Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Incentive Pay

In a recent opinion piece on performance pay by Robin Chait and Ulrich Boser, the following claim is made:

The problem with our nation's educational system is not that teachers don't care about students or money. Rather the issue is that too many educators don't have the support, tools or proper incentive structure to succeed. In fact, the teachers in the study told the researchers that the prospect of bonuses didn't change their behavior because they were already trying as hard as they could.

Indeed, previous, smaller-scale studies of performance pay for teachers have shown that the reforms do work, but only if teachers receive support and targeted incentives to improve their skills.

If training the the key, then why is performance pay so important? Why not put these large sums (up to $15,000, if I read correctly) into improved training programs?

Reforming the way teachers are paid signals to teachers that their performance matters -- that educators should be treated like other professionals.

I have two quick comments. One, saying that you should accept new terms of employment because it will make you more professional is empty language. It's like arguing that smoking makes you cool (because the other cool kids -- here professionals -- are doing it).

Two, professionals all get performance pay? Professional is a large category and there are a diversity of compensation schemes. But I would be very surprised to hear that medical doctors got performance pay (perhaps they do -- it might be worth looking at these schemes). What about your dentist in private practice? These professionals get their wages from "fee for service" which are is very different matter.

But the most important thing here is that, when the empirical results are negative, people are falling back on ideological assumptions (teachers should have a performance pay structure). That should frame the debate properly.

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