Sunday, February 19, 2012

Merit Pay

Another anecdote (I like them because I think they help people connect.) My husband works in a retail sporting goods establishment. His boss, a retiree from Corporate America and self-made millionaire, has a merit pay program based on revenue generated for the company. You work hard to make more money for the store, you make more money in the form of a bonus. (We'll disregard the fact that my husband hasn't seen a real raise in three years, but hey "it's the economy").

 What I have noticed is that those who Always work hard Always make their bonus. Those who don't like to work hard, never make their bonus, and it's ALWAYS the same people. The rankings have not changed in three years. People may fluctuate within one step, but nobody from the bottom every goes to the top, or vice versa. It really doesn't matter how big the bonus is. People rarely deviate from their set patterns. Hard-workers are born, and they can't be bribed. However, those who don't normally work hard will put forth more effort when the overall bonus to be shared by ALL employees is close at hand. They won't work for themselves, but they'll work for the good of the group, or the group will hurt them LOL. 

Now I posed him a problem. I said, "You are paid based on how hard you work. What if you were paid according to how hard others work. (I've had managers argue this point with me because their bonuses are based on their DEPARTMENT productivity, the work of others)  What if you weren't given bonuses by revenue, but by the achievements of your customers. I say customers because a manger can make changes and even fire people who don't do their job. Nobody is going to fire their customers (except maybe charter schools.)

So I ask, "What if you only got bonuses based on how many races your customers won?" That's what teachers face. We are not being offered bonuses based on our work but that of our students, who are our customers. Basically I get to see in action every quarter motivation at work. Here is the animated version of Dan Pink's speech about motivation. I love this video, and I think business owners could really learn something from it. It has been proven time and time again that for more complicated skills and jobs, money will actually make people LESS productive. It's counter-intuitive, but true.

Teachers know this, why doesn't everyone else. Money IS NOT our motivator. We WANT autonomy. We WANT to become better at our craft. We WANT to focus on our purpose of helping kids learn. We lost our autonomy in the test driven culture. Canned, scripted curricula strips us of our autonomy, along with pacing guides and principals who use the word test every 2 sentences. We are now being told that advanced education doesn't matter and we will no longer receive any assistance or extra pay for striving toward more knowledge. There goes our mastery. We are also now being told that our purpose is no longer helping kids learn, but to help them pass a test. There is a very big difference. I can teach a kid to pass a test without actually teaching them anything, especially how to think.

So why exactly do people think merit pay will help improve education? Oh wait, they don't actually THINK that. They just say it to get others to go along with their ideas. There's a whole lot motivating the "school reform" crowd that has nothing to do with "racial equality", "improving schools" or "educating our way to a better economy." I think Brian Jones has some accurate ideas about what's motivating them. That's a conversation for another time.


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