Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reader comments roundup: Performance Pay

Dear jack phelps, andromeda, roger sweeny, anonymous (x2) and world,

I like you. I hope you keep writing comments, because you said some important things that forced me to think through my posts this week.

First things first. Anonymous 7:14AM – I can’t even stand to read this blog at 7:14AM. So hats off to you. You wrote:

The change theory seems to be "only if the best teachers help their colleagues identify challenges and improve will entire schools succeed and will teachers then become eligible for more pay. This will encourage individual teachers to do their personal best. It also will encourage collaboration and teamwork, as teachers share both responsibilities and rewards." Looks like capacity-sorting to me; how does this incentive build teachers' capacity to collaborate effectively?

Agreed - collaboration in a school is something that needs to be nurtured – it takes time, organizational structures, and clear attention to building a process of feedback and continuous conversation into everyday school life. In some of the best schools I’ve visited, the schedule builds in additional prep periods that have specified purposes – i.e. planning together or going over this week’s lessons to forge interdisciplinary connections. One of the best collaborative structures I’ve seen in junior and high schools is “kidtalk,” where a team of teachers gets together to raise issues about kids, have conferences with individual kids as a team, and share strategies for helping each kid learn. It’s an amazing process to watch and it produces good results in addition to fostering rapport among the teachers.

The trouble is that organizational structures cost money. If we cost it out on an hourly basis (5 additional hours a week at $30/hour, which is a low-ball number), we’re talking about $5400 per faculty member. Even if we assume that $3000 is delayed payment for this work, we’re not getting anywhere close to compensating teachers for this additional time. And the truth is that struggling teachers don’t just need common planning, but someone in their classroom on a regular basis to observe and coach them – which also requires money. So anonymous 7:14AM, I agree that this incentive plan is largely a capacity sorter.

jack phelps was not convinced about capacity sorting. (great post, btw – I’m happy we have you on the education team now instead of the banking one. everyone, read his whole comment.)

I'd say that sure, your average 1st year teacher is working his or her ass off just to get the kids focused. Among 1st years, pay might be a capacity sorter. But you think that as they get married, start saving for retirement, have their own kids and family to look after--basically their own, outside set of issues--most teachers still "give their best" not just while they're required to be in class, but in planning activities, developing content, reaching out to students or parents, and even analyzing quiz results to see which questions are weak and should be thrown out? There are a host of marginal efforts teachers can make outside their 47 minutes of class time (where, I agree, they probably give their best), and additional performance pay may encourage them to do so. And it's ridiculous to say that a teacher trying to retire won't work a little harder his last few years to make sure he's saved as much as possible!

So you’ve convinced me that performance pay could produce marginal efforts in teachers at different life course stages, but I want to add a “for whom” statement here – for teachers for whom the aggregate of small additional efforts put their schools in the running for getting performance pay. What proportion of teachers this involves depends on how high the standards are for getting performance pay – we’ll know more about this as details of the NYC plan become available.

andromeda, a teacher in a private school in Massachusetts, is thinking about leaving the profession because of the lack of merit pay. She writes:

It's not that I want to be paid a lot of money -- if I did, I wouldn't have gone into teaching (and private school at that). What rankles is that one of the major ways respect is expressed in this society is money, and I want to be respected if I'm good at what I do. I want to be rewarded if I work hard and do a good job. The way the system's set up, I can't….I'd like my employers to say, in a meaningful way, that they appreciate my contribution….And I'm really starting to think, maybe I'd be happier in a corporate culture that values me.

I definitely hear you - you do a hard job, and you deserve to be recognized when you do it well. And schools absolutely need to develop structures to do this - and I'm okay with these rewards being financial. The question is about how we decide who gets these rewards; I'm partial to the kind of holistic evaluation that happens in other sectors (anonymous #2, check out yesterday's post on this question), rather than a test score-based system, but am skeptical about the capacity of schools to perform these kinds of evaluations given limited supervisory resources.

Finally, Roger Sweeny wrote:

Just about every school system pays its teachers more if they take additional education courses. Most teachers complain that these courses do little or nothing to make them better teachers. If teachers didn't respond to financial incentives, very few of them would take any of the courses. But many, many do.

Good point, Roger - I didn't mean that teachers were unresponsive to financial incentives, but perhaps less responsive than private sector workers. I like the idea of looking at increases in masters degree enrollment in the past (i.e. when financial incentives were tied to degree attainment) as providing insight into just how responsive teachers are.

Keep the comments coming, everyone. I'll try to respond once a week.

1 comment:

jack phelps said...

You called my last one a solid post, I call it endless blathering, but I'm still about to do it again to address the 70-vs-72 question. I'm not a compensation expert, and am definitely not capable of structuring payouts for teachers, but I'd say there are four broad categories in the private sector. I guess I’ll detail them because they might just contribute to the discussion? There's the banker structure I detailed earlier. As an early-career banker you are going to either earn a bonus or get fired, but you work like crazy to create value because every time you do three things happen: you are more likely to close more deals, your profile goes up, and people in your organization ask you to work on better projects that can raise your profile more. It’s almost non-numerical though, except that if you’re working like crazy but your deals aren’t closing someone knock you down a little bit. If we were ever talking about doubling teacher pay, I'd suggest some schools try this method because it can literally create heroes out of thin air, but at current below-market rates it'd never work.

There’s the straight commission structure that--in my opinion--most people who think about teacher bonuses picture. They think you can’t pay bonuses unless an employee meets a quota, which is ridiculous.

There’s the basic bonus structure, in which employees half-care about earning bonuses because they’re a small part of comp and indirectly related to anything the employee does except suck up.

And there’s a more mixed model, where some of it is general work ethic (i.e. perception, which is evaluated on a “360-degree” basis including peer and subordinate feedback), some of it is numerical (based on personal numerical performance plus the organization’s overall performance), and some of it is centered around extras like process improvement bonuses or recruitment bonuses: things employees can do outside their core function that scale to help the organization. This, in my opinion, is the right model for distributing up to $3,000 per teacher, because it’s an admission that we don’t know exactly what the most effective behaviors are, but we want to recognize people who go above and beyond in various ways without dropping the ball on their core tasks. This system actually has remarkably little to say to people who outscore their peers on numerical metrics (like test scores), except perhaps that it’s probably anomalous unless the employee is also capable of sharing the knowledge with others and using it to improve the organization rather than just his or her own performance. Again, I’m not a compensation expert and wouldn’t be capable of designing an effective evaluation package, but these things tend to--and should be--rather extensive.