Thursday, November 10

Daft thinking about performance bonuses

In The Chicago Tribune on November 8:
When the University of Illinois law school announced a new early entrance program in 2008, the stated reason was to recruit top U. of I. undergraduates and give them "the first shot at the limited number of seats" at their school.
But behind the scenes, now-disgraced College of Law admissions dean Paul Pless revealed another motive was at play.  By admitting high-achieving students in their junior years, without a law school entrance exam, the students' high GPAs would be included in the class profile but no test scores could potentially drag down the class.
In The Chicago Tribune on November 10:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday the criteria by which high-performing Chicago Public School principals will receive up to $20,000 in bonuses for boosting student achievement this school year.
Charter school principals will be eligible, too, and the mayor announced that network chiefs--who oversee groupings of elementary school and high schools--also can receive bonuses for driving significant gains at their schools.
Seriously?  Has no one been paying attention to scandals in schools?  Changing test scores?  Fudging who really has to take the test to make sure lower performing students don't bring down test scores?  Did no one read the recent articles and NAEP reports about math and reading scores

Will someone please explain to me why principals will be stronger ethically than the law school admissions dean who had salary increases and bonuses tied to his admissions metrics?  Will someone explain to me how principals will avoid doing stupid things they'd normally easily sidestep because of the temptation of a bonus plus possible accolades and a career boost because of "significant gains"?  And how much is it going to cost to monitor those principals and their staffs to make sure the gains are real rather than inflated or imaginary?  Are there any mechanisms or parameters in place to measure what is "significant"?  Are there any mechanisms in place to make sure that all of the data that's supposed to be included is actually included?  Or are we certain there will be no hanging chads or inadvertently excluded scores or data?  How much will it cost to verify that data and what are the processes and policies for verifying that data?  And how we will make sure there is no under-the-table or behind-closed-doors or wink-wink agreements?  This is Chicago, after all. 

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I'm not a fan of pay-for-performance because I think it invites all kinds of potential problems and tempts those who usually play by the rules to blur the lines.  We only need one miscreant to try to game the system and make himself or herself look good for everyone else to have to game the system or risk looking ineffective. 

This is, in my opinion, a terrible slippery slope; an incredibly daft idea.

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