What if Financial Incentives For Teachers Don’t Make a Difference?

August 9, 2007

In light of my recent exchange with Joe Williams on merit pay, I cannot omit this latest from Ed Week.

Strategies for luring more students and working adults into math and science teaching have proved as popular among elected officials as financial incentives, which try to make one of the least appealing aspects of the job—low pay—a little less daunting.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering a number of bills that would expand existing incentives, such as scholarships and loan forgiveness for aspiring educators, and create new monetary inducements. Dozens of states, meanwhile, already offer their own incentives for teachers in subjects with shortages, including mathematics and science.

But those who have studied financial incentives say evidence is scant that they are attracting substantial numbers of college students and career-changers to math and science teaching, despite years of investments in those programs.

Opinions vary on why incentives have not shown greater results. Some believe the money available is relatively insignificant when weighed against potential job candidates’ worries about poor salaries and working conditions. Others say the hodgepodge of federal, state, and local incentives is so fragmented that few potential teachers are aware of what’s available.

“There’s been virtually no research on how effective [these] options are,” said Dan Goldhaber, a research professor at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, based at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We ought to be making decisions about these programs based on something more than what might be effective, and instead base it on empirical evidence.”

I hate it when common-sense doesn’t pan out. Next thing you know we’ll find out that paying kids for better test scores doesn’t work either.

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2 Responses to “What if Financial Incentives For Teachers Don’t Make a Difference?”

  1. Terry Weber Says:

    “What if financial incentives for teacher doesn’t make a difference?” What is the goal of “a difference?” Is it to retain more math and science teachers? Is it to teach our students to get passing scores on the multitude of standardized tests? Is it to develop build better schools since we all know most are not working well?
    This idea of incentives plays right into the old myth that schools taught more effectively and students learned more in the old days. So, what’s wrong now? It must be the teaching profession. I refer folks to Debroah W. Meir’s article in the September 21, 1992 of The Nation”Myths, Lies and Public Schools.” She states that before the war the average American did not finish high school. “ In 1950, the term “dropout” did not exist.” It was not until the 1960’s that the nation first acknowledged, at least rhetorically, the obligation to educate all students equally.”
    So now we move to a suggestion of financial incentives for teachers and in fact, in New York City, for students. Why is hard to get qualified teachers? Why is that almost 50% of teachers leave before 7 years? I would argue that money is only part of it and financial incentives would destroy any already working school or, as I like to call them professional education centers. People stay on their jobs because they feel they are valued and they have some say in what happens during their working hours. Obviously a decent pay scale is also required. These are reactions from teachers discussing what is important to them on the job at workshops I held at Coalition of Essential School past two fall forums. Logically, it makes sense. As my wife, a nurse, says find the hospital that has the lowest turn over of nurses then find a doctor who admits there.
    So what’s wrong with extra money? What conditions of work and assessments will be used to compare teacher to teacher or school to school; better test scores; value added; class size; school budget; graduation rates; etc? I believe these incentives will develop into an unhealthy competition within schools and among schools that should be working together, helping each other to produce critical thinking graduates. How will teachers continue to work with each other on a professional level? How will schools continue to support each other’s work, as many do now, in this competitive atmosphere?
    In addition, this type of logic will help perpetuate two current trends among political school reformers: taking the public out of public education and using the corporate model. Where will the money come from? Who will have influence over how it is spent? Will I, as a teacher, have any say about it? This reminds me of when I was a telephone worker and they tried to initiate Quality of Work Circles (QWC). Since we were the ones that did the day-to-day work we were the ones who knew how to do the job the best so we could make suggestions to the company about how to do it better. But the big problem was: why should we tell them how the work could be more productive and therefore they would need less of us. We really had no say so in what we did everyday. My school system, New York City, is run by a businessman who hired a lawyer to run everything. They are trying to make everything business like and efficient. Let’s remember the story of the businessman speaking to a conference of teachers about using business models to make schools run better. A woman raises her hand as says can I ask you a question. As a businessman if a supplier sends you inferior raw materials what do you do? “I send them back.” Well, I’m a public school teacher and teach anybody that comes in the door.
    The sad thing about all of this current debating about school reform and “trying anything that works” is that we know what works. Look at the New York Consortium of schools that use Performance Assessment. (http://performanceassessment.org/ In these public schools the class sizes are small and because they fought and won against high stakes tests the teachers have a lot to say about the curriculum. These schools work as professional educational communities. In addition, there is a lot of staff development between schools.
    Let’s stop scurrying around with untested reforms. We should stick with evidence based solutions and implement new ideas on a small scale to see if they are effective.

  2. Morris Wallace Says:

    I am interested in teaching secondary education mathematics. I have a master degree in math, with 10 years teaching experience at the high school and college levels. I have a background in computer science. I would like to know what positions are avail at Oak Hill..

    Please respond
    Morris Wallace


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