From Pine View Farm

Bad Ideas Live Forever 0

In the Guardian, Walt Gardner looks at the history of “pay for performance” for teachers.

Early in my career with the railroad, I learned that, if one employee contravenes a policy, the employee is likely culpable; if the majority of employees contravenes a policy, the policy is likely wrong.

Aside from the overtly criminal (embezzlers, ponzi scheme managers, and other fraudsters), most working persons do not go to work planning to defraud their employers by performing their jobs badly. They may be intending other forms of misconduct while on duty and on the property, but they aren’t thinking something like, “I’ll just stock all the merchandise on the wrong shelves today.”

I’ve long had qualms about “pay for performance” for teachers and most of the other education “reform” schemes based on testing. As my mother, a math teacher, once said to me, “How can we expect them to read if there isn’t a magazine in the house?”

The reports of “teaching to the test” and fudging students’ scores are so numerous and so frequent as to indicate to me not a failure of school teachers and administrators, but the failure of the strategy.

Pay-for-performance began in England in about 1710, when salaries were based on test scores in reading, writing and arithmetic. The rationale was that it would help keep students from poor families in school, where they could learn the basics. The plan became part of the Revised Education Code in 1862, and remained on the books for more than 30 years.

The trouble was that the strategy sucked the creative life out of classrooms, as teachers became obsessed with the code. When it became apparent that the approach demeaned education, it was dropped in the 1890s. Pay-for-performance re-emerged briefly in Canada in 1876, but it ran into similar difficulties and was terminated in 1883.


Ever notice how many bad ideas’ reason for existence is summed up in, “But we have to do something?


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