Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Factors for merit pay plan

From the PG:



Working on an Uneven Playing Field said...

Look, it really is this simple: merit pay only makes sense when all other factors are equal.

Let's say that you and I both work at a furniture factory. We both operate identical equipment under the same conditions, and we are both given the same grade of wood as raw material.

Then merit pay based on quality of the product would be fair.

But teaching is not, and never will be, this way!

Teachers operate under wildly different conditions, with wildly different "raw material".

To those who feel that such differences will somehow magically be taken into account, consider this scenario:

Suppose that you and I are both 9th grade math teachers. You have your class first period, and so you have tardy students drifting in all period.

My class is second period, so I have many fewer tardies.

And suppose that there are three disruptive students in your class, but - lucky me - I only have one disruptive student in mine.

Now guess who's more likely to get the "merit raise" and guess who's more likely to be put on the principal's "watch list"?

And guess where morale goes?

Anonymous said...

So then where is the incentive for teachers to excel? I could see paying a bonus for outstanding student performance or marked improvement from previous year's scores.

The intent, I believe, is to set sky high goals and expectations for all. Whether these goals are achievable is questionable.

Working on an Uneven Playing Field said...

To Anon 6:04 PM

As perhaps you might have guessed, I'm a PPS teacher.

You asked: "So then where is the incentive for teachers to excel?"

Your question is a good one, and not an easy one to answer.

As I posted previously, I'm sure merit pay isn't the answer.

My imperfect answer to your excellent question is this:

Teachers by and large enter the profession because of their passion for their specialty (math, chemistry, English literature, whatever).

They need no incentive to excel. They are already trying their best.

Sure there are exceptions, but I must tell you that the huge majority of teachers I have observed are doing heroic work every day.

So we don't need to be prodded, like horses to move faster.

What we DO need is support from higher-ups, help with things beyond our control.

Never once in all my years of teaching has anyone sincerely asked me this simple question: "What I can I do to help you succeed?"

Questioner said...

When we first heard about a teachers' academy, PURE wondered- has anyone asked teachers what would most help them to succeed?

The Gates program has also been described as a "teacher management" program but we'll ask anyway- Anon 6:53, what would most "empower" you as a teacher to succeed?

Anonymous said...

To write my own lessons and get rid or the core curriculum.

Observer said...

The core curriculum was just another brick in the wall as far as I am concerned. This was just another way in which teachers could be managed.

I have to laugh---and yes, it is condescending---at comments by those put forth by anon at 6:04. The original posting in this thread is right on target and as usual, someone who is either clueless about the realities of public schools or who has put a great deal of stock in little Johnny's rationale as to why he got a 'C' in Mrs.Smith's class ("Mom, she doesn't know how to teach.") provides the usual shot to the bow. Thanks for the refreshing shot of parental reality.

Look, I have long come to the grips with the idea that our district is run by a corporate type with little appreciation of what he considers to be drones. This has been the norm in the corporate workplace for eons, so why should I be surprised. I can understand that, save for Linda Lane, this individual has surrounded himself with either like-minded corporate types or individuals enacting policy from far beyond the realm of urban reality. I can understand that in virtual Ponzi style, administration is made up of a great many people who haven't been in a classroom in years and yet enjoy a salary, and I can be cognizant of the idea that principals and vice principals---the outer ring of the administrative design---gets to not only sit in judgment of the front line (teachers) and can make changes even with little grounds, they can also reap the benefits when those same teachers make them look good by raising test scores and the like.

What a great gig to be an administrator in the Roosevelt plan. No accountability when things go south (it's the teachers' faults) and rewards when they do well. And you thought being a weatherman was the best job.

Yeah, I can understand it all and be reviled by it, but it's my world.

What bothers me is how a union head can possibly know ALL of this...and attempt to sell it as a "big win."

Mr.Tarka, how do you sleep knowing that your decisions will cause long time teachers their jobs???

And people like anon at 6:04 are going to have the utter audacity to ask, "So then where is the incentive for teachers to excel?"

You're kidding, right? I mean, no one can have such tunnel vision as to ignore all of the aforementioned, right?

Questioner said...

Can all teachers be trusted to write their own lesson plans, though? One former principal argued for a core curriculum because there was for example a teacher who gave high school students a coloring project for biology class.

Something we thought would help are greater social services so that more students arrive at school ready, able and willing to learn. We still hear reports of students who have been kicked out of their homes, or whose parents don't know where they are for days on end, or who are working fidiculous numbers of hours after school leaving no time for homework.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between a curriculum and lesson plans and between both of those things and "scripted" curricula, bought and paid for.

Teachers are both supposed to follow strict time guidelines (at the elementary level strict as in down to the minute) and differentiate to meet the needs of all the students. Right there, you have a conflict, unless someone has miraculously invented a script that reaches all kids at all times.

Teachers should be given content and performance expectations (all 8th grade students will know these things and be able to do these things. A pacing guide that at least makes it seem possible to fit all those things in before the PSSA is needed too (at least for PSSA subjects!)

A selection of materials, be it a full scripted curriculum or a choice of literature, or two textbooks with appropriate resource materials would insure that each teacher could either follow a script or plan and teach the same content and skills at roughly the same time.

If a teacher seems to be failing at the task, then there should be observations with concrete suggestions made and at some point, I could see it becoming necessary to require a teacher to use a script or other pre-structured program. But all teachers? No -- they should have more leeway, within a prescribed range of what's to be covered.

Observer said...

Can teachers be trusted? Wow, what a question.

Canned curricula is one thing, but the idea of providing curricula which comes from out of touch university types is another. PPS teachers could have done this for themselves but in true corporate fashion, the CEO farmed the work out to someone else. Nice touch. But hey, it's taxpayer money.

I do see the logic of an across the district curriculum, however. Kids transferring here or there should have consistency. But know this: curriculum writers call their work rigorous by placing three pages of work into the plans for one class day. That's not rigor, it's stupidity. To expect teachers to adhere to such a schedule is insanity.

And know this: preparing kids for PSSA's is extremely important for a district like ours. The curriculum in place for 11th grade reading is particular noteworthy in this regard. Somehow, the powers that be assume kids will attain better scores through the dual abilities of osmosis and three re-current questions where each unit is concerned: what is the gist? how do you know? What are the significant moments?

Left as is, such a curriculum is a huge failure for the kids, one that will in no way enhance test scores or prepare students. Instead, teachers need to muddle through poorly planned curriculum and hit kids with loads of ancillary reading and questioning for homework that will help those scores--the very barometer for each school.

Can teachers be trusted, you ask?

This is what your tax money pays for. Just when will the taxpaying public get off its collective backside and begin to ask pertinent questions. Continually scapegoating teachers is yet another item that this administration counts on when it makes outrageous decisions.

Questioner said...

The question wasn't so much "can teachers be trusted" as "can ALL teachers be trusted"- ie, is there a bottom 10% that could not write their own lessons. Arguments are often made that these least effective teachers end up in the schools that need effective teachers most. So, up to 90% of teachers who CAN be trusted may be tightly controlled due to maybe 10% who cannot be trusted. Of course as Anon 8:43 pointed out, there are other ways of addressing this problem.

Questioner said...

It's kind of like the way that parents in general seem to be written off as key contributors to their children's success because some (relatively small) portion of parents can not or will not help their children.

Questioner said...

Education Week blog discussion on merit pay:


anon1 said...

It is scary to me as a parent that I can say my kid learned a lot last year DESPITE the material used to teach her, particularly in English. There, the teacher made the difference.

We will be dismantling the merit pay system within a few years, but only after the most vocal parents scream as loud as they can that it is hurting the education their kids are getting.

For all who are hitting keyboards right now to say parents are not doing enough NOW, let me tell you time after time we ask the same questions. Often the answers come almost like a chant, rehearsed over and over. When this happens enough you almost wonder if you have lost all ability to make anyone understand your position.
But, you keep at it hoping for a breakthrough or that one day someone with authority will say, "Hey, just this once we will try it your way and keep all the "experts" out of it."

There are better ideas out there on how to use the grant money. At a ballgame over the weekend another parent and I had a discussion. We agree that no class should have more than 15 students in it at the high school level. Small schools might not be the answer but small classes is this education market could be our best bet.

Questioner said...

There are so many good ways $40M (plus the matching $45M the district will need to raise) could have been used, but this grant is for a very specific experiment the Gates Foundation wishes to discuss.

It may be that we would have been better off if just the $45M the district hopes to raise could have been applied to a project or projects chosen after thorough community input and vetting.

Anonymous said...

This article from education week is downright frightening! Pretty much confirms the concerns all of the teachers that are posting here.


Anonymous said...

Here is a study from Univ of Florida stating that incentive pay increases test scores. However, the increease is only 1-2% higher than students taught by teachers without incentive pay. Seems like this can simply be attributed to the incentivized teachers teaching to the test...


Observer said...

anon, you misunderstand. The vocal parents are appreciated and yet, they are a minority in this district and Roosevelt and his people know it. They'll let you cry foul and perhaps in the early stages, you will have some groundswell of support, but they understand apathy and realize that the complaining will die off greatly to where you only hear a few voices in the wilderness.

As for Questioner's continuous efforts to remain "fair and balanced", it's a shame that you look at what so many teachers have put forth here as simply being one side of the issue. These are the people aligned with your kids, and NOT Roosevelt or administration types. Instead of trying to balance teacher commentaries with completely inane factoids or data, perhaps some re-thinking is in order.

This issue is NOT about teacher effectiveness.It's all about corporate structure to an educational system. What's so hard to understand, it's management and workers. And to the CEO, the idea is that any worker can be replaced.
Merit pay will not bring greater student achievement. It will not bring greater teacher effectiveness. It's a facade.

At some point, the issue of being "fair and balanced" pales in the face of having the gumption to make a stand. Our union won't. Our union leader is part of the problem. Union. What does it imply?

Again, please talk to me after numerous teachers are dismissed for pure vindictiveness.

Roger said...

You'll never see this article on the board or union website, but please take a look. And please comment.

The Folly of Merit Pay
By Alfie Kohn
Education Week
September 17,2003


Questioner said...

Excellent article! Since the article may be reproduced w/out permission, here it is below.

Our district is so blinded by the money- $40 million dollars!- that no effort has been made to consider the potential down sides of this experiment. Once again, decisions are being made without a strong base of evidence and logic.


September 17, 2003


The Folly of Merit Pay

By Alfie Kohn

There's no end to the possible uses for that nifty little Latin phrase Cui bono?, which means: Who benefits? Whose interests are served? It's the right question to ask about a testing regimen guaranteed to make most public schools look as though they're failing. Or about the assumption that people with less power than you have (students, if you're a teacher; teachers, if you're an administrator) are unable to participate in making decisions about what they're going to do every day.

And here's another application: Cui bono when we're assured that money is the main reason it's so hard to find good teachers? If only we paid them more, we'd have no trouble attracting and retaining the finest educators that—well, that money can buy. Just accept that premise, and you'll never have to consider the way teachers are treated. In fact, you could continue disrespecting and de-skilling them, forcing them to use scripted curricula and turning them into glorified test-prep technicians. If they seem unhappy, it must be just because they want a bigger paycheck.

Questioner said...


In 2000, Public Agenda questioned more than 900 new teachers and almost as many college graduates who didn't choose a career in education. The report concluded that, while "teachers do believe that they are underpaid," higher salaries would probably be of limited effectiveness in alleviating teacher shortages because considerations other than money are "significantly more important to most teachers and would-be teachers." Two years later, 44 percent of administrators reported, in another Public Agenda poll, that talented colleagues were being driven out of the field because of "unreasonable standards and accountability."

Meanwhile, a small California survey, published last year in Phi Delta Kappan, found that the main reason newly credentialed teachers were leaving the profession was not low salaries or difficult children. Rather, those who threw in the towel were most likely to cite what was being done to their schools in the name of "accountability." And the same lesson seems to hold cross-culturally. Mike Baker, a correspondent for BBC News, discovered that an educational "recruitment crisis" exists almost exclusively in those nations "where accountability measures have undermined teachers' autonomy."

That unhappy educators have a lot more on their minds than money shouldn't be surprising in light of half a century of research conducted in other kinds of workplaces. When people are asked what's most important to them, financial concerns show up well behind such factors as interesting work or good people to work with. For example, in a large survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute, "salary/wage" ranked 16th on a list of 20 reasons for taking a job. (Interestingly, managers asked what they believe matters most to their employees tend to mention money—and then proceed to manage on the basis of that error.)

Educational policymakers might be forgiven their shortsightedness if they were just proposing to raise teachers' salaries across the board—or, perhaps, to compensate them appropriately for more responsibilities or for additional training. Instead, though, many are turning to some version of "pay for performance." Here, myopia is complicated by amnesia: For more than a century, such plans have been implemented, then abandoned, then implemented in a different form, then abandoned again. The idea never seems to work, but proponents of merit pay never seem to learn.

(continued in next post)

Questioner said...

Here are the educational historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban: "The history of performance-based salary plans has been a merry-go-round. In the main, districts that initially embraced merit pay dropped it after a brief trial." But even "repeated experiences" of failure haven't prevented officials "from proposing merit pay again and again."

"Son of Merit Pay: The Sequel" is now playing in Cincinnati, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, and elsewhere. The leading advocates of this approach—conservatives, economists, and conservative economists—insist that we need only adopt their current incentive schemes and, this time, teaching really will improve. Honest.

Wade Nelson, a professor at Winona State University, dug up a government commission's evaluation of England's mid-19th-century "payment by results" plan. His summary of that evaluation: Schools became "impoverished learning environments in which nearly total emphasis on performance on the examination left little opportunity for learning." The plan was abandoned.

In The Public Interest, a right-wing policy journal, two researchers concluded with apparent disappointment in 1985 that no evidence supported the idea that merit pay "had an appreciable or consistent positive effect on teachers' classroom work." Moreover, they reported that few administrators expected such an effect "even though they had the strongest reason to make such claims."

To this day, enthusiasm for pay-for-performance runs far ahead of any data supporting its effectiveness—even as measured by standardized-test scores, much less by meaningful indicators of learning. But then that, too, echoes the results in other workplaces. To the best of my knowledge, no controlled scientific study has ever found a long-term enhancement of the quality of work as a result of any incentive system. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that performance on tasks, particularly complex tasks, is generally lower when people are promised a reward for doing them, or for doing them well. As a rule, the more prominent or enticing the reward, the more destructive its effects.

(continued in next post)

Questioner said...

So why are pay-for-performance plans so reliably unsuccessful, if not counterproductive?

1. Control. People with more power usually set the goals, establish the criteria, and generally set about trying to change the behavior of those down below. If merit pay feels manipulative and patronizing, that's probably because it is. Moreover, the fact that these programs usually operate at the level of school personnel means, as Maurice Holt has pointed out, that the whole enterprise "conveniently moves accountability away from politicians and administrators, who invent and control the system, to those who actually do the work."

2. Strained relationships. In its most destructive form, merit pay is set up as a competition, where the point is to best one's colleagues. No wonder just such a proposal, in Norristown, Pa., was unanimously opposed by teachers and ultimately abandoned. Even those teachers likely to receive a bonus realized that everyone loses—especially the students—when educators are set against one another in a race for artificially scarce rewards.

But pay- for-performance programs don't have to be explicitly competitive in order to undermine collegial relationships. If I end up getting a bonus and you don't, our interactions are likely to be adversely affected, particularly if you think of yourself as a pretty darned good teacher.

Some argue that monetary rewards are less harmful if they're offered to, and made contingent on the performance of, an entire school. But if a school misses out on a bonus, what often ensues is an ugly search for individuals on whom to pin the blame. Also, you can count on seeing less useful collaboration among schools, especially if an incentive program is based on their relative standing. Why would one faculty share ideas with another when the goal is to make sure that students in other schools don't do as well as yours? Merit pay based on rankings is about victory, not about excellence. In any case, bribing groups doesn't make any more sense than bribing individuals.


Questioner said...

3. Reasons and motives. The premise of merit pay, and indeed of all rewards, is that people could be doing a better job but for some reason have decided to wait until it's bribed out of them. This is as insulting as it is inaccurate. Dangling a reward in front of teachers or principals—"Here's what you'll get if things somehow improve"— does nothing to address the complex, systemic factors that are actually responsible for educational deficiencies. Pay-for-performance is an outgrowth of behaviorism, which is focused on individual organisms, not systems—and, true to its name, looks only at behaviors, not at reasons and motives and the people who have them.

Even if they wouldn't mind larger paychecks, teachers are typically not all that money-driven. They keep telling us in surveys that the magical moment when a student suddenly understands is more important to them than another few bucks. And, as noted above, they're becoming disenchanted these days less because of salary issues than because they don't enjoy being controlled by accountability systems. Equally controlling pay-for-performance plans are based more on neoclassical economic dogma than on an understanding of how things look from a teacher's perspective.

Most of all, merit pay fails to recognize that there are different kinds of motivation. Doing something because you enjoy it for its own sake is utterly unlike doing something to get money or recognition. In fact, researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that the use of such extrinsic inducements often reduces intrinsic motivation. The more that people are rewarded, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. If bonuses and the like can "motivate" some educators, it's only in an extrinsic sense, and often at the cost of undermining their passion for teaching.

For example, a recent study of a merit-pay plan that covered all employees at a northeastern college found that intrinsic motivation declined as a direct result of the plan's adoption, particularly for some of the school's "most valued employees—those who were highly motivated intrinsically before the program was implemented." The more the plan did what it was intended to do—raise people's extrinsic motivation by getting them to see how their performance would affect their salaries—the less pleasure they came to take in their work. The plan was abandoned after one year.

That study didn't even take account of how resentful and demoralized people may become when they don't get the bonus they're expecting. For all these reasons, I tell Fortune 500 executives (or at least those foolish enough to ask me) that the best formula for compensation is this: Pay people well, pay them fairly, and then do everything possible to help them forget about money. All pay-for-performance plans, of course, violate that last precept.

Questioner said...

4. Measurement issues. Despite what is widely assumed by economists and behaviorists, some things are more than the sum of their parts, and some things can't be reduced to numbers. It's an illusion to think we can specify and quantify all the components of good teaching and learning, much less establish criteria for receiving a bonus that will eliminate the perception of arbitrariness. No less an authority than the statistician-cum-quality-guru W. Edwards Deming reminded us that "the most important things we need to manage can't be measured."

It's possible to evaluate the quality of teaching, but it's not possible to reach consensus on a valid and reliable way to pin down the meaning of success, particularly when dollars hang in the balance. What's more, evaluation may eclipse other goals. After merit-pay plans take effect, administrators often visit classrooms more to judge teachers than to offer them feedback for the purpose of improvement.

All these concerns apply even when technicians struggle to find good criteria for allocating merit pay. But the problems are multiplied when the criteria are dubious, such as raising student test scores. These tests, as I and others have argued elsewhere, tend to measure what matters least. They reflect children's backgrounds more than the quality of a given teacher or school. Moreover, merit pay based on those scores is not only unfair but damaging, if it accelerates the exodus of teachers from troubled schools where they're most needed.

Schoolwide merit pay, again, is no less destructive than the individual version. High stakes induce cheating, gaming, teaching to the test, and other ways of snagging the bonus (or dodging the penalty) without actually improving student learning. In fact, some teachers who might resist these temptations, preferring to do what's best for kids rather than for their own wallets, feel compelled to do more test prep when their colleagues' paychecks are affected by the school's overall scores.


Questioner said...

It may be vanity or, again, myopia that persuades technicians, even after the umpteenth failure, that merit pay need only be returned to the shop for another tuneup. Perhaps some of the issues mentioned here can be addressed, but most are inherent in the very idea of paying educators on the basis of how close they've come to someone's definition of successful performance. It's time we acknowledged not only that such programs don't work, but that they can't work.

Furthermore, efforts to solve one problem often trigger new ones. Late-model merit-pay plans often include such lengthy lists of criteria and complex statistical controls that no one except their designers understand how the damn things work.

So how should we reward teachers? We shouldn't. They're not pets. Rather, teachers should be paid well, freed from misguided mandates, treated with respect, and provided with the support they need to help their students become increasingly proficient and enthusiastic learners.


Copyright © 2003 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form.

Observer said...

"So how should we reward teachers? We shouldn't. They're not pets. Rather, teachers should be paid well, freed from misguided mandates, treated with respect, and provided with the support they need to help their students become increasingly proficient and enthusiastic learners."

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a classroom can only applaud such commentary and alas, that's why this proposal will continue to move forward.
You have a superintendent who was never in the classroom, surrounded by individuals (save for Linda Lane) who either were not in the classroom, were washouts in the classroom or were administrators and did not need to inspire and motivate. You have union leaders who are not in the classroom and do not want to return to it. You have school board members who work in beauty salons or in their own kitchens.

And these people are going to try to pretend to know what effective teaching is.

They wouldn't know it if it bit them in the arse.

Observer said...

I wanted to add one salient point which seems to be forgotten here. While most people with a modicum of intelligence can understand why teachers are upset by this proposal in terms of pay, few seem to be able to grasp the recipe for dismissal that almost acts as a codicil to the document.
Again, what the general public needs to understand at this time is the fact that the holiday season has also become open season on teachers. Numerous individuals are being focused or placed on "improvement plans", which is a funny way of saying that they have one foot out the door.
Merry Christmas.
When one stops to think that acceptance of this proposal completely enables administrators to dismiss teachers immediately, the picture gets worse.
Happy Holidays.
It's lost on people not in our schools. You have administration teams at each school now often comprised of individuals who spent little time as teachers. Their whole understanding of what is and isn't effective is being shoved at them at their principal meetings, which encourage each school's administrators to target teachers.
A "big win" for all concerned.
For its part, central administration has made the equation simple: if you are not teaching the curriculum with fidelity (read, verbatim), you are not effective.

As such, teachers are caught in the middle, and this latest proposal is the kicker. Teach outrageously paced curricula that leave students in the proverbial dust and call that rigor on one hand....provide them with 50% grades on the other....and you will be called effective.

Again, I have to wonder how Mr.Tarka sleeps. If the PFT's charge is to protect the interests of its staff, how can such a situation be allowed to continue?? How can it be allowed to grant an even more unlimited license to management in the dismissal of teachers and just how....please, tell me how...can this be called a "big win"?

Happy Holidays, indeed.

THIS is the big picture in our schools.