Performance Pay Systems Are Never Immaculate

Many chauffeurs are evaluated based on their punctuality, but their promptness does not always reflect their “true” performance. Over the course of the year numerous unforeseen traffic problems causes drivers to be late when they would have been early, or be early when they would have been late. In addition, the need to be on time could occasionally create the incentive to drive unsafely. Nevertheless, punctuality is still an uncontroversial metric for evaluating performance.

Many NFL wide receivers earn performance bonuses for making a certain number of receptions, but these achievements or lack thereof may be an inaccurate reflection of a player’s true performance. For example, a player could get open enough times to catch a hundred passes in a season, but the shortcomings of his quarterback or offensive line could make him fall short of that milestone. In addition, the emphasis on catches may lead receivers to shirk other duties such as blocking. Nevertheless, even though these bonuses are not 100% correlated with a player’s “true” performance, they are uncontroversial.

Yet when it comes to teachers many act like it’s an inconceivable injustice that evaluations based on test scores could lead to potentially bad incentives or not be 100% correlated with a teacher’s “true” performance. Obviously the science behind test-based evaluations is mixed, and the fact that teachers are paid with public money and influence our children also makes their situation different. Still, it’s clear the rhetoric of many accountability opponents is based on a noticeable double standard between teaching and other professions.

The point is that an “evaluation must correlate 100% with performance” position is not grounded in reality. That’s not to say that everybody should blindly jump on the test-based accountability bandwagon, but adhering to a strategy that refuses to give an inch in the hope that it will prevent giving up a foot makes progress impossible. I think the stubbornness is partially a response from teacher advocates who feel powerless in the face of government action, but taking extreme positions only serves to further shut them out of the debate because it essentially commits them to exclusively support an unrealistic system.

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