Pay for Performance in Education: Part 2

In the “Our Opinion” section of the paper.  There is an opinion/blog called Rewards due for our best teachers that ignores any reference to research or back the supported theory that pay for performance is a better way to run a school system.  I am not a teacher (and never have been), I do have children in school that I am concerned about.  Let’s review the article.

The Star correctly notes that “people enter a career of teaching for all sorts of reasons.  Seldom, if ever, is it for the money.”  Ding, ding, ding . . . they do it because they are intrinsically motivated to do the right thing.  Then the article says that people will respond positively to financial incentives.  W. Edwards Deming and Douglas McGregor (Theory X and Y) taught me that motivation that lasts is intrinsic (Theory Y) and that extrinsic motivation drives out the intrinsic motivation. It was Frederick Herzburg that told us that if we give two groups a task, one with an incentive and one without, that at the first call for a break the group with the incentive took the break and the group without the incentive worked on as their motivation was intrinsic.

The proposed incentive itself ($20,000 for the top 10 schools) wouldn’t benefit very many teachers or students.  The argument will be that we can wind up with some best practice that can be copied by other schools.  This is pure foolishness, copying without theory leads to disaster, this is always a bad idea.

The pay for performance has plenty of examples of bad outcomes.  AIG had a reward system where the de facto purpose became to achieve the reward.  I understand we are  not talking about millions, but this will predictably drive bad behavior (and outcomes) to win the award.  The “normal workings” of the marketplace have not worked for some time (go ask GM, Chrysler and Ford).  Scientific management theory was a break through in the late 1800s, but Deming, Ohno and others have shown us there is a better way.

The better way includes an understanding that the performance of our school systems is 5% the teacher and 95% the education system.  To propose such folly of pay for performance, focuses us on the 5% and not the 95%.  The sooner we look to our education as a system the sooner we can start to make a system that keeps kids in school (intrinsically) and have education that fits the needs of our industry.  Clearly, rehashing old theories that focus on individual performance is not the way to achieve improvement. 

The better way involves understand purpose, customer demand, value, flow and measures that matter.  You will find better ways by taking this systems thinking approach.  This is not an ideology (Republican and Democrat) this is a matter of method and doing the right thing by our children.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at

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