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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