Monday, May 2, 2011

Twitter Book Club: @alfiekohn (2004) What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? - Five:17

Five: School Reform and the Study of Education
17. The Folly of Merit Pay

"When people are asked what's most important to them, financial concerns show up well behind such factors as intere... than a minute ago via Twittelator Favorite Retweet Reply

"Even those teachers likely to receive a bonus realized that everyone loses—especially the students—when educators ... than a minute ago via Twittelator Favorite Retweet Reply

"The premise of merit pay, and indeed of all rewards, is that people could be doing a better job but for some reaso... than a minute ago via Twittelator Favorite Retweet Reply

Now, I hate to take an oppositional view to what Kohn says here especially when I do agree with him for the most part, however, I do see some truth in this premise he describes. Now, if our schools were truly places for learning and people were rewarded with truly interesting work and good people to work with all the follies of merit pay would be true. However, where merit pay does work, where an extrinsic motivator like more money can be effective is in getting people to do things they would not otherwise feel intrinsically motivated and/or be resistant to doing. Do you suppose most SS officers in concentration camps in Nazi Germany carried out atrocities against the Jews without an extrinsic motivator? Do you think a factory worker screwing nobs into widgets all day would continue to do their work without an extrinsic motivator? Extrinsic motivators work very well at getting people to do things they otherwise would not want to do.

How does this apply to teaching? Why is it relevant and effective now? It is a relevant and necessary component of a school system over-run by standardized assessment, standardized curriculum, scripted teaching, narrowed scope of what constitutes learning, and the exploitation of children to use their test scores to drive a data-driven industry of standards-based curriculum and testing. If you are intrinsically motivated by feeding this beast then there is either something wrong with your moral compass or you have been misled. The rest of us who see these mandates as repressive and exploitative need this merit pay to motivate us to keep feeding the beast. Eliminate the stupidity and tears and you eliminate the need for merit pay.

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