Sunday, August 02, 2009

Incentives Matter. Or Not?

Don Boudreaux argues below that if teachers don't respond positively to monetary incentives (merit pay), then they likewise shouldn't respond negatively to pay cuts, and we can therefore save millions and billions of dollars by cutting teachers' salaries?

If teachers do not respond positively to the prospect of higher monetary rewards, they are unlikely to respond negatively to the prospect of lower monetary rewards. Alternatively, if the problem with merit pay is that measuring teacher performance is simply too difficult, then we can conclude that Fairfax teachers now are as likely to be doing a truly lousy job at educating children as they are to be doing an excellent job at this task. (Indeed, if performance can’t be monitored, then chances are the teachers are doing a lousy job. After all, why put forth effort if worthwhile results of your effort – or lack thereof – are undetectable?)

Either way, cutting teachers’ pay is unlikely to reduce the quality of education supplied in the County schools. If teachers aren’t motivated by money, then they’ll work just as diligently at lower pay as they will at higher pay; if cutting pay will, in fact, cause some teachers to quit, their replacements are likely to perform no worse than them.

22 Comments:

At 8/02/2009 10:59 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Don Boudreaux provides a great example of a false dichotomy fallacy. You have to depend on the naiveté of your reader to try to pull that argument off. I hope he does not use that type of reasoning with his students.

I don’t see how the title of the article “We Have Merit Pay at the Collegiate Level” applies to anything written in this article. From what I’ve seen, collegiate-level pay increases come from seniority/tenure combined with rank from moving from assistant professor to full-professor or increasing levels of moving up the non-tenured instructors’ rank through seniority and additional educational attainment. The collegiate pay and tenure system are comparable to the way labor unions operate.

I suppose an argument could be made that tenure is merit-based; however, being well-liked and fitting in at the department level are important attributes to attaining tenure, too. How does that get quantitatively measured for merit? GM apprenticeships for the skilled trades are merit based, but few sons or daughters of management or union officials are removed. Do you suppose that is a coincidence?

Merit pay sounds like a great idea. It appears, though, almost any viable way to measure for merit would also deeply depend on student performance. Maybe I'll propose it to my dean for my classes this fall, but I will find a way to get rid of my low-performing and problem students before the end of the semester.

 
At 8/02/2009 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, Walt, that comment proves you're overpaid and have been in academia way too long...

 
At 8/02/2009 12:15 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"I don’t see how the title of the article “We Have Merit Pay at the Collegiate Level” applies to anything written in this article. From what I’ve seen, collegiate-level pay increases come from seniority/tenure combined with rank from moving from assistant professor to full-professor or increasing levels..."...

So what are you saying Walt G, that 'publish or perish' is no longer in force on university/college campuses anymore?

 
At 8/02/2009 1:32 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Anonymous: How so?

1: I am saying merit is difficult to measure in a teacher-to-teached realtionship with content validity. Using your example, how does publishing or perish have anything to do with teaching students and their academic success? It’s a reach, but maybe the students contributed to the research?

I did not see one mention of college pay in the article--it was just in the title. Personally, I like a title to reflect what’s in the article. It’s not that big of a deal though.

 
At 8/02/2009 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walt is mostly right. Universities do not reward professors for the teaching outcomes of their students or the graduate students they mentor. They are paid primarily for research which adds only marginally to the body of science. Teaching evaluations are largely a popularity contest, not a true test of learning outcomes.

I do think the author's argument has merit. Teachers claim that there is no accurate measure of teaching outcomes. I disagree. We all see the piss poor results. We see people of means yanking their kids from public schools, especially public school teachers and liberal politicians. If someone is willing to pay for an education for their kids when education is free for them, that says quite a bit about the lack of confidence in public schools.

Simply put, you lower teacher pay as private school enrollment increases and vice versa. No public school teacher should get paid more than a private school counterpart. The market figures out quality quickly.

Eliminating public sector unions (and tenure) is the best way to improve quality.

 
At 8/02/2009 3:27 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

UM-Flint, like most universities that I am aware of, DO have merit pay based on teaching, research and service, and I think is what Don Boudreaux is talking about. For my university we are evaluated based on 50% for teaching, 40% for research and 10% for service. Other universities have different percentages.

The range for annual pay increases might typically be something like a 0% minimum pay increase for a professor with poor teaching and little or no research to a 5-6% maximum for a professor withoutstanding teaching and research. Of course, it varies from year to year and depends on what the overall pay increase "pool" is for the university, e.g. I am describing above a 3% overall pay increase pool, with a range from 0% to 6% based on merit.

Teaching effectiveness is mostly based on student evaluations, and other forms of feedback from students on teaching effectiveness.

 
At 8/02/2009 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pfft. You act like none of us attended university. Research institutions pay lip service to good teaching, usually assigning top researchers a 2/2 teaching load most likely both of which are for grad students, one core and one field. The field courses might have ten students in them at most. With that few students, anyone should rate at least a marginally high teaching evaluation with the right scheme of reward (easy grading) and risk (of having a guy on your thesis committee figure out you low balled him). The top researchers will have teaching awards for 'small classes' thrown at them. Try getting high teaching evals with 100 students in a 101 class filled with non majors!

Good research almost always equals bad teaching and their lack of effort in the classroom demonstrates where their priorities are. Teaching is perceived as a BURDEN which is why they are rewarded with sabatticals.

Even in teaching colleges you can't get or keep a job without research. Teaching need only be passable.

Service? How do you rate service? Yes or no. Everyone in academia does some service. You might as well give them 10% for having a PhD.

 
At 8/02/2009 4:06 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

If you're a longtime reader of Don Boudreaux, you know that he's tweaking the public school administrators and teachers. They want everyone to believe that teaching is too complex for subjective grading, and that teaching would suffer if teachers try to "game" the evaluation system.

Evaluating teachers based on student outcomes is simple. If half the class started out below grade level in reading, and by the end of the school year all but one of those kids was reading above grade level, I would say the teacher did a great job with reading. The same thing can be done with every other subject. School administrators know this, but they continually lie to the public about teacher assessments. The NEA and ATA unions vehemently oppose teacher evaluations and merit pay schemes, and administrators don't want to fight about them. So, let the taxpayers and the kids suffer.

 
At 8/02/2009 4:47 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Dr. T, shouldn't the same students be evaluated across different teachers to determine if you are evaluating the teachers and not the students?

Would it be valid to measure teacher merit using student outcomes from students who perform poorly in all their classes? Couldn't you assume a student who has five teachers a day at least has one good teacher out of the bunch?
And if they did not, the school district has a potential hiring problem?

I think if you have a place that teachers want to work, the proper hiring and support processes are in place for the teachers after they are hired, and you supply them with students who are willing to learn, you can solve most of problems without blaming the big bad wolf (teachers’ unions). At the same time, I sincerely believe Professor Perry is correct that competition breeds competence. All organizations (unions included) need to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances—this is no longer an agrarian or industrial economy.

 
At 8/02/2009 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walt's suggestions for controlling for student quality in evaluations is reasonable, except of course if all the teachers or all the students suck. Then you couldn't separate the good from the bad. In some school districts, this is likely the case. Maybe teachers out to join a teaching corps, like the military, and get assigned where they are needed according to their wish list. Then every few years they move. With each assignment until they get tenure they get a fresh crop of students which controls for student quality. After tenure, they are generally regarded as effective unless evidence begins to suggest otherwise. They can get bonus pay for teaching in bad districts.

It's generally wrong to hold someone responsible for something they do not control. A teacher might have the burden to prove they've done all they can.

My daughter was not doing well in a class with a teacher who was generally highly regarded. We did not blame the teacher but thought our daughter might benefit from a change. When my wife and I requested to move her to the other 7th grade teacher, the school refused. They said it was against union rules. In other words, it was more important not to signal a potential problem with a teacher than to ensure a student was fairly treated or at least had the benefit of a different teaching style or methods. Again, the union stood in the way of education.

There's just no substitute for parental choice. Nothing says bad teacher and bad school like low enrollment.

 
At 8/03/2009 12:09 AM, Blogger randian said...

The problem with merit pay as it is usually described is that it doesn't reduce the pay of bad teachers. They merely don't get a bonus; their pay is as high as it's always been. As such, merit pay is merely a way for teacher's unions to steal more from the taxpayers, rather than a means to incentivize teachers to teach well.

 
At 8/03/2009 7:48 AM, Blogger 1 said...

Walt G asks the valid question: "Using your example, how does publishing or perish have anything to do with teaching students and their academic success?"...

Well Walt G back when I got out of undergrad and went to graduate school in the early seventies the, 'publishing' bit was measured in terms of its popularity (how many editions were turned out) or how often the content of the published material was accessed for others in their own researches...

"It’s a reach, but maybe the students contributed to the research?"...

Oh that's no reach at all at least by my own experiences...

I literally spent hundreds of hours in the lab run tests on various adhesives (it was also a learning experience too) for the clown in charge of my postgrad program...

The worst part of postgrad was having to to a couple swings through the 'teaching assistant' song & dance...

Teaching kids basic inorganic chemistry who didn't even know the existence of the periodic table (something they should've heard about in high school) was enough to drive me to drink massivly...:-)

 
At 8/03/2009 8:37 AM, Anonymous Rand said...

1 said: Teaching kids basic inorganic chemistry who didn't even know the existence of the periodic table (something they should've heard about in high school) was enough to drive me to drink massivly...:-)

If you had been in organic chemistry instead, you could have built yourself a still!

 
At 8/03/2009 1:18 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

"If you had been in organic chemistry instead, you could have built yourself a still!"

Rand's clever comment to 1's comment is hall of fame material or at least a teachable moment.

The Periodic Table of the Elements is fundamental and should be approached in grade school with mastery by high school. There are many basics that probably should be learned by all U.S. students including the metric system which seems to be a foreign language.

 
At 8/03/2009 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Periodic tables by high school? Do you realize how little science and math you actually need to graduate from a public high school?

Algebra, Geometry, and one science course of any kind - the rest is optional. Most high school graduates haven't learned enough English to know how to use a comma or the difference between "there," "their," and "they're."

My 7th grade science teacher didn't know the difference between a New Moon and a Lunar Eclipse. I had to teach him after he ridiculed me in front of the class.

Teachers don't like proficiency tests because the tests reveal how stupid they are.

 
At 8/03/2009 9:01 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"If you had been in organic chemistry instead, you could have built yourself a still!"...

Been there, done that, and even bought the t-shirt...

It was pointless though, Mexico was to close...:-)

 
At 8/03/2009 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Primary, secondary, undergraduate and graduate teaching are not even closely analagous. The levels require very different skill sets and have different demands on teacher time.

While college students are marginally capable of recognizing and evaluating good teaching, younger students are entirely incapable. Teaching at lower grades must be evaluated by student outcomes on standardized tests controlling for student input quality. Simply put, you conduct a pre and post treatment experiment. In class evaluations by a teacher of proven quality and teacher proficiency tests are also necessary.

 
At 8/03/2009 9:30 PM, Blogger QT said...

"The Periodic Table of the Elements is fundamental and should be approached in grade school with mastery by high school. There are many basics that probably should be learned by all U.S. students including the metric system which seems to be a foreign language."

Sounds like a great idea. Math & science education definitely needs to be expanded although this is a challenge due to the shortage of teachers with strong math/science backgrounds.

Creating incentives to attract talent from other professions or using the internet to leverage the talents of great teachers, I believe that innovative approaches would be of great value.

 
At 8/03/2009 9:44 PM, Blogger randian said...

Math & science education definitely needs to be expanded although this is a challenge due to the shortage of teachers with strong math/science backgrounds.

Teachers with strong math/science backgrounds tend to despise the political correctness, mandatory leftism, and general insanity (it's ok to get the wrong answer if you tried real hard) of primary and secondary education. Also consider that such people tend to be male, and few sane men choose to be in an environment that presumes them to be child molesters.

 
At 8/03/2009 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama couldn't teach a US Government class in a public high school.

He couldn't get teaching credentials either.

 
At 8/04/2009 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

0f course, the simple answer is privatize. If you don't like one bakery's bread, you shop at a differnt store.
If ALL schools, including existing public ones, were placed on a voucher system, parents would have TRUE choices and send their kids to the perceived best one that is convenient.

Teacher hiring, firing, pay, schedules, everything, would be in the private hands of the school owners & the principal, who naturally want to maximize the success of their school (just like the bakery does).

 
At 8/04/2009 9:36 AM, Blogger 1 said...

"Algebra, Geometry, and one science course of any kind - the rest is optional"...

Geez! If I may be nosey, when did you graduate from high school?

The reason I ask is that I graduated from parochial school in '69 and by the time one was a sophomore one had already been though those two classes and was working on the 2nd mandatory algebra class, mandatory biology class with lab and other typical courses of history, English, and economics...

The public schools in Laredo, Tx didn't vary that much from what was mandated in the school I was in...

In public school most everyone when they graduated back then had at least four semesters of algebra, two semesters of calculus, two semesters of chemistry, physics, biology and earth science...

Are languages other than English mandatory anymore?

 

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