Education Letter to the Editor

Other Professionals’ Incentives May Not Work for Teachers

August 11, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

Whatever happens in Denver will not stay in Denver (“Model Plan of Merit Pay in Ferment,” July 30, 2008). That’s because ProComp to date stands as the only comprehensive reform in the country of the way teachers are compensated. As a result, all eyes are focused on the Mile-High City.

What will likely emerge from a study of the pioneer strategy is the realization that teachers do not respond to incentives in the same way professionals in other fields do. It’s not that teachers don’t want higher salaries. They most certainly do, or else they wouldn’t strike when their demands are not met.

But teachers constitute a group of professionals who are more concerned with conditions that allow them to teach as they were trained. That’s why attempts to recruit and retain the best of them to teach in tough schools disappoint. No amount of money is enough to offset the appalling factors they must face each day as they try to reach each student.

This fundamental concept is entirely alien to outsiders who have never taught a day in a public school. They continue to assert without any convincing data that teachers are shaped by the same set of incentives that work in other fields. That’s why the remedies offered up by these self-styled experts should be viewed skeptically.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the August 13, 2008 edition of Education Week as Other Professionals’ Incentives May Not Work for Teachers