Friday, November 21, 2008

Pay for Performance Works? So Says Randi

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There comes a point where Randi Weingarten becomes an embarrassment to working teachers everywhere. Her pronouncement that bonus pay works is an insult to teachers.

Even NYC parent activists at the NYC Public School Parent blog, where Weingarten doesn't get much attention, are disturbed.

Patrick Sullivan who represents Manhattan on the Panel for Educational Policy, put up this post.

Randi Weingarten’s recent speech, where she was introduced by Mike Bloomberg, includes a strong endorsement for teacher merit pay based on high-stakes standardized testing.

From an AP article entitled “Union Prez: Performance Pay Works”:
Weingarten described the teacher pay system in New York City , where school-wide bonuses are based on overall test scores in high-poverty schools. Weingarten, as head of the New York teachers union, negotiated the system last year with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The new system is working, she said: Teachers already are getting bonuses for improving student achievement in 128 of 200 eligible schools.

But it wasn’t so long ago we were hearing a different story from the Weingarten-led United Federation of Teachers. Last year, a more detailed analysis in the UFT newsletter was entitled: “Pay for performance not performing well: Places using such models have run into snags”.

The UFT article starts out this way:

“Guess what? New teacher pay-for-performance plans in Florida and Texas have run into big problems. Not surprised? Aha. You may be a teacher”.

It's not just teachers who should be concerned. The program here in NYC makes standardized testing even more high stakes which will lead to more cheating, test prep, teaching to the test and the narrowing of the curriculum. It's our kids who will suffer.

Weingarten’s new position is certainly disappointing. Is it a result of politics and ideology trumping research and actual experience?

If parents are disappointed, the emails coming in from angry NYC teachers is beyond the pale. I'll share some of these in a future post.

Serious teachers are concerned that bonus pay will not make teachers work harder, it will force many to shade their teaching in a narrow, standardized test driven direction and place those who resist in a terrible position.

A NY Times Op ed by Dan Ariely (What's Value of a Big Bonus?) on Nov. 20 blew some serious holes in the "pay for performance" case. Here are some excerpts:

By withholding bonuses from their top executives, Goldman Sachs and UBS may soften negative reaction from Congress and the public if their earnings reports in December are poor, as is expected. But will they also suffer because their executives, lacking the motivation that big bonuses are thought to provide, will not do their jobs well?

We presented 87 participants with an array of tasks that demanded attention, memory, concentration and creativity. We asked them, for instance, to fit pieces of metal puzzle into a plastic frame, to play a memory game that required them to reproduce a string of numbers and to throw tennis balls at a target. We promised them payment if they performed the tasks exceptionally well. About a third of the subjects were told they’d be given a small bonus, another third were promised a medium-level bonus, and the last third could earn a high bonus.

What would you expect the results to be? When we posed this question to a group of business students, they said they expected performance to improve with the amount of the reward. But this was not what we found. The people offered medium bonuses performed no better, or worse, than those offered low bonuses. But what was most interesting was that the group offered the biggest bonus did worse than the other two groups across all the tasks.

...the offer of a higher bonus led to poorer performance.
If our tests mimic the real world, then higher bonuses may not only cost employers more but also discourage executives from working to the best of their ability.

Read the full piece.

The DOE press release (98% of Eligible Schools Opt to Participate in Second Year of School-Wide Performance Bonus Program) is here.

Kelly Vaughan at Gotham Schools has a piece that indicates there is little difference between schools with and without performance pay. She put up this chart. Kelly has a link if you want to download a pdf listing all schools involved.

If you watched the CBS evening news last night you saw a story about the greatest shoe salesman (Walk a Mile in His Shoes) who worked without commission. "What was your motivation?" "Myself."

I urge teachers to join with those of us who will be starting a city-wide campaign to reverse a policy by our own union that gives credence to the anti-teacher community that teachers will work harder for more pay. Next JNJT Meeting Dec. 1 at 5:30 at CUNY - 34st and 5th ave. rm 5414 (see sidebar for updates.)


  1. Randi Weingarten no longer represents the children nor the teachers of NYC. She is out only to make herself acceptable to those who can advance her career. She is an embarrassment to the EDUCATIONAL community.

  2. Members are finally waking up to the tune..."We've Been Had!"


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