In yet another example of economists churning out crappy research that will have a negative impact on #edupolicy, Harvard professor Roland Fryer and Freakonomics co-author and University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt recently released a study touting the #edupower of “loss aversion” merit pay programs.

So what exactly do “loss aversion” merit pay programs look like in action?

Essentially, participating teachers are given a bonus at the BEGINNING of a school year — in Fryer and Levitt’s study, $4,000 — and then told that they’ll have to GIVE BACK monies if their students don’t meet and/or exceed expectations on standardized tests given at the end of the school year.

Now THAT is nothing short of pure #edubrilliance, isn’t it?

Hit ’em with a little carrot and a little stick and maybe those lazy teachers will pick up the slack and finally start performing.  The same approach was VERY successful, Fryer and Levitt point out, at improving the productivity of CHINESE FACTORY WORKERS in the ONLY other setting where the benefits of loss-aversion merit pay programs were studied.



Outside of the obvious methodological flaws in this heaping pile of #edutrash — the authors themselves admit that unravelling the impact different members of teaching teams have on the performance of the individual students that they share was impossible — Fryer and Levitt fail to understand a simple #edutruth about teachers:

External incentives — no matter WHEN they are awarded — are ineffective in education because we’re ALREADY working as hard as we can to do right by our kids.

As my good friend Rick DuFour likes to say, NO ONE in this profession wakes up in the morning thinking, “I’m going to do a half-assed job this morning because I’m just not being paid enough to work any harder than that.”

Teachers are driven by the desire to see our students succeed — and while our practices may need polishing, to assume that a few thousand bucks might FINALLY force us to give our all is nothing short of #eduignorance.

Seriously.  Let’s think about this for a minute:  Are we REALLY convinced that folks who have willingly chosen a career in the classroom are holding something back out of spite over their salaries knowing full-well that holding back has life-altering consequences for kids?

The problem in education isn’t long lines of pathetic teachers who need a good kick in the pants, y’all. The problem in education is long lines of teachers who are working in dysfunctional, underfunded systems that incentivize irresponsible practices.

And to put it bluntly, we’re just plain #eduscrewed as long as we are willing to allow the narrow, pessimistic view of human behavior held by economists to drive the most important choices that we make about what happens in our classrooms.




Really Long List of Related Radical Reads Which I Invite Economists to Peruse Before Wasting Anymore Time Studying Merit Pay Programs:

Note to Arne: Cash Incentives Never Work

Need MORE Proof that Incentive Programs are Dangerous?

The Monster You’ve Created

Bulldozing the Forests

The Truth About Teacher Merit Pay Plans

Merit Pay Plans for Teachers are a Poor Idea

The Unintended Consequences of Rewards Programs in Schools

Tired of Being the Nation’s Punching Bag

What CAN Schools Learn from Hero Ball?

Why I NEVER Recommend Teaching as a Profession Anymore

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