Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teachers' Pay and Student's Performance

“Ang dignidad ay hindi lamang nasusukat sa pera. Higit pa rinto, ang dignidad ay ang pagkakaroon ng sinseridad sa paglilingkod.”
-DepEd Secretary Luistro

The head of the Department of Education in the Philippines said the above during a meeting with representatives of the Teachers' Dignity Coalition (Source: "Dignity is not measured solely by money. More than this, dignity is having sincerity in service." I think everyone believes or hopes that instructors choose the teaching profession not because of its perceived monetary benefits. Teachers enter the teaching profession knowing quite well what it entails. Teaching is not just a job that pays.

Like any undertaking, there is input from the person doing the job. A teacher invests time and effort into teaching. As in other endeavors, an individual can weigh at the end of the exercise if the results are worth the investment made.  Architects design. Doctors cure patients. Engineers build. All of these professions require a tangible output to see if the exercise is worth the effort. Professions are measured by accomplishments. Teaching is not different. The true rewards a teacher receives is the success of the students. Students not performing well can cause a serious pause in a teacher's life. Thus, when schools are not performing well, one can safely assume that this situation likewise has a negative impact on the morale of teachers.
Figure downloaded from
Shankar Vedantam of National Public Radio (NPR) in the US recently wrote an article describing a study in Chicago aimed at deciphering the relationship between teachers' monetary rewards and student's performance. The title of the article is "Do Scores Go Up When Teachers Return Bonuses?". A group of economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) conducted a study in Chicago to see how teachers' pay affect learning outcomes. In this study, math teachers from under performing schools were randomly divided into three groups. These schools belong to a district in which only about two-thirds of the students satisfactorily meet the minimum statewide standards in math. In addition, the students in these schools qualify for free lunch suggesting that this district also faces poverty as a constraint in education. The first group of teachers basically continue on what they are doing without any external perturbation. The second group was promised a bonus if their students improve their performance. And the last group was given $4000 as a bonus right at the beginning but was told that they had to return the bonus if there is no improvement seen at the end. Here is the study:

Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment
Roland G. Fryer, Jr, Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff
NBER Working Paper No. 18237
July 2012
JEL No. J24

Domestic attempts to use financial incentives for teachers to increase student achievement have been ineffective. In this paper, we demonstrate that exploiting the power of loss aversion—teachers are paid in advance and asked to give back the money if their students do not improve sufficiently—increases math test scores between 0.201 (0.076) and 0.398 (0.129) standard deviations. This is equivalent to increasing teacher quality by more than one standard deviation. A second treatment arm, identical to the loss aversion treatment but implemented in the standard fashion, yields smaller and statistically insignificant results. This suggests it is loss aversion, rather than other features of the design or population sampled, that leads to the stark differences between our findings and past research.
Vedantam qualified the above study with the following important comments from one of the authors of the study:
"There are several caveats to keep in mind before anyone can talk about implementing the bonus structure widely, List said. Among them: The study needs replication. It remains to be seen whether the gains in student performance are long-lasting, and whether the same increases in student performance can be found in subjects other than math. 
List said future studies might also tweak the incentive system: Teachers may be asked to return the money for underperformance periodically, rather than all at once at the end of the year. Prior studies involving loss aversion have found that the technique is more effective when people feel the threat of periodic and regular losses. 
But there's another catch: List warned that the bonus system needed buy-in from teachers. Teaching isn't like making widgets; it requires motivation and passion. If teachers feel they are being manipulated rather than encouraged to improve their performance, they could end up looking for other lines of work."
The researchers in this study were employing a principle in psychology: Loss aversion. Being aware that one might lose something one already has is known in psychology as an effective motivator for performance. The thought of losing something is stronger as a motivator than the thought of gaining something. Indeed, the study showed that this was the case. A promised bonus does not work as well as a threat of losing something. How this study may relate to the plight of schools in the Philippines is an important question.

To understand the situation in the Philippines, it maybe useful to listen to what the teachers are saying. The Teachers' Dignity Coalition had posted on a website the contents of their recent discussion with DepEd and below is a list of the issues that were discussed: (
  • Immediate compensation of kindergarten teachers for the services they rendered since July.
  • Resolution of the incorrect deduction of 4000 pesos for the GSIS educational loan - this should have been 20 pesos per month.
  • Emphasize that division/regional offices must work promptly and correctly with regard to these remittances and deductions.
  • Giving priority to transferring locally-paid teachers to the national roll so that these teachers will receive the same salary/ranking/benefits and that their years of service would likewise count in the ranking system.
  • Support the request of teachers for an increase in salaries/allowances.
  • Attention to donated lots to schools so that the schools remain the rightful owners of these lots.
  • Formal recognition of faculty organizations as part of a school's governing body.
  • Amendment of the school calendar to provide a semestral break for students and teachers.
  • Compensation of trainors of K-12 implementation as well as delivery of the promised allowances for teachers who attended the training.
  • Attention to programs in schools specifically designed for indigenous people.
It was during this discussion that the DepEd secretary made the statement shown at the beginning of this article. Although not all of the above fall under the category of compensation, it is clear that the teachers' main concern is their pay. 

With the current predicament of teachers in the Philippines, one may ask what these teachers stand to lose if their students do not perform well. Even without a bonus up front that could be taken away at the end for poor performance, teachers will still lose something when students fail. It is called pride. This, in fact, is quite evident in the readers' comments posted on the NPR article by Vedantam. Some of the comments were rejections of the study as it paints teachers as merely working for money. In a sense, Luistro's statement at the beginning of this article reaffirms that belief that teachers do not work only for money. This is the truth. Teachers do sacrifice. Teachers see their rewards through the learning of their students.

When one dictates what needs to be done inside the classroom in detail, teaching is taken away from the teacher. When a teacher is unable to support his or her family with the pay he or she receives, a teacher needs to find other sources of income. This takes time away from the teacher's schedule, time that could have been invested in the classroom. The teacher is thus taken farther away from teaching. These factors add up resulting in teachers not identifying the work inside the classroom as their own. So if it fails, no pride is lost. This is the greatest weakness of K to 12. Teachers view the new curriculum as something being imposed on them. It is not theirs, so if it fails, they really have nothing to lose.

Loss aversion really means the fear of owning a failure. The $4000 bonus simply places the blame in tangible terms. A promised bonus does not quite achieve the same thing. Having to return the bonus if things do not work out make it crystal clear. The reform is in the teachers' hands. In the case of K to 12, the reform is really owned by Aquino and the Department of Education. The lingering problems with education reform in the Philippines is that those who own the reforms are never blamed if the reforms do not work. Thus, there is in fact no loss aversion at any level.

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