January 10, 2007

Merit pay and what everyone knows that ain't so

This isn't an analysis of the Ed Sector report Frozen Assets, since right now I'm still borrowing time from next week.  But given the back and forth about the report from Leo Casey and Kevin Carey, I'll provide a minor gloss on that conversation (or a reading of the readers' reading of each other) in terms of subtext:

Leo: "This report is so general it doesn't consider specific circumstances such as the one in New York. And there's a logical flaw in this that's so obvious, I wonder if it's deliberately misleading."

Kevin: "There goes Leo, not taking the ideas seriously. The whole world does merit pay, and I just don't get why union leaders make these obviously specious arguments in favor of a single salary schedule."

Brief observation: Of course a union activist is going to be upset if an academic paper both has significant logical flaws from a where-the-rubber-meets-the-road aspect and also is presented as polished research. And of course a think-tank staff member/co-director is going to be upset (or maybe disappointed or disgruntled) when he thinks the union activist doesn't take the paper's ideas seriously.

Substantive comment: the discussion about merit pay is still superficial. The more vociferous advocates of merit pay assert that schools are entirely unlike "the real world" where pay is determined by the market and performance.  I'll skip over the flaws in "the real world" (such as compensation of CEOs and fired NCAA Division I-A football coaches) and get to the deeper matter:

  • Compensation systems in private industry are complex, and reducing them to a monolith (it's not the public schools) does everyone a disservice.
  • Compensation systems in education are not quite as complex, but they're also not a monolith.
  • No one talking about merit pay is relying on industrial-organizational psychology research about goal-setting. Not even Odden and Kelley (who refer to the literature, but not acknowledging the subtleties or important recent research).

Note: I'm not an I/O psychologist, and if key people who are talking about merit pay know less than I do about the relevant research, there's a problem.

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Posted in Education policy on January 10, 2007 11:39 AM |