Recruitment & Retention Opinion

You Get What You Pay For

By Justin Baeder — March 25, 2011 2 min read
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The New York Yankees have won the World Series 27 times, more than any other team. The most promising strategy for an underperforming team, of course, is to identify the techniques used by the Yankees and implement them with fidelity.

I’ve decided to become a baseball policy wonk. My first recommendation is to launch a multimillion dollar study examining the practices of the Yankees players with the best stats last season, so that all players can be held accountable for achieving results. I’d also suggest a national grant competition to spark legislative changes consistent with my beliefs on how to improve performance in baseball (but let’s not wait for the results of that study).

We can start by saving a ton of money by paying the players less, tying more of their compensation to performance targets, and making sure they use the best techniques. We can “do more with less” by getting more mileage out of whatever players we have, rather than wasting money trying to attract better players.


Of course, the Yankees don’t win year after year because they use the right techniques and other people don’t. Everyone in professional baseball knows the fundamentals of the game, and works relentlessly to perfect their skill. Technique only gets you so far.

The Yankees win because they have the best players, and this is incalculably more powerful than focusing only on technique. In recent years, the team has attracted criticism for their enormous payroll—now more than $200 million annually—which allows the team to attract top talent.

Education is obviously not a competitive sport, but the analogy holds. As I’ve argued previously, technique alone isn’t going to get us very far. You get what you pay for, and you have to pay for top talent.

Linda Darling-Hammond argued eloquently in her recent Answer Sheet guest post that what the US needs to do to improve teacher quality is adequately prepare and resource our teachers. Apparently the education profession in Singapore works on the same model as the Yankees—Darling-Hammond notes that beginning teachers in Singapore earn as much as doctors.

Nick Kristof took up a similar theme in the New York Times last week, arguing that teachers need to be paid substantially more in order for education to compete with other professions for top talent the way it once did:

In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher...

Performance pay works, but not in the way the architects of Race to the Top believe. “Incentivizing” an average team will not cause them to suddenly become World Series material. If you want good performance, you have to pay well enough to attract top talent.

Investing less and expecting more is a prescription for disappointment. As principal Chris Lehmann wrote earlier this week:

The opinions expressed in On Performance are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.