Extrinsic v. Intrinsic rewards (ie. merit pay or not)
I don’t often post political issues here, but I was doing a bit of reading this morning and felt the need to consolidate some of the posts as well as express some opinions on the issues.
Of course, we all read the news, and know of the constant and abusive attacks on teachers and education by a certain political party. It is unfortunate that the person who is best showing the rampant hypocrisy of the that party is a comedian! None of the traditional news outlets are highlighting the fact that the Republican party has framed the debate very carefully as an “us vs. them” situation where “us” really is incredibly rich vs. the “them” of educators. Jon Stewart’s “Crisis in Dairyland” shows this incredibly well. (Teachers v. Wall Street, For Richer and Poorer, Interview with Diane Ravitch and Angry Curds.)
During the height of the Wisconsin tragedy, I had a very impassioned discussion with some wall street type folks here. What I realized out of this discussion is that they are brain dead. No seriously. Brain dead. Walking zombies who have come to the conclusion that it is okay to break contracts with teachers, but not with them, that they have no clue what it takes to educate, and that the entire problem with education can be solved by simply throwing a couple of bucks at teachers if the teachers raise scores on a test.
Of course, the wall street banker assumed that everyone is motivated by money, and that the only type of motivation that is allowed, possible, or important is extrinsic motivation. Motivate the teachers to teacher better and all the problems are solved! Yippee!
But wait! This assumes that the truly important people in this discussion have only to sit there and allow the supremely motivated teacher pour knowledge into their heads like wonderfully passive little widgets. What a terrific idea! (I guess we know why the bankers have brought our country to near ruin through the banking crisis. See what I mean; brain dead zombies.)
And then Tim Stahmer posts on his blog about a couple of studies done on extrinsic motivation and education. Guess what! Extrinsically motivating teachers is a recipe for failure! Why? Because the motivation of the TEACHERS is irrelevant. It is the motivation of the LEARNERS that matter! Throwing a few bucks at me will not mean my learners are more motivated!
So let’s look at these studies. Maybe the studies were severely biased, and that is the problem. The Washington Post has an article on one of the studies, (and here is a pdf of the story in case it disappears.) Wow, $15,000 is a lot of money! That is over 1/3 of my salary right now, and yet that huge amount of money did not cause students to do better? Imagine that? Paying the teachers did not cause the learners to do better!
But that is just one study. Not too conclusive at all. After all, one study in one school district means really nothing in the grand scheme of things. So Harvard does another study in a different school district. Guess what. Same thing. (here is the pdf text of the study.)
When are Michelle Rhee and company going to be thrown in the trash bin where they belong? They really have no plan, just more tired and wrong conclusions that do more damage than success. That is clear. If you read the book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” it is pretty clear they are causing significant damage to education.
But then, the brain dead zombies don’t want a good education system, do they? They want a system where they can teach creationism and can create good little worker bees who will be satisfied with low pay and no benefits. It is the educated citizen who demands more.
Lest you think that I am just complaining without offering a suggestion for improvement, I offer the following article. Bill Ferriter is a person who does suggest a positive vision for improving education. It is not an easy, magic bullet like merit pay. It is a hard slog. Structurally change how we teach. Change what we teach.
Yes, we can learn a lot of lesson from handwashing. Unfortunately for reality, it is not easy, but it is worth the price of admission.