President Obama and Arne Duncan's latest foray into modern education reform contains hundreds of millions for teacher performance incentives. While well intentioned, it is misguided. Ultimately it is destructive on several fronts.
First, incentive pay for professional workers completely and utterly misunderstands motivation. This ten minute video on what motivates professional workers is a must for any leader or policy maker. At the behest of performance pay proponents, Vanderbilt University conducted the most exhaustive study on its effects to date. The results of this pro-performance pay study? It is a colossal waste of resources with zero bang for the buck.
Secondly, and more insidious, is the modern reform narrative this reinforces; on purpose. To assume performance pay will close the gap, you must assume teachers just are not working as hard as they can. But for a few extra bucks in the pocket, they would somehow answer more kids questions or grade a few more papers more closely. It reinforces the modern reformers claim that, "If we ignore all factors that affect student achievement except teachers, we can definitively claim that teachers are at fault."
Recently in Michigan they completed a total takeover of the urban schools by the staunchest, most vindictive of modern reformers. Their own evaluation scheme rated 99% of teachers as either effective or highly effective. Minnesota's top modern reformer has stated, verbatim, that 99% of teachers are fantastic. I will just have to take her word for it. If 99% of teachers are fantastic, and 99% of Michigan teachers are effective, or highly effective, why are we spending hundreds of millions on just 1% of the labor force?
The answer is simple, and the third reason why this law is so destructive. We know for a fact that successful schools, Charter, Private, Traditional, you name it, achieve success when all teachers work together on all students. Pitting worker against worker on an assembly line race might work in the business world. A student's achievement is dependent on an entire team of teachers working together over several years. The Super Teacher works great in movies, but it is neither scalable nor sustainable.
The Avengers is a much better metaphor for what works in education. Shamefully, that model is less appealing to a society devoted to the myth of the rugged individual. We know from research that incentive pay is not money wisely spent. So ask yourself why they are doing it. It is to divide teachers back into their isolated classroom kingdoms, when we know the best results come when we work in community.
Teacher incentive pay is not an efficient way to use taxpayer money. That should be reason enough not to do it when we have so many pressing needs. Worse, incentive pay is counter to all we know about what works in successful schools. Finally, incentive pay forwards the B.S. meme that teachers are responsible for everything wrong with our system.
Cross Posted at MNProgressiveProject