Performance-Related Pay Doesn’t Work

March 29, 2014

Like poor managers the world over, Michael Gove believes in performance-related pay. Although not subject to this regime himself, he imagines that teachers will care about students more, be yet more passionate, focused, organized, energetic and committed if there’s more money in it for them. Why would he imagine such a thing?
In the business sphere, from which this idea has been imported, we now know that Chief Executive pay is negatively related to company performance. In other words, pay CEOs more — and the company does less well. The effect is even stronger for CEOs who receive higher incentive pay relative to their peers. This is not an example to follow.

Moreover we know that money specifically disables our sense of social connectedness. It makes us more self-centered and less concerned for others. This is exactly what we don’t want in teachers – and a model we don’t want our kids to emulate.

In addition, we recognize that motivation is a tricky thing insofar as we are typically motivated by just drive at a time. Rather as there’s a hard limit to cognitive load (how much we can think about at one time) there seems to be a hard limit to motive: one motive crowds out another. So motivate someone with money and their other, perhaps superior, impulses can vanish.

Finally, one consequence of performance-related pay is that it implicitly pits teachers against one another. Since there’s a limit to the total to be dispersed, every teacher is competing with peers for a bigger slice of the pie. This specifically militates against collaboration, information and expertise sharing. And yet we badly need our kids to be taught by teachers who think it’s worthwhile comparing notes: about kids, about lesson design and shared projects.

In Finland, which has one of the best education systems in Europe, teachers are encouraged to collaborate within and between schools. They’re encouraged to see themselves as lifelong students, committed to developing their skills and knowledge. They don’t need performance-related pay for this; in fact, many Finnish teachers I’ve spoken to say that they would leave the profession if it were introduced.

No wonder British teachers have been striking. You might say that they’re being treated like monkeys – but actually even monkeys revolt against injustice. And let’s not even talk about how “performance’ is being judged.
It’s high time for teachers and parents to unite against this kind of nonsense. Politicians have proved adroit in pitting parents and teachers against each other but we have more in common than anyone has with the fanatics who impose this kind of crass management technique. Teachers go into teaching because they want to help children develop and grow. Parents want the same thing. We have more in common – and more to fight for – together than apart.

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