Note to Arne: Cash Incentives NEVER Work

So I don't have a ton of time to write today — I'm sitting in an airport on the way home from Solution Tree's Authorspeak conference and am about to board a flight home to my family — but I had to get something off of my chest:

I'm sick of simplistic #edpolicies built around the idea that teachers need cash incentives in order to produce.

The fact of the matter — as Daniel Pink argued convincingly in his Tuesday morning keynote presentation — is that the notion that cash incentives work in creative professions like education is nothing short of "American folklore."

We like to believe it, right?

I mean, #jeez, we were literally RAISED on cash incentives.

My mom and dad called it an allowance!

But just because we like to believe something doesn't make it true — and the truth as reported in study after study is that for anything that requires more than "rudimentary cognitive ability" cash incentives are ineffective and may actually lead to a poorer performance than in situations where incentives were never offered.

Check out this RSA Animate video to learn more:


So if this is all true — and I believe it is — then why in the WORLD is our federal education policy built around introducing cash rewards and merit pay into education?  Isn't that just ANOTHER example of our tax dollars going to waste?

More importantly, if this is all true, why in the WORLD are we tolerating school-based behavior incentive programs like PBIS?  Isn't it time that we start to rethink the kinds of "incentives" that we're offering to teachers and students?



Related Radical Reads:

Performance Pay Will KILL Our Schools

The TRUTH About Teacher Merit Pay Plans

The Unintended Consequences of Reward Programs in Schools



2 thoughts on “Note to Arne: Cash Incentives NEVER Work

  1. Dave Orphal

    Dear Bill,
    When I got into teaching 15 years ago, it was for the money. The fame was nice too, but mostly it was for the money.
    Back then, when I was making a six-figure salary ($ 038,000) I knew that I needed to hold a little something back. Sure, I was making great benefits. I could go to the dentists, I had a gym and a cafeteria on my work site….
    But working 180 days a year is a lot to ask a person… I mean it’s nearly 1/2 the year! It’s like having to work 3 days a week, every week, with no weekends! So I held a little back…
    You see, I knew, way back then I knew, that someday my political and punditry overlords were going to wake up to the fact that I’ve got to be bribed to do my best. They must have asked my Mom how to motivate me to do something I didn’t want to do. “We used to pay him a dollar to eat all of his vegetables,” she replied. Aww, Mom… you know me so well!
    So like I’ve said, I’ve been holding back. I’ve been working about 75% of my awesomosity. I mean seriously, 75% of awesome is still a “C” Right?
    You might think that I’m ready to go all-in, now that Bill, Michelle and Arnie are talking about putting some more benjamins on the table. Man, are they wrong. I’m telling you, if they are going to put some more money in my pocket, then I’ll give them a little taste. Say bump it up to 78%, you know, like a C+. They are going to be fist-bumping and high-fiving each other silly over their “success.”
    But I’m telling you, in a few months, that high is going to wear off, and who do you think they are going to come see? How many benjamins do you think they are going be slapping down? They’re going to be all over me going, like, “Please, Mr. Teacher, sir. Give us a little more! We’re jonezing for just a little more. Please! Take all our money, just give us a little more.”
    That me, brother. Straight up gangster teaching.
    Suckers better have my money!

  2. Matt Townsley

    Yes, yes and yes. Teaching (life) is rarely about “if…then.” Cash incentives and PBIS are symptoms of a larger problem, from my perspective.
    Who is embracing the solutions despite the current system and how can we showcase their “results”?
    Blog on…

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