffValentine

Hard to beat Gene Glass when it comes to this subject:

"Using student achievement data to evaluate teachers...

1. ...is nearly always undertaken at the level of a school (either all or none of the teachers in a school are rewarded equally) rather than at the level of individual teachers since a) no authoritative tests exist in most areas of the secondary school curriculum, nor for most special roles played by elementary teachers; and b) teachers reject the notion that they should compete with their colleagues for raises, privileges and perquisites;
2. ...is always combined with other criteria (such as absenteeism or extra work) which prove to be the real discriminators between who is rewarded and who is not;
3. ...is too susceptible to intentional distortion and manipulation to engender any confidence in the data; moreover teachers and others believe that no type of test nor any manner of statistical analysis can equate the difficulty of the teacher's task in the wide variety of circumstances in which they work;
4. ...elevates tests themselves to the level of curriculum goals, obscuring the distinction between learning and performing on tests;
5. ...is often a symbolic administrative act undertaken to reassure the lay public that student learning is valued and assiduously sought after."

Glass, Gene V. (1990). Using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Pp. 229-240 in Jason Millman & Linda Darling-Hammond (Eds.), The new handbook of teacher evaluation: Assessing elementary and secondary school teachers. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications.

Available: http://www.gvglass.info/papers/tcheval.html

Read more...

Heather

I don't like merit pay, because there are just too many variables. If you make the standard a particular level on a test, teachers in districts with parental involvement, high SES, etc. are always going to meet the goal - and teachers in inner-city schools (like the one I teach at) will struggle, but almost always fall short.

As a teacher, I can only do so much. If the kid is in my class regularly, I can try to educate them. But I have kids who have racked up 27-28 absences over the course of a semester. I have kids who come to class, but don't do any work - because they don't really 'need' my class, and they don't want to spend the effort. Or because their parole agreement says they must attend school -not that they must put forth an effort.

So many of the reform plans are well-meaning, but not in touch with what actually happens in the classroom. My district got a grant recently that allows for a new evaluation with merit pay for excelling teachers. Our department went through the evaluation and found that there were so many things that were not realistic for us (due to time constraints, materials, or whatever issues) - and that many of the things they were looking for would be seen from time to time - but not in EVERY lesson. So an evaluator might see us doing good work on areas 1 and 3 - but areas 2 and 4 weren't observed because we weren't doing anything related to those things. The evaluation also included pre and post tests for pretty much every lesson we taught. So basically, in a 55 minute period I'm supposed to give a pre and post test, plus activities, plus use technology, plus about 18 other things - oh, and I'm also supposed to TEACH the material at some time during the class period.

The entire department looked at the evaluation, then we looked at the bonus if we were to excell on the evaluations - $5000. For $5000, every one of us decided that it was simply not worth it to jump through the hoops that were being set up. We all decided that we all will continue to do what we've been doing, and if that gives us good evaluations, fine. We're all good teachers with years of experience, and I would venture to say that we've each gotten better with the years in the classroom. But the evaluation instrument does NOT measure what makes a good teacher overall - it simply looks for an easy way to turn a teacher into a number, by which one can decree that they are either good or not good.

Read more...

Cañada Kid

This video may shed some light on perhaps why teachers dislike the P4P:

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

Caleb b

Both my in-laws are teachers in Texas and they say that they would be happy to take merit pay if students were randomly assigned to classrooms and there was an objective measure of learning.

They've seen case after case of Principal X disliking teacher Y and the next year teacher Y gets 50% non-English speaking students and a low review score.

lcriv

I am a teacher in California and have been for nearly a decade now. In order for the current system of analysis to valid at all one must align the student goals with the teacher's goals. For example in our state students take STAR tests (Yearly standardized assessments) these tests determine the school's API score, which is then used to reward and punish schools according to their progress or lack there of in improving these scores every year. The problem is that the test has NO impact on the student whatsoever. Many students who want to take a nap will just speed through the test randomly guessing and then turn them in and put there heads down. I have little problem with merit pay as a teacher as long as you put some skin in the game for the students as well. This compounded with the statistically flawed method of comparing entirely different populations and then making year on year comparisons while changing the test systematically yearly are my issues with the system. Solution-shift toward the Texas TAKS model at least in that system there is some incentive for a student to put forth some effort on the exam.

Read more...

Tex Teacher

There is only 1 test that Texas students take that has any weight for the student. The junior year TAKS test must be passed in order to graduate, all other TAKS tests don't hold students to any kind of accountability. The TAKS is being phased out and will disappear at the end of the next school year anyway. I teach sophomores and many of them come in guess or doodle on the test, turn it in and go to sleep.
Has anyone ever bothered to think that maybe it's the students and not the teachers who are the problem? Shoot, give the kids some merit pay, make it meaningful to them and maybe they'll work harder.

Meghan McCallum

I wrote about 1000 words in reply to this. I then erased it. Bottom line is that those we seek to see legitimate changes and succcess from need to be tested by an external source who can't change the results. Incentives, be they financial or otherwise should go to those being evaluated...the students. A principal should recieve incentive pay based on the success of its teachers. A teacher incentive should be based on the percentage of students achieving an incentive. A student based incentive program could be detemined based on the desired achievements from different groups of students.

Reward the whole system and not just certain levels and success could be achievable.

Jason

Maybe this Roland Fryer paper about the effectiveness of paying students based on compliance to inputs (attending class) rather than outputs (higher test scores), also be constructive to incentive pay for teachers.

http://www.edlabs.harvard.edu/pdf/studentincentives.pdf

It is possible (probable) that teachers truly can't predict outcomes very well, but they can affect inputs to a high degree.

Now if we could only figure out the inputs...

pshrink

There is a psychological literature finding that paying children to perform an activity they enjoy leads to them enjoying the activity less. Why wouldn't this also occur for those who enjoy teaching. Paying for performance....changing the perceived reasons they do what they do....leading to decreased enjoyment of teaching, decreased motivation and decreased performance.

Tim

This is a simple self-selection problem, folks. Think about it. It fails because you are asking people with nurturing, risk averse personalities to think like economists.

I have hired many people with this personality type and tried to put them in commissioned sales, and it flat out does not work, even if you guarantee their base pay. The simple introduction of the risk variable- even if it has little downside- is enough to often induce paralyzing anxiety. Most simply can't process the pressure of accountability in a productive, motivating way.

Sorry if this is offensive to teachers- some of my best friends are teachers, after all- but its absolutely, empirically true in my experience.

pshrink

Are you saying that economist do not explain the totality of human behavior. Quelle Horreur

Richard Harrison

Still we are having the debate over Theory X and Theory Y approaches. There is abundant evidence to show that extrinsic motivators such as bonues, targets, standards lead to higher costs, porrer performance and lower morale and yet still we persist. Prof John Seddon has summed it up nicely (as has Dan Pink famously):

"For centuries we have been devising new tools to coerce and cajole workers to work harder or work the way we want them to. Douglas McGregor’s work in the 1960s categorised these attempts into two contrasting categories: ‘Theory X’ and ‘Theory Y’. Following the work of FW Taylor and scientific management, Theory X takes a more negative view of humans where they require external ‘prods’ to work (extrinsic motivation). A more positive view of human nature is embodied in Theory Y where managers need to harness their people’s intrinsic motivation. Each theory has led to the creation of management frameworks. Theory X has remained associated with a command and control, top-down style of management. ....a systems thinking approach leads organisations to become much closer to theory Y. The evidence is that when services are designed to meet the demands of service users, then motivation and engagement form part of a self-reinforcing cycle. And it’s cheap too!

Command and control have become so prevalent in our working lives that we often no longer recognize them for what they are; management approaches designed upon a particular theory of human behaviour. Targets, bonuses, policies and procedures, one-to-ones, payment-by-results, inspection, call times, and even monitoring staff calls are all a product of the command and control logic. Each one of these tools is designed to push workers to work harder or to regulate their behaviour. As time has progressed scientific studies have shown that the impact of command and control is detrimental to both workers and the performance of organisations. They lead to stress, poor performance, de-motivation, staff turnover and customer dissatisfaction.

Many control mechanisms deployed in services organisations were developed for manufacturing and take no account of the dynamic nature of services. Policies and procedures for example have become endemic in public services. In service organisations however, value is produced by the involvement of both service users and staff (co-production). This renders the majority of forms of control immediately redundant. Instead of re-assessing theory and method, it has led to new forms of control such as call monitoring. The other side of the control coin is control through incentive. Rewards are given for carrying out certain types action (bonuses, targets). Studies have found that these reduce learning and actually lower overall performance. They mechanize behaviour and end discretion. It goes some way to explaining why bonuses and targets were at the heart of the banking crisis. Incentives lead to unintended consequences.

the majority of performance is caused by how the system has been designed (95%). Workers only 5%. It is what we call the 95-5 rule. Trying to improve the 5% is to tackle the wrong problem. In fact, tackling the 5% instead of the 95% will increase problems in the system.

Workers intrinsically want to help people. It is where systems are designed badly, stopping workers from doing the right thing that dysfunction sets in. Designing systems that deliver value, allows workers to engage their innate skills, free from extrinsic control. Intrinsic control is the most efficient and satisfying form of control possible. As workers get better at helping people solve problems (with a sound method to guide them), a self-reinforcing pattern emerges.

As workers discover that their system has been better designed to help them solve service users’ problems, the more they enjoy the feeling of doing their work. As soon as people know that the system is designed to help them and let them experiment and learn, they will become more innovative and more engaged. As problems are solved, complaints go down. Staff turnover goes down. As complaints go down, the cycle becomes stronger in a positively self-reinforcing way."

For workers read Teachers, for customers read pupils. We need fresh thinking in the education system. It is broken. Incentivising teachers through bonuses and targets will not result in step changes in performance. Defining a good education by standardised test results and paying teachers based on those results will only lead to teaching to the test even more or cheating as we have already seen in Atlanta and elsewhere. It is thinking that has to change not the method of remuneration. Teachers go to school to do a good job. The system gets in the way not the person in 95% of cases.

I despair for children in the US and UK who have to suffer industrialised education.

Read more...

Pshrink

Exactly!

Bryan

I am SHOCKED there are 20 or so comments and not one mentions special education. A special education teacher is sometimes tasked with teaching a brain that learns slower than anyone reading this blog can imagine. Yes, there needs to be accountability, but not a test for special education students.

As a mainstream classroom teacher I am comfortable with merit based pay in most cases. But I am to be judged on the performance of home-bound students? What about IEP students who do not have an aid in my classroom, but do in others?

The problem not discussed in all these cases is the chain of command. Teachers are hired by principals who are hired by the superintendent and the Board of Education. If you don't like the teachers in your district vote for new board members who will be proactive.