Education

You Keep Using That Word Incentive. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

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The Boston teacher's union is blocking an incentive bonus for exceptional teachers sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations unless the bonuses are distributed equally among all teachers, good, bad, and average.

Last July I wrote about Massachusetts' latest cunning plan to stop failing schools: come up with a new word for failure.

(Thanks to Chris Berez for the link.)

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  1. Are exceptional teachers like exceptional children? Just asking.

  2. I must ask: Are exceptional teachers like exceptional children?

    1. no, like “special” children

      1. The org that sets standards for “special education” is called the “Center for Exceptional Children.”

        The idea *was* that gifted students deserve the same specialized education as MR kids, thus, they’re both “exceptional.”

        But this doesn’t translate in practice. Connecticut has removed gifted children from their definition of “exceptional.”

  3. P.S. The third-party spam filter needs serious tweaking.

  4. Only thing that comes to my mind is that if the bonuses are distributed evenly to all teachers, the union has a way to get their cut. I don’t know.

    1. The union thinks it should be an incentive to join the union.

  5. “(The union) is standing in the way of innovation,” school Superintendent Carol R. Johnson told the Herald.

    Both innovation and accountability are anathemas according to the union priesthood.

    1. Superintendent Johnson should have that engraved in foot-high letters on a plaque outside her door.

      1. That depends on what “[The union]” is replacing in that quote. I suspect the actual words may not be suitable for children and more sensitive viewers.

    2. Wait, an incentive bonus is “innovation”? Those teachers need to get out in the real world a bit. Incentive bonuses are common. They’re hardly innovative.

  6. You’re a fine bunch to be talking about incentives. What kind of incentive is it when the reward for promptly meeting your webathon goal is three more days of webathoning? Eh?

  7. Wow, didn’t even the Soviet Union give bonuses for exceptional work? I guess the Boston teacher’s union would see that as “right deviationist.”

    1. Only a left deviationist would say something like that.

  8. “The Boston teacher’s union is blocking an incentive bonus for exceptional teachers sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations unless the bonuses are distributed equally among all teachers, good, bad, and average”

    And these people are supposed to be educators!?

    Fuck me…

    1. The “teacher’s union” is blocking these bonuses, not the teachers. Union leaders are not educators. They may have been, at one point, teaching actual kids, but their current job, as they see it, is to run a Stalinized union with no rewards allowed for merit, just seniority.

      1. But the union wouldn’t do this against the clear, express desires of their body either.

        1. Never belonged to a union I see. They change the rules to give you two choices: Vote for us, or don’t vote at all.

        2. Or you could have been sarcastic… my sarcasm detector isn’t functioning right now.

          1. fake jb: if you see FrBunny, and the comment isn’t 1) sarcastic, and 2) funny, she’s being spoofed.

            1. True dat, and a timely reminder. I blame any “serious” comments on being (temporarily) out of Lortab.

    2. I’d like to know just HOW the union can block this. The Gates foundation can give their money to anyone they want, according to whatever criteria they choose.

      -jcr

  9. Well, it’s an incentive in the sense that it encourages teachers to be lousy, stay in Massachussetts, and pay the union dues.

    1. Ron Paul talks about incentives all the time. Once again, he’s way out ahead on all the important issues.

  10. INCONCEIVABLE!

    1. Are you perhaps, Sicilian?

  11. Bill Gates doesn’t have enough money to send big enough bonuses to Massachussetts teachers to incent them to anything. They’re in the same tax bracket he is.

  12. “unless the bonuses are distributed equally among all teachers, good, bad, and average.”
    but….but…there ARE no bad or average teachers in Massachusetts, only good ones!

    1. The self-esteem movement infects not just the students, but the teachers as well.

  13. Extra money for teachers. Not a shell game, not a transfer — just free money, and they are blocking it.

    Spend all your time with children, and guess how you start to act?

    1. Again, the people running the union do not spend time in classrooms.

      1. But the union wouldn’t do this against the clear, express desires of their members either.

        Same as the “good cop” defense IMO.

      2. Why would the teachers be against the action? Say you’re an okay teacher. Not bad, not great, just all right. Wouldn’t you like to get the same bonus that the great teachers are getting despite not deserving it?

        And the great teachers, well, they’ll still get their bonus either way, so they don’t care.

        1. Or, giving the teachers the benefit of the doubt (which they may well not deserve), they could believe that the methods used to evaluate performance were unfair or inaccurate.

          That said, it seems one could only have such issues in a public system, which would be one of the many good reasons for doing away with it here.

        2. Opposing it means NOBODY gets the money at all. Supporting it means somebody gets the money, even if it’s not you.

          Opposing it only makes sense if you’re a union leader determined to not set a precedent of evaluating teachers and paying them on how well or poorly they are performing.

          1. Welcome to the politics of envy.

            Union leaders aren’t the only ones who would be worried about setting such precedents though and spite would probably be only one of the reasons. Most teachers probably would be, given fears that they could fall — fairly or unfairly — into the “bad teacher” category.

          2. I’m just glad to see that a private foundation with a lot of money to throw around can actually end up making a difference, if only by exposing the corrupt powers working against them.

  14. If bill an dmelidna gates really give a shit about the poor they’d just use their money to start a private school that gives scholarships to a lot of poor people, while lobbying to get rid of the working poor taxes(payroll, sales and property taxes). They obviously don’t give a shit.

    1. If bill an dmelidna gates really give a shit about the poor they’d just use their money to start a private school that gives scholarships to a lot of poor people

      Actaully, they have.

  15. God bless the Boston teacher’s union. They’re doing God’s work in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Boston.

    1. God bless the Boston teachers. They’re doing God’s work in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Boston.

      FIFY

      1. Huh? joe bolded god in the original.

        1. Oh now I see, you took out “union”. Clearly, you didn’t get the joke.

  16. Fuck that noise. BMGF should withdraw the funds.

  17. Former teacher here, and my experiences in public school did more to make me a libertarian than any other single incident, and yet … I can kinda-sorta see the union’s point here. Tying a teacher’s pay to a student’s performance overlooks the fact that the student, rather than the teacher, is the number-one variable determining how said student does.

    There is a town not far from where I live … wealthy town, almost everyone has a “power job” and multiple college degrees, the children are all raised with the assumption “You’re damned well gonna go to college when you grow up, and in the meanwhile we your parents will buy you books and take you to museums and do other educational things” … by the time these kids reach their last year or two of high school, it’s almost a foregone conclusion they’ll do well in class even if you replace their teacher with a Magic 8-Ball. But this rich town borders a truly horrible inner city where the numerical majority of kids qualify for free lunch, and probably never saw a book in their lives until they started school, and their parents can’t or won’t make sure they do their homework, and even if they do their idiot friends will sneer that they’re “acting white” … unless these kids have an EXTRAORDINARY work ethic and level head for their age, they’re not going to do too well in high school no matter HOW brilliant their teachers are.

    Yet every single “reward teachers for their merit” rubric would give the teachers of the rich suburban kids much higher marks than the teachers of the poor inner-city kids. Even the Magic 8-Ball in the rich suburban school would qualify for the bonus, but that’s thanks to the kids and their parents, not the teachers.

    1. “Yet every single “reward teachers for their merit” rubric would give the teachers of the rich suburban kids much higher marks than the teachers of the poor inner-city kids. Even the Magic 8-Ball in the rich suburban school would qualify for the bonus, but that’s thanks to the kids and their parents, not the teachers. ”

      That is a very fair point and the bonus program would have to be structured appropriately. Say no bonus in the first year, and the cash payments based on the improvement of the student year to year.

      I.E. getting an under-performing high school junior into a JC is much more impressive than getting a child of 2 power lawyers into UConn.

    2. If poor people want dumb kids, that’s their business.

    3. Perhaps the teachers that didn’t get any money would have an incentive to make things better somehow (as for how, that’s up to their own creativity). Besides, fairness doesn’t apply to gifts. But to play along, maybe the solution would be to give an equal amount to each school, and then give it to the best teachers accordingly.

    4. As is stated below, you could base the determination of quality on a growth model rather than a criterion-reference.

    5. You know what? I’m tired of people making this point. I don’t give a shit. Yeah, some kids ain’t gonna learn no matter what you do, I know. But as a teacher, it’s your job to identify the ones you can influence, and beat some education into them one way or another. THAT’S a good teacher. THAT’S a teacher who deserves a bonus. But no. Instead you all want to sit on your asses, throw your hands up, and whine “the black kids won’t learn and it’s not our fault!”

  18. I have a cunning plan: Arm teachers. Not with guns, but with weapons that cause pain and temporary damage. Authorize the use of the weapons. Then teachers can be paid based on merit.

    The other option is to pair teachers with bailiffs or their functional equivalent. [Pause] “Rusty, go chastise Bobby most forthrightly!” [Return to lesson.]

    1. Bailiff, whack his pee-pee!

  19. You’ve convinced me, Jennifer. Teachers should not receive incentive pay.

  20. By the way, wasn’t the Gates Foundation money granted (and accepted!) solely to reward exceptional teachers? If so, the Foundation should say fine and take its money elsewhere.

  21. I am not inherently opposed to “merit pay,” RC; I just don’t know of any merit-pay proposal now that would truly measure the merit of the teacher rather than the student.

    When I taught junior-year Honors English the kids did amazingly well, yes, and I got one kid hooked on Vonnegut and another on PJ O’Rourke (before the latter became a warmongering jackhole), and I’m sure almost all of them went on to pass the AP exam the following year, but realistically, this all had far less to do with me than the fact that teaching a bunch of highly intelligent and highly motivated late-teenage geniuses who aspired to go to good universities and get scholarships is VERY easy.

    But in the low-level classes, where most of my students showed up only because they didn’t want to be arrested for truancy, my “success” rate was a lot lower and several kids failed. Did my teaching ability fluctuate that much between one class session and the next in a single day? No: the quality of my teaching stayed the same, but the quality of my students changed.

    1. “No: the quality of my teaching stayed the same”

      So you say.

      1. Her teaching quality does stay the same. Re-read what she originally said: She doesn’t think it was her ability that caused her honors students to succeed.

    2. Are you really saying that it is impossible to distinguish between good teachers and awful teachers?

      Because that’s so not true.

      True, you might have to use subjective criteria, but it’s really fucking easy to see the difference.

      1. Behold another reason threaded comments suck Satan’s balls: I addressed that very issue two hours before you wrote your comment, but you didn’t notice it because of these BULLSHIT THREADED COMMENTS.

    3. Because you are depending on others to fulfill a goal is not a viable excuse for failure. That is actually very common in just about any job. Being an engineer for a large mining company, I don’t have any control over production other than planning and motivation. I can’t hire and can’t fire, and yet we get results.

      1. Yet excusing failure wasn’t the point of her post. Rather, she seems to be arguing that how well (or poorly) students do is a poor measure of their teachers’ merits (or lack thereof).

        Tying teachers’ pay to students’ performance seems a bit dubious because, well, shouldn’t teachers be evaluated on how good they are as teachers, rather than how well their students do?

  22. I wonder if the phrase causing so much outrage, “unless the bonuses are distributed equally among all teachers, good, bad, and average” is really what the union is demanding, or is the writer’s interpretation of what the union is demanding.

    Based on the few details in the article, it seems to me that the issue is that only those who teach AP courses are even eligible for the bonuses, thus excluding a large number of teachers from even having a shot.

    1. It’s money from a private foundation. So who cares?

    2. Wouldn’t the fact that this bonus is meant only for AP courses make the identification of good teachers better? If student performance depends as much on the student as Jennifer says, one way to ensure that the money goes only to good teachers is to standardise the quality of the students by only making a teachers of a certain level of courses eligible for the money.

      Of course, this sucks for the teachers who teach less advantaged/motivated/smart students, but as Another Phil says, this money is coming from a private foundation anyway.

  23. the issue is that only those who teach AP courses are even eligible for the bonuses, thus excluding a large number of teachers from even having a shot.

    And also, a kid who is in an AP course is obviously motivated to do well regardless of what her teacher does or does not do. Pass the AP test and you get college credit; that’s a huge motivation for a future-college student to do well.

  24. I don’t see why merit can’t be customized to the teacher, curriculum, and the students involved. It should be analogous to corporate bonuses–I get one for different reasons (at least, for the personal goals half of my bonus) than other employees, even counting those in my department. Why not do the same for teachers?

  25. How about this: give incentive bonuses to students who exhibit exceptional performance. That might overcome their lack of motivation and prepare them for the real world where exceptional performance is frequently rewarded with money. Establish a scale so that the most improvement get’s the majority of the money. If you go from an F to a B you get more than someone going from an A to an A+

    1. I hate this idea every time I hear it because education is supposed to be an investment that pays off in the distant future for the student. That most kids have trouble thinking long-term sucks for them. But paying them to do something that already benefits them is ridiculous.

      1. It also assumes that an education is simply a means to financial success, rather than an end in itself. Certainly, a good education may well lead to greater prosperity down the road, but it seems rather unfortunate if such success is taken to be the only point of schooling.

  26. Better yet, pay parents.

  27. I don’t see why merit can’t be customized to the teacher, curriculum, and the students involved. It should be analogous to corporate bonuses–I get one for different reasons (at least, for the personal goals half of my bonus) than other employees, even counting those in my department. Why not do the same for teachers?

    Because modern public schools are run according to the notion that if something cannot be judged by a standard one-size-fits-all measurement, it can’t be judged at all.

    You’re talking about a system where a kid with a plastic butter knife is considered identical to a kid with an AK-47 — they’re both weapons! Expel them both! And Midol and crack cocaine are both drugs, so possession of both should incur equal penalties.

    Seriously, ProLib: you think such administrators can be trusted to judge a given teacher’s merit or lack thereof?

    1. Have people from the Gates Foundation do the judging, using whatever criteria they find relevant. Basically, all they have to do is go in each classroom for an hour, talk to the students for an hour (off the record, with no teachers or administrators in the room), and if they’re at all smart and discerning they’ll know who is doing a superior job.

      1. The sad thing is that this (or something along those lines) is what any principal worth his (or her) salt should be doing already. In a private school (or system) they would probably have to simply to stay competitive.

  28. Well, no, not really. Um, what if we, um, well, privatized education?

    1. Hear, hear.

  29. I’m all in favor of privatization, PL. But personally, I think we’d see full and complete legalization of drugs before we saw THAT.

  30. No kidding. We’ll have a prostitute in the White House–I mean, as president, not just visiting–first. Not a former prostitute, either, but one still on the job (very useful for getting votes on bills in Congress).

  31. Because modern public schools are run according to the notion that if something cannot be judged by a standard one-size-fits-all measurement, it can’t be judged at all.

    Jennifer, you’ve raised some valid points, including this one. But what about a system that reward based on the relative performance improvement of the students, on a year-to-year basis?

    This way, the supermotivated students have to be motivated even more, while the future fuckup society only needs to get a spark to do some work.

    1. As Jennifer pointed out, though, student performance is a bad indicator of teacher performance because how well (or poorly) students learn is influenced only to a degree by how well (or poorly) the teacher teaches. It would seem unfair to punish a good teacher for having “bad” students, while rewarding a bad teacher who happens to have “good” ones.

      Moreover, how does one evaluate teacher performance in a public system? By grades? By testing? How does one evaluate fairly the role the teacher played in improving said grades or test scores? Generally, good students will improve in spite of bad teaching, while bad students will fail despite good teaching.

      Finally, linking pay with “performance” in such a system would lead to all sorts of perverse incentives for teachers. A system based on evaluation by grades would reward teachers who inflated grades; a system based on testing would reward teachers who taught to the test.

      Most of us know a good teacher (or a bad one) when we see one. Of course, we probably wouldn’t all agree on what constitutes either. In a private system with choice and competition, however, we (as students or parents or heads of schools) would be able to reward and punish teachers as we each saw fit — which really is how it ought to be in the first place.

  32. So why not bypass the unions and give the money as rewards to private citizens?
    There’s nothing the unions can do to prevent Bill and Melinda Gates to donate to private citizens, right?

    1. Given that teachers in a public school system are, ostensibly, public servants of sorts, couldn’t that lead to a conflict of interest?

      1. Well, getting recognized by a third party does not equal conflict of interest.
        At least not according to me.

        1. Getting recognized by a third party? Probably not. Getting paid? It very well could.

          1. So don’t call it a bonus, call it a scholarship or something else (anything but bonus) then.

            1. Dress it up however you want, it would seem rather unethical for public servants to accept money from private sources for work that the general public has already paid them for.

  33. Yeah, some kids ain’t gonna learn no matter what you do, I know. But as a teacher, it’s your job to identify the ones you can influence, and beat some education into them one way or another. THAT’S a good teacher. THAT’S a teacher who deserves a bonus. But no. Instead you all want to sit on your asses, throw your hands up, and whine “the black kids won’t learn and it’s not our fault!”

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you’ve never worked as a teacher, have you? In public schools, at least, you are NOT ALLOWED to do “triage,” focus on the kids who want to learn and write off the ones who don’t. Quite the opposite: the kids who don’t want to learn will probably be given a “special needs” designation, which requires the teacher to draw up individualized lesson plans for the kid. Unless you’re lucky enough to teach an Honors course, as I was, you’re effectively FORBIDDEN to focus on the kids with extraordinary potential, because you have to focus on the subaverage ones.

    1. My long term girlfriend is working towards a teaching masters program and she is terrified of working in a public school for pretty much the exact reasons you mention.

      The need to focus on subaverage students seems to be one of the biggest fundamental flaws in our education system.

      I went to public school and was in an honors program from like 6th grade until graduation. However in high school I finally started to have non honors classes and I was utterly shocked at the difference in focus. Even at my relatively middle class high school no one had a chance in those classes unless they were total self starters.

      Great posts jennifer

  34. Next up:

    The Boston teacher’s union will movd to block handing out grade cards unless the grades are distributed equally among all students, good, bad, and average.

  35. I believe in equality.
    Equality for everyone.
    No matter how stupid they are
    Or how much better I am than they are.

  36. Couldn’t agree more, these are great suggestions. Privatizing seems to be smart way to go, imho. As a single parent that was *less* than good with money throughout my youth, teaching children about money is CRUCIAL, in my mind. I’m not going to blame parents, schools, etc, but quite simply, I clearly “didn’t get it”, and I am still paying for those mistakes a decade later! And quite frankly, I hate the position I got myself in, everytime I pay off my past debts? I could have used my time/money sooooo much better.

    A program was suggested to me by a friend, that teaches kids to be responsible with money, and puts them in control of their money. It’s a fun, interactive booklet + personal website that makes tracking their money fun ? more importantly, the tugs on the pantleg going through the grocery checkout and the tantrums have all but disappeared! I guess that’s a little self centered of me? but any parent knows those situations all to well. For the record, I too used to do this to my parents, I was apparently horrible to bring into a store? oops!

  37. Unions are a great reason for doing a bad job. There is absolutely no incentive to be good a what you do. They are ruining the world.

  38. Unions are a great reason for doing a bad job. There is absolutely no incentive to be good a what you do. They are ruining the world.

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