Why paying teachers for test scores doesn’t work

Dan Pink‘s 2008 Ted Talk should be watched by everyone who thinks that teachers and principals being paid for good test scores is something that would actually work. Incentives only work when you have “simple rules and a clear destination.”

When you have tasks that require creative solutions, right brain creative thinking, incentives lead to worse performance. In fact, the higher the “bonus” or incentive, the worse the performance.

How do you improve creative performance? 
You harness intrinsic motivation by giving:

  • Autonomy – flexibility, independence
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

We want to be held accountable and be good at what we do. Teachers want to be great teachers. We want to do a good job. And we all want purpose, or else we wouldn't be teaching. We are modern day nobility – when we act like it.

Lucky to make no money and have no benefits?
I'm blessed to be at a school that only tests 3 days a school year and gives us teachers a lot of autonomy in what we do (we are involved in textbook purchases and curriculum decisions), we all have a desire to be great at what we do, and we have a purpose. I think it is a common ingredient in successful schools and teachers. There are many teachers here who have left public schools because they have more freedom here and they have fallen in love with teaching again. They make less money and have no benefits but the autonomy, purpose, and mastery is here. They would never go back, they say, because they can be real teachers. That is a sad statement.

Photo: BigStock

You get what you pay for.
But as for now, American public schools are getting what they pay for: worse test scores. If you believe the research Pink quotes, it means that if you pay someone more money for a job that requires creative solutions, the more you pay them an incentive pay (for the scores themselves), the worse that they will do, according to the science backing this up. (This is talking about INCENTIVE pay – Not base pay. Teachers should be well paid for a very important job. But paying for test scores is the wrong thing.)

Applying the Creativity Time to the Classroom
I have a Freshman project that takes 15-20% of the student's time and am giving them autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It is going to be a big positive of this year.

Think Noble Thoughts, it may help you more than you think
Watch this 18 minute video and think about it. Remember your noble calling — perhaps that thought may do more to help you improve test scores in your room than anything else because that gives you PURPOSE it is up to your administration and school board to give you Autonomy and let you Master your profession.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere