With the fresh discussions of incentive-based teaching as the future of education, why is it we are surprised at the new statistics that are coming out? Study after study shows giving teachers incentives, like more money, doesn’t change student outcomes at all. Am I surprised about this? Of course not.
That’s not say I am against offering better teachers more money, I am just against offering it to them as motivation.
Let’s break it down. The entire concept of offering incentives for teachers to do better is based on a logical fallacy. Namely this:
Teachers would be better at their job if they were motivated to try harder.
This idiocy could be continued thus:
As things are now, teachers aren’t trying hard enough.
Here’s what really bothers me about these assumptions. They are implying that every teacher out there simply lacks motivation. This is not only moronic, it is offensive.
I am hard on teachers. I firmly support tenure reform, and believe there are a lot of bad teachers out there ruining our schools. That said, the good teachers far outnumber the bad. And let me tell you something about good teachers.
We can’t do much better.
Let me put it this way. A good buddy of mine teaches at another high school in my district. He is there past 6 or 7 every day, and is usually the last teacher to leave the campus. He has called every one of his students’ houses, he grades more papers than anyone I know, and spends his weekends doing fundraising and other school-related activities which he doesn’t get compensated for. If you told him he could get a bonus by doing more, he would rightly laugh in your face and say, “How do you propose I do MORE?”
This is what good teachers are: Good at their jobs.
We’re already working at maximum capacity. We are already motivated. Let me tell you a secret: We didn’t go into teaching for the money. We teach because it is an amazingly rewarding job where the good days outnumber the bad (hopefully), and the kids’ lives we affect make our lives complete. Most good teachers teach because we love it. You can’t just ask most of us to do more- we’re already going above and beyond the call of duty.
We buy supplies with our own money, we do weekend college trips for free, we aren’t paid for any preparation or collaboration time that is nearly enough to prepare and collaborate properly. We shop at outlet stores because most resources aren’t available for us on site. We are calling parents on our own cell phones because we don’t have access to outside lines for long distance numbers. We are absolutely tearing this job up, so asking us to pick it up isn’t just ludicrous, it is deeply, deeply offensive.
Every new study that comes out showing incentives aren’t making teachers better makes my goddamn blood boil. Mostly because these studies are done based on this insulting notion that we are not trying hard enough, and just need the proper motivation.
I said earlier the good teachers drastically outnumber the bad. So with the biggest sample of your teaching population, you aren’t going to see growth because we are already working at capacity. Conversely, the bad teachers aren’t going to do much better than they are already doing for a variety of reasons: Some of them think they are good teachers, and therefore think they too are already working at capacity. Some of them don’t care, gave up long ago, and are counting the years to retirement. And a bad teacher is just that- bad at their job. Offering them more money isn’t going to miraculously make them proficient.
So really these studies are only going to show growth in a small group of bad teachers who might improve a bit, and new teachers still perfecting their craft. But the majority of the numbers are going to continue to show what they already do- offering incentives to teachers isn’t necessarily going to do much for student outcomes.
The answer, in my opinion, is not incentives, but evaluations. I always say teachers are too important to even allow one bad teacher on a student’s schedule. Most teachers are good. There are a few bad ones (more than a few at some schools, and those numbers increase at low-income schools), what we need to do is not offer incentives for improvement, but reward those already doing a great job.
So let’s stop talking about incentives for those already tearing it up. Lets get rid of those not doing the job, and then pay everyone a higher wage. I don’t put any stock in these studies, and neither should you. The dangling carrot of teacher incentives is rotten through and through, and will soon fall from the fishing line. There are other discussions we need to be having, and this isn’t one of them.