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I know some things about teachers. You see, the people I love most in this world are teachers. My parents were both teachers and inspired me to enter this profession. My wife is a teacher. Some years ago, in the small Appalachian town of Hazard, Kentucky even I was a teacher. So when we talk about the teaching profession, keep in mind … this is personal to me.
In what’s unfortunately turning into a bona-fide “blog feud” between Jennifer Hemmingsen and I on educator compensation, Hemmingsen asks the important question of “what motivates teachers” and openly asks me for a response.
First, I have to say how disappointed I was in Hemmingsen for citing parts of an unpublished draft of my dissertation. I provided a draft version to the media with the caveat that it was still in the final proofing phase before being sent for binding and inclusion with the Seton Hall library. It is disappointing that Hemmingsen violated the trust I had when making the document available for media review. Sadly, I guess I’ve learned a lesson.
Even more disappointing is the fact that Hemmingsen cherry picks some of my findings to bolster her own predisposition while leaving the other half of my conclusions out of her discussion. However, in keeping with the “card game” metaphor we seem to be developing in our back and forth, it’s clear to me that academic scholarship trumps ‘gotcha’ editorials. You see, I have a responsibility in academic writing to provide a balanced and honest point of view and to critique the weaknesses of my own arguments. It would appear some editorial writers do not operate under the same ethos.
But let’s get past the personal level of this discussion and get to the policy question, which is ultimately the more important component.
The question of “what motivates teachers” was the subject of my dissertation. In a nutshell, I asked the question of whether teachers were motivated for money and economics or motivated to help kids and to be part of something greater than themselves. The answer … “yes.”
In studying the Eagle County School district (which arguably has one of the longest running and most interesting stories on performance based compensation) I found, overwhelmingly and not surprisingly, that teachers were primarily motivated to help kids. Teachers were also heavily motivated by the concept of being part of something greater than themselves, a concept noted in the literature as “public service motivation theory.”
However, I also found that although the altruistic motivators were clearly strongest, teachers also paid more attention to those things compensation was attached to (evaluation and assessment results in Eagle County’s case).
So, it’s not one or the other, but both. Teachers are motivated to help kids. Teachers are also rational people who pay attention to economic incentives.
I’ve used my findings as a possible explanation for why simple “cash for test scores” or “merit pay” schemes fail to raise student achievement. These approaches, by themselves, they don’t pull at the major levers in what motivates teachers and they usually don’t come with any real supports to help teachers improve their craft and learn from each other.
My conclusions were that we should avoid simplistic approaches advanced by many on the “performance pay” side of the argument, but we should also avoid a defense of the status quo “step and lane” system.
Deci and Ryan’s work was made popular by writer Daniel Pink, who said that compensation systems must be “adequate and fair.” I would argue the industrial “step and lane” pay system is neither and we have a great deal of evidence that educators are responding to its incentives in ways that lead us to perverse outcomes. For example, nearly 50% of educators nationally obtain advanced degrees that have an incredibly poor research track record of success in improving teaching. Compare this with the estimated 10% of Americans who have advanced degrees overall.
Think that has something to do with the ongoing compensation incentives provided with a “lane” change? I certainly do.
Frederick Herzberg also wrote about this nearly 40 years ago and told us that while compensation wasn’t necessarily a “motivator” for improvement, it did have the capacity to “demotivate” if it weren’t well attended to. I’d hold up the evidence around attrition for teachers early in their careers and labor market shortages for special education teachers as examples that we don’t have this “right” yet. Certainly working conditions and supports are part of this conversation, but so is compensation.
So, Hemmingsen is improving in her sophistication in being able to engage in this discussion – but she still doesn’t get it as she continues to try and paint me as some kind of merit-pay hawk.
To again clarify, I’m not talking about using compensation as a motivator for teachers, I’m talking about changing compensation structures to align with things that would actually be good for schools, educators, and kids. Things like creating and paying for teacher leader roles, creating time for teachers to work together collaboratively, incenting the pursuit advanced degrees or other PD options that are aligned with what their kids need, paying more to get and keep our best teachers in front of our neediest kids, front loading pay structures to get better candidates into teaching and keep them, extending the school day/year for kids that need it, and addressing teacher labor market shortage areas. And yes, performance based elements – so long as they are coupled with support systems to help teachers improve.
The possibilities are fascinating to consider – but part of the change is that we have to stop using the cash we have in such non-strategic ways and start using it smarter.
Hemmingsen also selectively takes her shots at the school organization I was proud to be part of in Eagle County, noting the high attrition rates at the inception of human capital system change in 2001 and the leadership turnover in 2007. But again, she only tells you part of the story. When I left Eagle County, the teacher attrition rate (for those not being non-renewed for performance related reasons) was in the single digits, we had solid leadership which remains in place today, and we had the highest paying salary system in the state. Further, the district has been closing the achievement gap at an amazing pace, has been recognized by the state legislature for its innovation, has had 4 Colorado Principals of the Year in as many years, and has value added results that are just startlingly good. This in a district with a 51% Hispanic student population, along with the language learner and poverty issues that accompany that demographic statistic.
The improvements with Eagle County’s results did not occur just because of a change in compensation system. Rather, leaving the step and lane system allowed the district to better move finite resources to solve problems and achieve strategic outcomes. I don’t think anyone there would say the pay was the driver. The change primarily happened because all the pieces in the organization were pulling in the same direction and toward the same goals and the district had the flexibility in its resources to address student needs.
So, what motivates teachers? Helping kids and being part of changing the world motivates teachers. But teachers are also rational people who respond to financial incentives. Our work shouldn’t be to blindly protect a near 100 year old industrial era compensation structure, but instead to think about how we build a compensation structure that takes into account teachers’ altruistic motivations and that incents them toward things that help kids and communities. Then, we would be moving toward a system that emphasizes the real underlying motivations for educators, and that uses money strategically.
This past week I had the chance to visit Harvard and be part of the “Learning from the International Experience” conference. First, what an incredible honor for me to get to meet some real giants in the education policy realm, notably Harvard’s Paul Peterson and Stanford’s Eric Hanushek. The event centered on the release of a new report called “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete” followed by two days of discussion on the condition of education in the United States and, more importantly, what we might learn from high performing countries to improve.
I’d first say that the results of the study aren’t fresh news by any stretch. The argument that the U.S. education system is floundering and puts the country’s economic health at risk goes back to the industrial revolution. The same argument was used again in the Sputnik era, in the 1980′s with the release of “A Nation at Risk”, and even more recently through the “achievement gap” lens of No Child Left Behind in a McKinsey report. One of the authors of the Harvard paper, education scholar Eric Hanushek, has been hammering at this issue for some time.
The U.S. continues to come up mediocre in these rankings but there are certainly some limitations to their utility, as these pure aggregate average score approaches aren’t taking into account poverty, equity, or social considerations. Also, this data is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the U.S. remains the most vibrant and adaptive economy in the world, most of the top universities in the world are in the U.S., it takes the rest of the world combined to equal the number of patents issued in the U.S. in a single year, and there are (by far) more Nobel Prize winners from the U.S. than any other (acknowledgement to Seton Hall’s Chris Tienken for this list of reminders).
These points should be used to counterbalance the discussion, but we would be foolish to ignore the message of the economists and political scientists that given the global nature of this economy compared to any time in our past we absolutely should be investigating the approaches used by the highest performing systems and pulling them into the playbook for American education.
I must admit I was disappointed by the conclusions of some of the economists at the conference that our reaction to this most recent illustration of U.S. educational mediocrity should be centered around “charter schools,” and “performance pay.” Keep in mind, I am an advocate for increased school choice and compensation reform, but I also realize they only take us so far.
While we should broaden these terms and discussions to consider the possibility of how “school choice” and “strategic compensation” could improve the American system, these do not (at least in my review) seem to be the major drivers in building great schools in looking at the highest performing systems. If the aim of this conference was really “Learning from the International Experience” then we would see lessons around clarity on student outcomes and a subsequent alignment of instruction and measurement. We would also see a hyperfocus on improving the quality of the educator workforce through a variety of approaches. Finally, we see systems that try things and make mistakes, but most importantly keep up the work and learning about getting better.
My takeaway was that we need to keep our eyes on the ball here. Improving schools is about teaching and learning coupled with a process of continuous improvement and innovation. To the degree that school choice and compensation figure into a framework on better teaching, learning, and innovation then they absolutely should be part of the discussion.
Any ideas we glean from other countries has to be considered against the culture of the American education system. In the U.S., our system has a heavy flavor of accountability in the form of standardized measures and (increasingly) individual measures of effectiveness. Our focus on accountability is creating what I’d consider an “over-reaction” from some in the education community who fantasize about an end to accountability and measures. I’d venture that this is pure fantasy and this over-reaction discounts that we do have much better performance data about our schools than we have had at any point in the past and this data, though admittedly imperfect, is also useful.
To take the lessons from the international experience and graft it into the American system, our question going forward should be “how do we get the right yin/yang mix of teaching-learning-innovation with accountability?”
What an amazing time to get to work in education in Iowa. My wife Sarah and I continue to be provided so many blessings from Iowa. Sarah is very excited about starting the new school year as a teacher with Des Moines Public Schools and I have been so impressed with the leadership of Nancy Sebring for that district.
We come off a recent education summit here in Des Moines last week that I think set the stage for meaningful and lasting improvements for our state.
We can sometimes get caught up in arguments about the current condition of Iowa’s schools and how they might stack up in comparison to the schools here in the past, or how Iowa’s schools stack up against other states, or how our schools stack up against other nations. I will advance that while this comparative exercise is important and constructive, it is fundamentally the pushing on the wrong questions.
The right question we should be asking is “can our schools be better than they are today?” Of course, we know they can.
And if we believe that our schools can be better than they are today the next question is “how good should they be?” Of course, the only answer that this proud tradition of education in Iowa will tolerate is that these schools must be “among the best in the world.”
When you look into the eyes of the kids and the families you serve, all of you know in your hearts there is really no other morally acceptable answer.
So, I would advance that we can probably agree that our schools can be better than they are now, and we can also probably get some general agreement that we want Iowa’s schools to be among the best in the world. Agreement on these two points moves our discussion from one of a defensive posture, focused on what is or what was – to a forward focused posture, focused on what could be.
Our collective ability to undergo this paradigm shift to coming together on a plan to improve Iowa’s schools, right now and as a community, is going to make or break this effort. If we fail in this, what a tremendous opportunity we have collectively lost.
The recent education summit raised a number of interesting policy approaches for Iowa to consider in the years ahead. Note that I said “years” because while we can and must undertake some dramatic changes that can immediately improve our schools, we learn from the highest performing systems in the world that meaningful and lasting improvement takes a focused direction and a deep and lasting commitment.
While the Governor and I are dedicated to opening a real discussion and allowing the free market of ideas to surface the best strategies for Iowa, we certainly have our priorities and we are working with and listening to people all over the state to shape and hone a blueprint for this major remodel of Iowa’s education system and I’d like to share some of the major tenets of our thinking with you today.
Let me preface any “plan” that we might design with the notion that Iowa must move from being a fractured system of schools to being a school system. For too long we have left too much to chance that each individual school district would provide a world class education to each and every student. There is a balance of state and local control that we must find and frankly, capacity needs to grow on both sides of the equation.
I will accept that the Iowa Department of Education hasn’t always been a model partner and too often we have been an impediment to meaningful improvement and change. But we are committed to getting better and I see positive changes across the organization almost daily. The truth is, for Iowa to truly be one of the finest school systems in the world, it’s going to take us all and I am committed to tending to and growing the department of education into a state agency all of you can be proud of.
The blueprint for building a world class school system for Iowa involves three main parts and I will cover them briefly with you, though we expect to issue our formal plan in mid September.
First, Iowa needs a better system of high student expectations and fair measures of those expectations. The work of the Iowa Core and its merger with the Common Core were positive steps in the right direction but we need to finish the job and get to full implementation of the Iowa Core. Every teacher in Iowa should know what their students are expected to learn and how to design curriculum and lessons to those standards. Assessments in Iowa should be aligned to those standards and provide meaningful information that captures both achievement and growth and provide information that is useful and timely for instruction.
And accountability in Iowa should be a broader concept than just results on these assessments and reflect more than just if you live in an affluent or poor zip code. Secretary Duncan has asked states to design meaningful accountability systems that meet the spirit of No Child Left Behind but define accountability and consequences in more realistic and meaningful ways. Iowa should step up to this challenge and engage in the work of designing a new accountability system as part of our efforts around ensuring we have high standards and fair measures.
Second, Iowa must invest heavily in educator quality – making sure we have great teachers and leaders in every school for every kid. We must take on a hyperfocus in this areas that involves considering who we recruit into education, how we prepare them, licensing, initial and ongoing support communities, teacher leadership roles, providing capable and visionary building and district leadership, and we must collectively, openly, and systemically be able to remove the rare rare case of the ineffective educator who does not want to improve.
Finally, Iowa must make innovation an institution and an expectation of our field of education. This may seem counter intuitive, but what I mean by creating an institution of innovation is that new ideas should be welcomed, supported, nurtured, tried, learned from, and taken to scale if they are effective. It’s difficult to think about creating a “system” to support innovation but this is exactly what we must do. As Michael Fullan puts it, the learning must become the work the whole system engages in.
Now, I know I’ve shocked most of you by going this long without talking about compensation. But I simply can’t hold out any longer!
I do not expect anyone else in this room, perhaps in the world, to get as excited about educator compensation as I do and that’s ok! In fact, I know that many would prefer that we just not discuss it at all because of the contention the topic usually raises. But I do need to keep pushing us back to this topic for one simple reason: Its where the money is. I want to be clear that I am in no way talking about paying educators less – we should be paying them more. But we should also be paying them smarter.
We have a terrible history of coming up with great ideas in education and then funding these great ideas with one time money in “pilots.” When the one time funding dries up the great idea dies with it. We also have a history of hanging funding for great ideas on the side of our regular funding. Time and time again we see that when times get tight, funding gets cut, and the great idea goes away.
How many times do we have to go through this exercise before we finally learn?
I will advocate for changing compensation systems to sustainably fund several key reforms most people in this room can probably agree on. Raising base teacher pay, raising new teacher pay, creating teacher leadership roles, creating collaborative time for educators to work together, creating extended day and year programs for students who need it, addressing labor market issues such as shortages of math, science, and special education teachers, and for acknowledging exceptional educators.
On this last point, I have no illusions that performance-pay models will be any sort of panacea to cure education’s problems and I am very aware of the uneven to poor track record of success for “merit pay” models. But take note that I am not talking about some simple “merit pay” approach. I am talking about a revolution in teacher compensation that allows for broader and more systemic changes to be enacted and more importantly … sustained.
The Des Moines public school district was the birthplace of the step and lane pay system that has persisted nearly a century. Iowa should also be the place with the innovative spirit to transform educator compensation – to put in place a strategic compensation approach.
We can’t just keep asking for more and more money to do the same things, just more expensively. While I think we can ask for increased funding if we can really put together a transformative education reform package, we also have to be willing to use the billions of dollars we already have in our system more efficiently and strategically.
In the debates on improving education in this country, international comparisons and the threat of America losing it’s place as the premier nation on this earth have become so commonplace they nearly lose their meaning. I am a student of history and know these threats are not new.
But a detailed study of the history of education in America does not tell a story of a stagnant system that refuses to budge but of a system that has risen up to meet the challenges this country faced. From the birth of this democracy, to the industrial era, through recessions, depressions, and wars and through waves of international competition across decades this nation’s system has risen up to the challenges it faced time and time again.
During the civil war, Abraham Lincoln said “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
These words were meant for a different time and a different context, but they ring true today – at least for me – because today we are challenged with making another wave of major improvements and another wave of competition. It is the responsibility of the educators in this room to have our schools meet this challenge. This is our time to shine, our time to make history.
We shouldn’t fear rise of nations around the world – increasing education, health, and freedom across this planet is not a zero sum game and we can celebrate everyone getting better – but we should fear our own inability to act and counter it with the courage necessary to make bold improvements.
I’d like to close with a sincere thank you for all that you do for your schools, your communities, and your students. I am honored to be among you.
Jennifer Hemmingsen recently penned two articles for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on education policy. One focused on what she called “merit pay” and a second focused more broadly on increased education spending. I welcome Hemmingsen (and others) entering the discussion on how we might improve education in Iowa. A central goal of the Governor’s recent Iowa Education Summit was to elevate improving education as a statewide policy issue. Based on the dramatic increase in media coverage and interactions occurring all across Iowa, I’d say the summit achieved this goal.
I applaud Hemmingsen for tackling these two contentious and complex policy issues. Having the courage to engage in meaningful and honest conversation is one of our first steps toward the improvement we need. However, in education we have an old maxim Hemmingsen should heed as she wades into these thorny discussions: “Do your homework.”
Educator compensation and school funding are complex issues that deserve more than a drive-by and myopic analysis. It would serve us all well to step up our game in how we discuss these important topics. As a state level public servant, I absolutely welcome an open critique of my positions and policy directions – but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that critics at least take the time to genuinely understand the issues and policy positions.
We have to raise our debate beyond pitifully unsophisticated advocacy for status quo “step and lane” pay systems or simple “cash-for-test-scores” schemes that have a poor track record of success. I’ve written on this topic previously and have called for a more sophisticated discussion on educator compensation in practically every public appearance I’ve made. Clearly my message isn’t getting through to the media who continue to frame the debate in an overly-simplistic (and generally non-productive) manner around “merit pay.”
Being more strategic about how we compensate educators must be part of the discussion when we talk about any meaningful and lasting policy change. The simple reason: it’s where the money is. Of the over $4 billion dollars we spend on public education in Iowa, the vast majority of that goes into salary and benefits and most of this money is spent in ways that are either poorly aligned with, or outright counter to, the goals we’d like to see schools achieve.
One small example: Imagine if we were more strategic in how we used the estimated $75,000,000 Iowa spends annually on incentivizing educators to chase and obtain advanced degrees. These advanced degrees have a terrible empirical record of correlation with improved teaching, yet we dump more cash into them year after year and have done so for nearly a century. What an incredible waste.
We have near universal agreement that we need to be increasing teacher collaboration time, creating meaningful teacher leadership roles, creating extended day and year programs for students who need it, and paying more for hard to fill areas like math, science and special education. We should be thinking about how we get these approaches to be part of our base funding model. Instead we use one time money, create pilots that eventually dry up and go away, or fund them with stand-alone appropriations that become easy targets as soon as budgets get tight. We have to start thinking about how we can better use the money that’s already in the system in smarter ways.
We need a “Dr. Phil” moment on this issue. We have a history of starting some of these innovative approaches in compensating educators in strategic ways but then fund them with one time money. When the cash dries up or funding gets tight, the innovation folds and becomes something “we tried once.” As Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that working for you?”
Framing the debate around “merit pay” (as a term that instantly inflames) and surfacing all the same old tired arguments gets us nowhere. We should be talking about the much more sophisticated (and useful) idea of “strategic compensation” which asks schools to align their resources with the goals they would like to accomplish. This is bigger than a “cash-for-test-scores” discussion.
Hemmingsen also makes the case that no real education reform will happen without an infusion of cash. But I’d argue that beating the drum of “give us more money and leave us alone” hasn’t produced results and is now falling on deaf ears. I’ll stand up and advocate for more cash for schools with anyone, but we must come with a better plan on how new money will move the system toward better results. Asking for more money to continue to do things that are ineffective is an irresponsible waste of finite public resources.
The fact is we have increased PreK-12 spending dramatically across this country over the past 30 years and have little to show for it in terms of increased student learning. We can make “the ask” for increased education spending, but let’s also come forward with a plan for how those resources will be used in smarter ways than they have been.
We just make the same problems we currently have in education more expensive with a “dump more cash on it” approach. So while “show me the money” may be fun to say, “show me the plan and I’ll show you the money” is a more pragmatic approach that might actually lead to improved schools. Building this plan is exactly the work we are engaged in as a state right now.
Again, I commend Hemmingsen taking on these important issues and appreciate her coverage of education. These are absolutely the things we should be talking about in the larger context of education reform. But repeating the same tired arguments about “merit pay” or yelling for more cash to do more of the same doesn’t move our discussion forward. Both discussions on compensation and on education spending are fast ways to get reactions from people – but we need to stop trying to inflame meaningless and worn-out debates and start trying to build pragmatic solutions.
Des Moines, IA
Discussions on educator compensation frequently lead into the false dichotomy of a near-mindless defense of the traditional “step and lane” pay system, versus near-froth-mouthed advocacy for simple “cash-for-test-scores” schemes.
One side stands intentionally oblivious to the perverse teacher labor market effects to which step and lane inevitably leads. The other side ignores the underlying motivations that drive teachers and the complexity of really determining educator effectiveness.
In truth, educator compensation should be a much more diverse and rich discussion than either of these simplistic approaches.
Rather than settling for the status quo, or reaching for simple and “silver bullet” solutions to complex problems, we should be designing educator compensation systems that…
• Finally get base educator pay right.
• Use both set and variable pay components.
• Consider the variety of elements that make up total compensation (pay, benefits, and retirement).
• Address labor market issues for hard-to-staff subjects.
• Pay more for tougher jobs, like special education.
• Pay more for teachers working in high poverty schools.
• Create meaningful and multiple career paths for teachers.
• Pay for advanced degrees that are aligned with the content actually being taught.
• Pay for experience in a way aligned with research.
• Pay to extend the school year for students who would benefit from extra time.
• Buy the time needed to create meaningful teacher interactions and collaboration.
• Hook into the most powerful motivators for teachers – altruism and public service.
• Recognize and reward exceptional performance.
• Align incentives with things that are actually strategically important to the mission of education.
Any compensation system should be designed and constructed in collaboration with those it impacts. Further, schools should continuously adapt and change their compensation systems to changing economic conditions and system goals. We have let our compensation systems, which represent the single largest expenditure of any school system, run on auto-pilot for far too long. Carefully note that I’m not talking about simple cash-for-test-scores bonus schemes hung on step and lane systems. I’m talking about using the money schools already put into educator pay in more strategic and intentional ways.
It’s time we rise above the rhetoric in the debate on educator pay. It’s deeper than adherence to tradition or advocacy for simple mechanisms.
Des Moines, IA
Last month I asked Iowans three simple questions about education.
1. What should we stop doing?
2. What should we keep doing?
3. What should we start doing?
I was overwhelmed with the response. On this site alone, I had 100 detailed, thoughtful, and honest responses. In addition, I had 42 emails sent to me answering the questions and met in person with several groups and individuals who gave me their perspectives on these questions.
I have taken the results and drawn my conclusions on what Iowans told me we should stop, keep, and start doing. I’ve put them together in a Prezi Presentation, which I will use in talking to some groups around the state for the next couple of weeks.
For those who won’t have the chance to hear me talk, I’m pasting the link to my Prezi here. While it won’t be quite as detailed without my narration and weird sense of humor, I hope you’ll get my drift.
Please review, and I welcome your comments and continued thoughts.
In closing, thanks so much to everyone who contributed. I can’t think of a better way to have started our conversation about Iowa’s future.
Des Moines, IA
Thanks much to KCRG and Beth Malicki for giving me the chance to speak with my own voice. As many in the public eye know, you give the media 10 minutes on a topic and sometimes they take 5 seconds of that out of context and turn it into the story they want, instead of the message that’s really there.
Beth was just a pro, asking the tough questions that need to be asked, and I appreciate the opportunity to give my answers.
Des Moines, IA
The Vanderbilt POINT study certainly sent shockwaves through the education reform ranks earlier this week and led to a piling on of “I told you so…” posts and other shots across the Twitterverse. But before we throw up our hands and decide that there is no other viable compensation system for educators besides the traditional step and level pay system, let’s put the POINT study in perspective.
POINT is important because it was an experimental design, the gold standard for establishing causality. The study tested a narrow scheme of significant amounts of cash (up to $15,000) for getting high value-added results for middle school math teachers in Nashville. The study ran over a three year time span. What POINT tells us is that straight cash-for-scores plans don’t aren’t significantly different than doing nothing when it comes to educator compensation.
It’s also important to note that the study results cut both ways – that is that the step and level pay system alone is no better than the performance pay scheme used in this experiment.
The really important finding is that a performance incentive plan doesn’t do much of anything as a stand-alone reform. So, districts considering a compensation change that ONLY involves cash-for-tests aren’t likely to see an impact on student achievement. Hard charging education reformers pushing these sort of models should take heed – you may be wasting precious school money.
Despite calls that this definitively closes the door on “merit pay” plans from the status quo defenders, there are a number of things this study doesn’t tell us. For example:
• POINT doesn’t address any interactive or compounding effects performance pay has when combined with other human capital initiatives. Many advocates for changes to compensation systems (myself included) argue for comprehensive human capital changes that include compensation reform. That is, changes to compensation come with better professional learning opportunities, better student data systems, better evaluation systems, better collaborative support systems. Something like the TAP System is a good example. Consider this upcoming event, the National Workshop on Strategic Compensation and you’ll see what I’m talking about – much of it focuses on things that don’t relate directly to compensation.
• POINT doesn’t address the long term effects of a compensation system that systematically protects the best employees from outside employment options while simultaneously exposing weaker employees to these outside options. To be more direct, we can “golden handcuff” the most effective teachers and increase their retention rates, while creating an environment where less effective teachers have an incentive to look around.
• POINT doesn’t address the ability of a strategic compensation system to put more money earlier in the hands of less experienced, but effective, educators. We know that attrition rates for early educators are high. Once an educator gets high enough up in the salary schedule they have an incentive to keep coming back for more. POINT doesn’t tell us what might happen if we offered more money earlier in careers to effective, but less experienced teachers. We would likely see an attraction of more capable people and higher retention rates of effective but less experienced educators if they didn’t have to wait until later in their careers to make a decent wage.
Don’t get me wrong – the POINT study is important and it was definitely a shocker to see just how insignificant the differences were from the traditional pay system. Like others, I expected the results to be, at worst, mixed.
But let’s keep it in perspective. Despite the powerful inferences we can draw from the experimental design and the credibility of the researchers assembled to run the study, it’s still fundamentally one study looking at one narrow implementation of performance pay.
The right path is for those considering a compensation reform to do so in the context of a larger human capital reform and to be willing to go the long haul before seeing results. It would be a real shame if this one failure was misused to stop any kind of creative experimentation with educator compensation systems.
New York, NY