Teachers Lack Motivation
If we believe that additional pay will
motivate teachers to work harder, we
must also believe that teachers know
what to do to improve student achievement—and that they aren’t doing it
because they aren’t sufficiently motivated. The assumption is that they must
value financial rewards more than
Does anyone really think that large
numbers of teachers know what their
students need but are willfully withholding it? That they would help
students learn more, if only someone
offered them a bonus to do so? This
is a highly cynical view of teachers,
one that teachers understandably find
demeaning, not motivational.
Most teachers care about their
students and want them to succeed.
Why else enter the profession? But
although presenting information may be
simple, successful teaching is more
complex. Some teachers could certainly
do a better job, but they mostly need
mentoring, support, supervision, and
training in new techniques—plus opportunities to learn, grow, and take on additional responsibilities—just like the rest
of the workforce.
crisis” since the 1800s, but this designation has usually been more political than
real. Schools were blamed for letting the
USSR’s Sputnik “beat us into space” in the
1950s, for economic collapse in the
1980s, and for economic inequality in
the early 2000s. U.S. students are
accused of lagging behind their peers in
other countries, and a wide range of
reports over the past two decades has
predicted economic disaster in the future
because, the reports claim, today’s
students are unprepared for work and
will not be productive.
In fact, the United States had a satellite nearly ready to launch in the 1950s,
but kept it under wraps because of its
productive citizens. Worker productivity
in the United States soared in the 1990s
and has remained high.
Schools make an easy target, but
school change moves too slowly to affect
short-term economic cycles. It takes at
least 12 years for a restructured K– 12
curriculum to produce its first newly
trained students. So, although an
educated workforce is important, schools
have little effect on economic cycles.
Fortunately, schools have not yet been
blamed for the current economic debacle.
It’s true, of course, that we have some
very troubled schools in the United
States—mostly in large, bureaucratic
districts and mostly serving poor chil-
The discussion of performance pay
requires states and districts to develop
a new definition of performance.
dren and children of color. By one estimate, the majority of failing schools in
the United States are found in only 29
districts (T. W. Slotnik, personal communication, July 10, 2008), suggesting that
these districts need improvement at the
school and district leadership levels, not
just among teachers. Despite the existence of troubled schools and districts,
however, most students achieve more
academically now than in past decades,
and most parents give their schools high
marks and support them (Bradshaw &
Assumption 2: Schools Are Failing
The broad call by state and national
leaders for performance pay and other
“reforms” is based on the widespread
presumption that U.S. schools are
failing. Schools have been labeled “in
anticipated use in spying. Explorer I was
launched just four months after Sputnik.
The downturn of the 1980s, for which
schools were often blamed, was followed
in the 1990s by the longest period of
sustained growth in history, for which
schools received little credit.
As for the failure of U.S. students to
measure up to their foreign counterparts, this is largely not the case. Rather,
as many researchers have shown, the test
score gap often results from comparing
older or more select students in other
countries with a broader range of U.S.
students and from confusing test scores
with achievement (Bracey, 2005;
Mathews, 2008; Rotberg, 2008).
In fact, although poor results on
specific tests make headlines, U.S.
students compare well with their international peers on many tests, and U.S.
workers excel in measures of economic
success, such as creativity and innovation. Further, test scores don’t correlate
with economic success. The countries
whose students outscore their U.S. peers
do not have stronger economies or more
Assumption 3: Measuring Academic
Achievement Is All That Counts
The third assumption—the most
perilous for the United States—is that
standardized test scores accurately
measure student academic achievement
and that academic achievement constitutes the full range of goals we have for
students. However, beyond basic
academic skills, corporate leaders have
consistently cited the need for critical
thinking, problem solving, teamwork