Monday, October 22, 2012

There's no Merit Pay in the RealWorld ...

Sorry. Almost never exists, at least not as the Education Reformer Model has it: your pay is always variable and dependent on an evaluation of someone else's performance.

Think about that for a second.  We're having a conversation around this country based on a fallacy. (A fallacy in education? Who'd have imagined that?)

"Teachers should be paid on the basis of how well their students do on a test because that is how the rest of the world does it."  Pretty funny but that is definitely NOT how the rest of the world does it.

SmartBoard still haven't fired the idiot
who wrote this app, nor have they fixed it.
Teachers, unfortunately, don't usually get it because we're too deep in the debate.  We've become immersed in whether or not value-added measures work or whether merit pay does or does not affect teacher performance and school climate.  All too often, we forget that the underlying rationale for this idea is flawed.  The RealWorld doesn't base its workers' pay on something the workers have little control over, if they want to have workers.

There are no successful companies who say to their staff, "I don't know how much you'll get paid this year until the Consumer Reports issue on our washing machines comes out." They might pink-slip people if the company tanks but the paycheck is not set to the manager's whim, nor it is set on consumer feedback.

No one says "Your pay will be $12 an hour if I like the shine on this floor but only $10 an hour if I find dirt here from a customer's shoes."

No one hires an engineer saying, "Your salary this year could be from $60,000 to $80,000 depending on whether your designs are built properly by the factory."

Farm workers are paid by the bushel or the box, not by the quality of the vegetables. The farmer can't thank them for picking the crop but, "Jeez, the truck driver crashed and the crop was destroyed, so I'll only pay you half."

An article quoted by NYC Educator included this line:
Workers in the private sector take it for granted that their performance will affect their pay, and that if they screw up badly, they will be fired. Teachers, like many other public employees, have been protected against that harsh, real-world stuff.
And that is utter bullshit.  Your performance at a private company won't affect your pay. Someone else's performance won't affect your pay. The boss can't just change your paycheck at whim.  Once hired, you have a great deal of protection in the courts if you want to fight it. Screws-ups need to be major (and documented, documented, documented, and break some clause in the contract or involve something illegal) in order to get fired summarily because the unemployment repercussions are pretty severe for the company -- because there are rules. Lawsuits are expensive. Discrimination is illegal.

Even if it's documented, your performance isn't an easy trigger. They hired you - implying that they thought you could do the job. The company can't then say that you've been doing a fine job for 3 years but now you suck and should be fired ... well, it can but its unemployment taxes will skyrocket and it'll pay just about as much but get nothing for it. And then the employee can sue to get the job back so the company has to have extensive evidence to show you were breaking your contract or malingering.

The onus is on the hiring personnel to get the right person and make sure that, once the probationary and training period is over, the person can do the job. Contracts and contract law are pretty well developed in this country.

Yes, teachers have a contract that a union probably negotiated, but if you listen to the blowhards, you might be thinking that no one else in the world has one and that there aren't any unions anywhere else and that UNION=EVIL. Didn't the blowhard sign a contract? Isn't he being recorded and broadcast and published by people working for a contract, under the protection of a union?

But Merit Pay? Nope. Even in sports, there is no merit pay in the way these reformers are envisioning it.  A pitcher's check cannot be reduced if he can't get a runner out because the second baseman made an error. He might get let go, but the money still comes. He might get bonuses if the team makes the postseason but those are above and beyond his base pay in his contract.  And his industry has a minimum wage, too. Football players can be dropped at a whim, but their contract specifies that it's only a game at a time - and teachers contracts are for a year at a time.

But, but, but ... merit pay does exist, doesn't it?

Nope.  Bonuses, maybe, but not merit pay in the sense that your pay is always variable and is dependent on an evaluation.  The employee MUST be paid the wage agreed to in the contract and if bonuses are being awarded, MUST be apportioned fairly. Otherwise, bosses could give bonuses to their favorites, or to just the men in the company, or only to the white workers.

No. Even the purest form of merit pay in this country -- tipping your waiter -- has considerations beyond just your whim of the moment.  As an experiment, try walking out of a nice restaurant without leaving one. Then, return the next day, announcing that you will only tip for GOOD service, and ask for a table. See how far that gets you. Of course, this isn't merit pay anyway - you are the customer, not the boss.

Bottom line: There are companies, like Google, that use a form of merit pay, but the bonuses come fast and freely, are considerably larger than what we are discussing here with a minimum far higher than schools are willing to pay, and are tied to an individual's performance instead of on the performance of someone else's kids.


  1. "Bottom line: There are companies, like Google, that use a form of merit pay, but the bonuses come fast and freely, are considerably larger than what we are discussing here with a minimum far higher than schools are willing to pay, and are tied to an individual's performance instead of on the performance of someone else's kids."


  2. Well, there is the good old sales person example of merit pay. However, that only holds if the sales person is paid only based on getting the PO and the value of the PO.

    Of course, even then, that only holds when the paycheck is unaffected by other things such as failure of the company to deliver the product after the sale or warranty costs or profitability of the sale or any number of things.

    And, truthfully, a company would never, never, never want to pay a sales person under such a system because then the person would have one incentive and one incentive only: to get the order regardless of profitability.

    Kind of like raising test scores regardless of anything being actually learned......