Performance Pay Doesn’t Mean Cut-Throat Workplace

Dan Yorke has been talking about the East Providence school administration’s push for a pay-for-performance system for teachers, and one teacher from the district called in from her house in Barrington to explain that that sort of pay schedule doesn’t work in her profession. Teaching is cooperative, you see, meaning that unlike other professions (apparently) the teachers have to work together, and if some know that others make more, they’ll refuse to help.
If that’s the case, then the people with whom we currently entrust our children’s educations must be replaced immediately, because they lack the requisite maturity.
Now, I know all other fields of work pale in comparison with the divine calling that is public-school teaching, but in every job that I’ve ever had, whether carpentry, editing, graphic design, office help, retail seafood, or even private-school grade school, differing pay has had absolutely no effect on employees’ ability to work as a team. (Boy, wouldn’t professional sports be in trouble!) For one thing, pay-for-performance is not zero sum; high-performing employees do not take their additional money away from those who perform less well.
Indeed, it behooves those who earn less to help those who earn more so the latter will provide them assistance in return — both as a matter of course and explicitly to aid in advancement. The carpenters on my jobsite are always quick to help each other, regardless of pay, and they are also quick to seek the input of those whom they know to have more experience and knowledge. Heck, the carpenters are quick to help the electricians and plumbers, who make more money than us even if they’re terrible! As long as the structure is perceived as fair and is available to everybody, nobody has cause for grievance against their fellow workers.
If the current crop of teachers in East Providence can’t even match the cooperation of lowly construction workers… like I said, they’ve gotta go.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
14 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David
David
11 years ago

Well, I quess if I were an older, tireder, less paid( based on my whole time teaching)teacher in East Providence and i witnessed a younger, younger, high ( incentive ) paid teacher who was paid much more because they had secured funding (grants, stimulus funds) for the East Providence school system – I would say YES!

mikeinri
11 years ago

I too was listening when the East Providence teacher called in. I found her comments to be insulting, and typical union clatter. I posted a reaction on my blog.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
11 years ago

What typical stupid union pig talk. That dumb [snip] teacher should be fired just for taking so stupid.
What world do these morons live in?
I’m sure Patsy Crowley or Boob Walsh had that loser call in.
The vast majority of teachers are hard working, honest professionals. That they have to be represented by a bunch of Nazi teacher union punks that paint such a nasty picture of them is unbelievable.
But you know what, until the good teachers start rebelling against these Nazi union punks they deserve to be tainted as lazy, uncaring slobs.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

My town recently reached an agreement with the teachers union for a new 3 year contract. The 10th step repeaters will get zero increase in pay this year but those on steps 1-9 last year will have their pay increased by 7% this year. Yep, 7%. So I asked my school committee how this was even possible and was told that while the committee considered going for no increase in step pay, the union saw it as a “right” and that the committee feared a “toxic environment” in the schools and the children are too important to have that sort of environment around the schools. Are you kidding me? If teachers can create a toxic environment to the point of getting a 7% increase, then clearly something is very broken. Many people are losing jobs, getting cut in pay or no raises at all. But we’re worried about a bunch of bad attitudes if the teachers don’t get their 7% this year and more than 10.5% in 3 years? Holy crap. Hell in a handbasket.

George
George
11 years ago

In the real world, people who create a “toxic environment” get fired. I’ve seen very talented people let go because their ego’s got the best of them and they couldn’t stop poisoning the work environment with their malcontent whining and negativity. The company was better for getting rid of them.
The problem here in RI is that the good, honest, hard working people who love their job and are happy to be employed are the ones viewed as poisonous.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“…differing pay has had absolutely no effect on employees’ ability to work as a team. (Boy, wouldn’t professional sports be in trouble!) For one thing, pay-for-performance is not zero sum; high-performing employees do not take their additional money away from those who perform less well.”
I’d say you’re in the area of wild conjecture here. Anyone who has managed a departmental budget knows that pay raises are a zero sum game. As to the effect on teamwork, the detrimental effects are well documented. Process improvement guru, W. Edwards Deming, lists “evaluation of performance, merit rating and annual review” as the third of his “Seven Deadly Diseases of Western Management”. Stoltes addresses what’s wrong in detail, among the reasons that it undermines teamwork.

There are two alternatives to performance appraisal that managers don’t like to hear:

1. Change the way you think. Until managers let go of their obsession with the individual worker and understand the importance of systems and processes, they will not enter the quality era. Without this change in mind-set, managers will continue to look for alternatives that are no different from what they are trying to replace.

2. Just stop doing it. When you are doing something that is demonstrably harmful, you can stop doing it without finding an alternative way to harm yourself. Conventional managers are, in effect, beating their heads against the wall and asking, “If we stop beating our heads against the wall, what will we beat our heads against?”

Granted as with other management fads, this one will need to run its course.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
11 years ago

This issue showcases perfectly the communist nature of unions.

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“I found her comments to be insulting”
Indeed they were. It sounded like a desperate attempt to hold some form of merit based compensation at bay.

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“the committee feared a “toxic environment” in the schools and the children are too important to have that sort of environment around the schools.”
Wow. This is the sort of nonsense that has put teacher compensation and academic achievement in Rhode Island on opposite ends of the scale.
So does this really place the best interest of the children first?

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

… and good for you for asking questions of our elected officials, Patrick.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Not that actual experts in process improvement will dissuade you folks from such a tightly held myth, but again here’s Deming (from Out of the Crisis):

The idea of a merit rating is alluring. the sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.

Pretend all you want that this is about the kids, but the reality is this is just a stick to be used to flog the teachers union by those who care more about that than actual student performance.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Russ,
Regarding “wild conjecture”: Inasmuch as I was speaking about personal experience, I’d say the conjecture accusation is inapplicable. At any rate, lacking time to dig into your links, I’m not inclined to trust your “experts” (or, actually, your “expert”) on your say-so. I’ve seen the left weigh down too many things like this so as to make them fail and then point to the failure as proof against concepts that were never actually tested.
At any rate, I’d note that the zero-sum question depends on the method. If it’s a negotiated system, as they’ve discussed in East Providence, then there isn’t necessarily a limited pool.
And again, if its teachers aren’t as professionally mature as I’ve experienced my co-carpenters to be (drug addicts and ex-cons included), then perhaps a district would be better off restaffing, anyway.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Here’s Deming’s bio… and Stoltes.

The greatest management conceit is that we can “motivate” people. We can’t. Motivation is there, inside people. Our people were motivated when we hired them and everyday, when they come to work, they arrive with the intention of doing a good job. Managers cannot motivate. They can, however, de-motivate. Herzberg established this over 30 years ago (Herzberg, Frederick “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Harvard Business Review, September-October 1987, pp. 109-120. This is a reprint with commentary, of an earlier classic paper.)
The greatest managerial cynicism is that workers are withholding a certain amount of effort that must be bribed from them by means of various incentives, rewards, contests, or merit pay programs. Most managers are not conscious of such a pessimistic belief, but many of their “motivational programs” are conducted as though this cynical premise were true.
The greatest waste of managerial time is time spent trying to manipulate people’s minds and infuse motivation into them.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“I’ve seen the left weigh down too many things like this so as to make them fail and then point to the failure as proof against concepts that were never actually tested.”
Again, this is what I’d call wild conjecture and calls into question your own qualifications for commenting on the merits of such programs. Performance pay has been extensively studied and documented (the Stoltes quote above even references one such study – from that bastion of lefist thought, the Havard Business Review).
Here’s another on actual results of pay for performance in education:

Our results consistently indicate that the increased focus on individual teacher performance caused a significant and sizable relative decline in student achievement, as measured by national exams. However, the decline in achievement is less sizable when considering school-level results, suggesting an increasing importance of grade inflation.

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.