Merit Pay

There’s an interesting essay on BraveNewWorld about the pitfalls of using “merit pay” to motivate teachers. He uses some of the logic from “Get Back in the Box” to show how extrinsic rewards and “compensation” can actually have the reverse effect on people whose work actually means something to them. From the essay:

Douglas Rushkoff, in his new book, Get Back in the Box, talks about “the obsolete framework of stoking motivation through pay and perks.” Mr. Rushkoff’s book is written for the business and corporate world, but there are many insights that are useful for educational and other institutions.

One of the most important things to realize is that people do not go into teaching “for the money”! They may teach for a whole lot of reasons, but “money” ain’t one of them. So why, we wonder, is the HISD and other districts attempting to motivate their teachers by tempting them with more money.

It is true, of course, that most, if not all teachers would appreciate more money. But that’s not their motivation. And as Rushkoff points out, “merit bonuses reduce employees to chickens pecking at lighted buttons for pellets.” Then he makes this very important point: “The more frequently you reinforce ‘good’ behavior with cash, the more you disconnect employees from their own experience of the work itself. The focus shifts away from the task and onto the reward.”