The case for performance pay

March 1st, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times writes:

A landmark new research paper underscores that the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime. Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn.

The study, by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities, finds that if a great teacher is leaving, parents should hold bake sales or pass the hat around in hopes of collectively offering the teacher as much as a $100,000 bonus to stay for an extra year. Sure, that’s implausible  — but their children would gain a benefit that far exceeds even that sum.

Conversely, a very poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year. We don’t allow that kind of truancy, so it’s not clear why we should put up with such poor teaching. In fact, the study shows that parents should pay a bad teacher $100,000 to retire (assuming the replacement is of average quality) because a weak teacher holds children back so much.

That is a staggering figure. A poor teacher has the same impact as a 40% truancy rate. This is why bad teachers should not be paid the same as good teachers. A flexible pay scale would allow principals to send messages to bad teachers by not giving them automatic payrises. It would encourage them to leave the profession. Also it would allow principals to pay the good teachers more.

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27 Responses to “The case for performance pay”

  1. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    Leftist howing to commence in Three …. Two …. One ….

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  2. chrisw76 (85 comments) says:

    @DPF – it is one thing to make an argument for performance pay, and I think there would be a sizable chuck of teachers interested in it.

    The real problem is to put in place a scheme that would work without creating perverse incentives that would lead to worse outcomes for students. Instead of beating the performance pay drum as a seeming dog whistle to the anti-unionists, how about you suggest what would actually work and we can discuss that?

    Otherwise it feels like one of those physics problems where you assume everything is spherical and a frictionless environment. Great for modelling in a spreadsheet, but with serious limitations in the real world.

    Cheers, Chris W.

    [DPF: I've specified how I would do it several times. Delegate the staffing budget to the BOT who will set some general policies (such as they must approve any salary of over $120k) and they delegate it to the principal who will pay each staff member what he or she thinks they are worth, subject to their agreement of course. Just like in hundreds of thousands of other organisations.

    The BOT will hold the Principal accountable for the outcomes]

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  3. YesWeDid (1,041 comments) says:

    The scatter for the data in the graphs for teen pregnancy and teacher added value in the report would make the authors of ‘The Spirit Level’ proud.

    DPF it’s amazing how uncritical you are of studies that support your own point of view.

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  4. wreck1080 (3,799 comments) says:

    I’m not sure you need a study to confirm this. It is also why the greatest teachers and motivators can make a lot of money.

    I’d also like to see the effect that disruptive pupils have on the quality of education of their more diligent peers.

    And, how do you stop the case where all the good teachers end up teaching the decile 7+ schools and all the bad schools have the least effective teachers.

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  5. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,066 comments) says:

    I guess the problem with this model is that teacher quality is uniformly pretty terrible when teachers first start teaching, and it (usually) improves steadily over the next few years as they skill up.

    [DPF: You must have gone to a very different school to me. At both primary and secondary schools the great teachers were both young and old, and the crap teachers were also both young and old. The reality is some teachers just are not good at connecting with kids, while some are brilliant at it.]

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  6. projectman (206 comments) says:

    “…the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime. Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student…1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager.”

    Really? This looks very much like correlation, rather than cause and effect. Not the same thing. Meaningless.

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  7. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    There’s always anguish about selecting performance criteria. How about asking the students? Kids have a pretty good handle on how good teachers are

    1. Do you like your teacher? (1-10)
    2. Does your teacher make you want to learn more? (1-10)
    3. Does your teacher help you learn more? (1-10)
    4. Has your teacher ever suggested to you how you should answer these questions? (Yes/No)

    There would be lots of framing up to do on this, randomising student/class selection, running the survey centrally to avoid school leadership intervening, managing multi-teacher environments, statistical weightings (ie liked teachers in 1 would tend to score higher in 2 and 3.. and vice versa etc)

    Of course there are a million reasons that this mightn’t work… but to the best of my knowledge most of the focus to-date has been on professional judgement against academic criteria. And that’s a minefield too.

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  8. tvb (4,242 comments) says:

    A gifted teacher is gold and can transform the lives of children. If you are lucky you might get one good teacher in the whole of your schooling. The head teachers tend to be the best teachers but there should be scope to have gifted teachers to be paid a premium salary to provide professional leadership to other teachers and to inspire kids. The important thing is to remove the Union from these decisions as they are about protecting the duds and the pedophiles.

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  9. adze (1,982 comments) says:

    Danyl, isn’t that true of almost any profession? Depending of course on what you mean by “pretty terrible”. Isn’t that why experience is valued, that people’s skill levels and knowledge increase over time?

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  10. s.russell (1,580 comments) says:

    I once asked a teacher about this. He was totally opposed to performance pay because, he said, all the teachers would then try to sabotage each others’work in order to maimise their own chances of getting money from the performance pay pot. A most enlightening answer as regards teachers’actual motivations, I thought.

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  11. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Unfortunately we have seen this flawed reasonsing from DPF before. Yes, teacher quality is important – we already knew that. No, performance pay per se will not prove educational outcomes. We would all like good teachers to be paid more. The practical difficulty is cutting the pay of those teacher deemed average or below average. Care to explain to parents why their child’s teacher gets paid much less than the next-door class’s teacher? The ojly sensible solution is to pay an attractive salary to all teachers and select and train them oin the basis that a minimum standard must be achieved and maintained.

    [DPF: Umm do you know how much your surgeon in a hospital gets paid, and ask why the other surgeon gets paid more?

    How on earth would any parent know how much a teacher is paid? The info is private.

    And I am not advocating cutting actual pay. You need to transition performance pay in. Basically the bad teachers just don't get any payrises until they either swap professions or start to produce results which convince their principal they should get a payrise]

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  12. Ross12 (1,261 comments) says:

    “I guess the problem with this model is that teacher quality is uniformly pretty terrible when teachers first start teaching, and it (usually) improves steadily over the next few years as they skill up”

    Danyl –if what you say is true ( I don’t agree with it for one moment !!) then you are saying teacher training is appalling and it needs to be changed. In the meantime while young teachers “skill up” several years of kids have suffered at the teachers expense.
    Good teachers in my view have certain personal and character traits that goes along with good training and attitude to help make them good teachers. I agree with tvb @9.44am
    The teacher unions forget that there used to be a form of performance pay in the the 1960′s and 70′s. It was called grading ( done by the Inspectors who were usually semi retired, good headmsters). Now days schools are “getting around the system” by giving teachers extra “management units” to increase pay , but it is not necessarily for the good teachers just those who know how to work the system.

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  13. slightlyrighty (2,499 comments) says:

    Why is it that the left cannot grasp the concept that good teachers produce good results and bad teachers produce bad results?

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  14. cows4me (248 comments) says:

    Why are the left so totally and utterly fuck up? It must be so safe and securer in their universe. Meanwhile for 99% of population performance pay is simply how it is. My neighbour milks about 600 cows I milk about 180, if I was paid like a teacher presumably I would receive a higher income while my neighbour would take a huge cut, I don’t think that would work for to long! When are these fucktards going to realise that performance pay will reward hard workers and leave behind the useless. Or are teachers saying they are all useless and life is to scary to put their butts on the line.

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  15. YesWeDid (1,041 comments) says:

    @cows4me – teachers already have a range of pay scales based on experience, qualifications and levels of responsibility.

    It’s true it is hard to sack poor teachers but the teaching community is small and teachers carry their reputation with them, good teachers have no problems getting jobs, poor teachers struggle.

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  16. MikeMan (171 comments) says:

    @YesWeDid

    I notice that performance in their primary job is NOT one of the criteria that you list. So if they get to 15 years of experience, do all of their qualifications but are CRAP at teaching they get paid more than a teacher that has 5 years experience, is lagging a little on their qualifications because they spend a lot of extra time preparing for classes and introducing extra activities to inspire and motivate the kids, are a brilliant teacher who really gets great results.

    Is that fair?

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  17. Michael Mckee (1,091 comments) says:

    Thanks for this David, why should we pay bad teachers at all, get rid of them, the damage they do to society is now calculable and we can’t afford it.
    Neither can our kids.

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  18. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    We always seem to get this argument about teachers but not for other professions. Why doesn’t anyone advocate paying poor police officers less, or bad nurses less?

    Michael Mckee is asking the right question though.

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  19. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    > This is why bad teachers should not be paid the same as good teachers.

    And bad MPs should not be paid the same as good MPs. Strangely, I haven’t seen you advocating for that.

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  20. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    > Why doesn’t anyone advocate paying poor police officers less, or bad nurses less?

    I would’ve thought the answer was obvious, Mike. Teachers and wharfies are bad; police officers and nurses are good. You can crticise the Right, but at least they keep things simple for their small-minded disciples.

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  21. mpledger (429 comments) says:

    If you actually look at the second graph in the source DPF gave (http://obs.rc.fas.harvard.edu/chetty/value_added.html) you see that in the raw data the “average”** teachers do the best for their student’s future incomes.

    It’s only in the model that the teachers who are “better” do better for their student’s incomes but that’s because the researchers fit a linear model. And a linear model is *not* appropriate for the data in that graph – it’s highly non-linear – and the only reason that an r^2 value would be high is the anomolous value at approx (-0.05, $20,000).

    This would be a classic first year university Statistics course example about not fitting linear models to non-linear data.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ** Being a good teacher in this analysis is based on growth in standardised tests but since very little of life is like a standardised test it’s not surprising that teachers who don’t teach to the test have their kids do better.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    There are lots of ways to get become a “high-value added” teacher in standardised tests that this article relies on – one is cheating which is absolutely rampant in the USA.

    The data is higly suspect (because of cheating) and the statistical techniques are highly suspect so I would advise taking this report with a huge grain of salt.

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  22. DJP6-25 (1,304 comments) says:

    Performance pay is a good start. What really needs to be done is for the government to scrap the Department of Education, and the student loan scheme. That would make students very choosy about what, and where to study. A number of dubious leftist courses and departments would shrink dramatically. With the Department gone, there would be less socialists using ‘education’ for indoctrination.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  23. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Or you could just abolish schools to be on the safe side…

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  24. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    Or just free them from the state altogether and let the PEOPLE choose for themselves…..

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  25. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Maybe you should form a political party and advocate for that – see if you get any votes.

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  26. bhudson (4,736 comments) says:

    @mikey,

    True! Labour stood against it and they didn’t get many…

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  27. id (2 comments) says:

    A different (http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/02/26/analyzing-released-nyc-value-added-data-part-1/) look at the same numbers showed some interesting facts:
    - 50% of teachers moved up or down 21 points between 2009 and 2010
    - the average change between the years was 25 points
    - 49% of teachers got a lower score in 2010 than they did in 2009
    - Only 52% of first year teachers improved in their second year

    This is quite strange, you would expect most teachers to slowly get better year on year and you would not expect changes by as much as 80 points.

    Following on from that, when looking at teachers who teach more than one class (http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/02/28/analyzing-released-nyc-value-added-data-part-2/):
    - 17% of teachers had a difference of 40 or more points between the different classes where they were different subjects and 28% of them when it was the same subject
    - there was a teacher who scored 97 out of 100 in teaching language arts and 2 out of 100 in maths
    - 2% of teachers had a difference of 70 or more points between their different classes

    How can these number stack up if they are supposed to be measuring the teacher performance?

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