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Bruno: Performance Pay Doesn't Necessarily Discourage Collaboration

6052852063_240c0d2e86_nAustralian teacher Harry Webb (not his real name) has four big objections to performance pay.

I'm more sympathetic to differentiated compensation than many teachers, but I very much understand his first three concerns.

Measuring teacher effectiveness is definitely hard, for example, even if we're making progress on that front. And subjective assessment of teachers remains a huge problem, especially given the "faddish nature of school improvement".

Harry's fourth objection to performance pay, though, is a very common one that I do not understand: that it will "reduce incentives to collaborate" due to "competition for a limited pot of bonuses."

Read on for more (below).

I'm actually very ambivalent about teacher collaboration and am not sure how much of it teachers really engage in.

If you're worried about performance pay discouraging collaboration, however, you presumably think that collaboration is a good way for teachers to improve their effectiveness.

But if collaboration helps teachers become more effective, why should we expect performance pay discourage it?

On the contrary: if a teacher thinks that collaborating in some way will make him more effective - as measured by the performance evaluation system - shouldn't he still prefer to collaborate under a performance pay system?

Note that this could be true even if few bonuses are offered; if collaboration makes teachers more effective on average, teachers who collaborate would likely be advantaged relative to non-collaborators when bonuses are allocated, all else being equal.

And in practice I don't think many performance pay systems are so stingy with the number of bonuses offered.

It seems to me that if you think that performance pay reduces the incentives for teachers to collaborate, you are implicitly admitting that the benefits of collaboration are in some way very limited, at least for many teachers.

In other words, if collaboration is a reliable way for many teachers to become more effective, then a system that rewards effectiveness should encourage, rather than discourage collaboration.

What is the model in which collaboration makes most teachers reliably more effective, but is nevertheless discouraged by bonuses for effectiveness? - PB (@MrPABruno)(image source)


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I may very well have an imperfect understand of VAM - and of everything else related to performance pay, assessment and ed policy :)- but isn't it "graded" on a curve? Could that possibly be a reason that at least some teachers might be more hesitant to collaborate if you're in that type of environment? No matter how much everyone "improves," some will have to fail....


I thought the argument was that performance pay discouraged those who believe they are high performing from helping those who are struggling. They would be helping their competition.

@Larry - Whether performance pay schemes grade on a curve is a design choice, and I don't know whether most do or don't. But it mostly doesn't matter for present purposes. *If* collaboration is *usually* helpful for *most* teachers, then most forms of collaboration would probably be encouraged by a scheme that rewards effectiveness *even if effectiveness is graded on a curve*.

It's always going to be possible to design a performance pay scheme to discourage collaboration if you really try, but most performance pay schemes - even if they grade on a curve - don't just compare you to the teachers with whom you collaborate. Rather, they put you on a curve with a much larger pool of teachers.

It's an important distinction, because while collaboration may not improve your effectiveness *compared to teachers with whom you collaborate*, if it improves your effectiveness in absolute terms it will improve your effectiveness *compared to other teachers in the pool*, who are not benefiting from collaborating with you.

More concretely: if you and I collaborate, there are a few possibilities. If you and I benefit and benefit equally, we are not advantaged relative to each other, but we're suddenly more competitive than our peers who didn't collaborate with us. The more likely scenario is that I would benefit much more than you, but if you think you would benefit at all, that would still give you a leg up compared to all of the others who didn't collaborate with us and reap some of the benefit.

Now, if you think - entirely reasonably - that you would not actually benefit noticeably from collaborating with me, then it's true that a performance pay scheme would discourage you from doing so. After all, it would occupy some of your time and energy and nudge you a bit lower down on the curve.

But that was part of my point: if we think that performance pay schemes discourage collaboration, it's because we think collaboration is very limited in its utility: perhaps useful in some situations, by no means universally valuable.

As I said, I'm ambivalent about when collaboration is and is not helpful, and I don't really have a dog in that fight, but my point is that the more highly you think of collaboration in general, the less you should worry about performance pay schemes discouraging it.

@Educator - It may be that self-assessed high performers tend to think they don't get much out of helping weaker teachers. I agree that such interactions would, in that case, be discouraged by most performance pay schemes, but I also don't think of that as "collaboration" so much as "mentorship" and if high-performers really don't get much out of such interactions we should probably be compensating them separately in any case.

My point was precisely the one given by educator. Collaboration - to an Administrator at least - often looks like everyone sharing their stuff. I put my slides on the shared drive, you make a video clip etc. If I am a rock star teacher getting killer results then why would I do this if other teachers are competing with me for bonus money? Even without PRP, I am less likely to share stuff with people who give me little worthwhile back. PRP just incentivises this impulse. I would go further and suggest attempts to assert intellectual property rights by schools could lead to the rise of the freelance teacher, particular in shortage areas such as physics and maths.

@Harry - As I said to Educator, that's a very narrow definition of "collaboration", and while it would probably be discouraged for rock star teachers, it's not obviously ideal to just expect that sort of "collaboration" as a matter of charity.

I don't think many rock star teachers exist to begin with, and even fewer are actively donating their time and effort today anyway. It seems to me if administrators want that sort of charity from them they should be paying them for it directly anyway, for both efficiency and fairness reasons.

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