Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Back in the sixties, a piece of business jargon became current and made its way into respected dictionaries: incentivize. We encounter this odious word nowadays in two national discussions: ( 1) whether cutting taxes will motivate employers to hire, and (2) whether offering bonuses to teachers will raise students' test scores. The first is one of many issues upon which economists will forever divide. The second is an argument that I hope will soon be put to bed .

A major study was released last week by Vanderbilt University and the Rand Corporation that concluded teacher bonuses don't raise children's test scores. The study was conducted in Nashville over a three year period, using randomization and control groups, and offering bonuses of up to 37.5% of salary to math teachers in grades five through eight. The only measurable improvement was among fifth graders, but it disappeared by the sixth grade.

The Washington Post observed: " The study suggests that teachers already were working so hard that the lure of extra money failed to induce them to intensify their effort or change methods of instruction."


The Obama administration has quadrupled funds available for "incentivizing" teachers in its Race to the Top program. Education Department officials often talk about changing the "culture of teaching," but never about the "culture of students."

Incentives work, provided they're directed at the variable that needs to be motivated.

Augustinian Nun by Piero della Francesca, 15th Century. I remember liking this artist when I first encountered his work in college because I saw, or projected, a deadpan humor in his portraiture. This painting is a good example. I bet it gives every former parochial school student a case of the willies. Click on the picture for a closer look.


Janie B said...

I agree. All the money in the world is not going to make me work any harder than I do now, because I CAN'T work any harder than I do now. There has to be another way.

Paula Slade said...

Love the picture - I'll have to show it to Bear - for sure he'll get the "willies."

As for "incentivizing," the powers to be need to take a look at class size, which I've always felt determines successful educational outcomes more.

DUTA said...

I believe incentives play little or no role in the hiring motivation of employers; they just make employers richer and their greed stronger.

As for teachers and incentives:
Nowadays all responsabilities lie on the teacher; students have no responsibilities (thanks to the doctrines of modern liberalism).

But the teacher is not God, and no incentives could ever change this fact. He can do a lot for his students but he cannot give them that inborn quality (godly gift) that enables one, among other things,to learn, absorb, excel.

Even politicians know the truth , but they have to show that they're doing something about "no child behind"; so they invest the country's money into futile experiments and incentives, and fill the schools with 'budget- eater' jobs such as consultants, advisors, mediators, coordinators (you name it) which contribute almost nothing substantial to the process of teaching and learning.

TallTchr said...

Janie, where do you teach? Paula, while I generally agree, I've had small classes that I couldn't motivate. Once kids reach a consensus that school doesn't matter, getting them to care is like putting toothpaste back in the tube. Duta, welcome back. Hope you resume your blog soon.

arlee bird said...

Providing incentives to parents whose kids make good grades might work best. For many Asian families the incentiviztion is a cultural thing in many cases. But for other families money talks. Offer the families tax breaks, cash, prizes, or something and lay the accountability upon them for what the kids do.

It's worked well in Pico Rivera in regard to the grafitti and gang activity problem. When parents started getting bills and were being held responssible for the misdeeds of their kids the city began to see some real improvement. Change really has to start at home and money talks. Teachers need to be teaching with creativity and flexibility and not babysitting and training kids how to pass assessment tests created by theorists who just think in numbers and statistics.

Tossing It Out

TallTchr said...

Lee, I think your idea is excellent. I once had a chat with my principal in which I asked why we didn't take the money we spent on paid professional development days and give it to the kids who passed their classes. He agreed, but we both knew it was politically impossible. I'm going to write more about this in a future post.