Carrots and sticks may work for Donkeys, but...

Recently, the Federal Government announced a big carrot for teachers in the form of performance pay.  The top ten percent of teachers are going to receive a big bonus.  


The first point I wish to make is about the whole carrot and stick analogy itself.  The idea stems from the donkey who has the carrot held just in front of him, but as he moves, so does the carrot, as the person holding it, is sitting on a cart which the donkey is pulling.  Similarly, if the carrot fails to work, the driver can hit him with a stick, and the donkey will try to move away from the stick.  The whole analogy describes a situation where the poor donkey is deluded into moving without any chance of achieving his aim.  


I find it interesting in the whole discussion of “Stick and Carrot” motivation, people talk as though the donkey may get the carrot or avoid the stick.


Of course, performance pay for teachers is based on a similar concept.  If extra renumeration is given to a few, then most will work harder striving for the carrot.  Sounds good, but, for anyone who’s read anything about the latest research into what motivates people, it’s not even right in theory


Studies show that people will work harder where there is some direct relationship between the amount of work they do and the renumeration - picking fruit, making baskets, etc - but for jobs which require a degree of autonomy and self-direction, it may even have a negative effect on work.  (See Edward Deci’s work)


But, of course, the whole thrust of politicians is that teachers just need to shape up.  If we start by testing their students (Naplan, for example), then we can find out where the really good schools are, reward them and punish the poor ones, by withholding funding.  


Imagine the AFL adopting a similar model:  We’ll give extra money and draft picks to the top four clubs - that should encourage sides on the bottom of the ladder to start winning!  Football is fierce competition, and the bottom teams aren’t there because they aren’t trying.  


And speaking of competition, the idea of COMPETING for performance pay is another major part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against competition when it’s appropriate. I have no problem with schools setting up some activities as competitions.  I just don’t see that the whole education system should be some sort of competition.  


Take another learning situation:  Learning to drive.  Instead of giving people lessons and then testing their competence, imagine if we simply said, “Ok, here you are.  Get in your cars and the first two thirds of you to make it to licence issuing centre, get a driver’s licence and the rest miss out!” 


If teachers are expected to collaborate, help each other, share resources and generally then pitting them against each other for a performance bonus is hardly likely to bring out the best in everyone. 


Picture the following scenarios in schools and decide which are the more realistic:



Principal: Ah, Peter, thanks for stopping in.  

Peter: No problem.

Principal: It was a difficult decision, but we’ve decided to give the performance pay to Harry. It came down to that lesson we observed. You seemed to lose focus when that girl fainted, but Harry had no students fainting in his.

Peter: Ah well, I guess it must be hard to be making the decisions when you can only reward the top ten percent.

Principal: Yes, it is.

Peter: Well, I’ll just have to try harder.  I’ll start doing more professional development.  Perhaps if I come in on weekends, or pay someone to take my after school help sessions with the kids.




Principal: That’s it from me.  Anybody else.

Harry: Yep, just a reminder staff about some help with organization of the Deb Ball.  There’s not much involved.  If about ten people could just offer to take one rehearsal each it would save me have to be there every Tuesday night till 6.  

Peter: Do we get overtime?

Principal: Teachers don’t get overtime.

Harry: No, it’s purely to help out.  Anyone, just a reminder that the list is still there, so if you get in and put a date that suits you, I’d really appreciate it. 



If Julia likes the model, she’s espousing so much, I wonder why she hasn’t suggested it for Politicians.  The best backbenchers get a bonus, the best ministers, and the best leader of their respective party would all be paid more.  This could be determined by observation, entries to Hansard and voter feedback.  


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