"Hi, I'm collecting signatures to refer Governor Daugaard's education bill to a public vote. Would you like to sign?"
That simple pitch has gotten me 243 signatures on my HB 1234 referendum petitions so far. About half the time, that's all I have to say. Sometimes potential signers need a little reminder—"Oh, yeah, that thing on the news about bonuses for math and science teachers...." Occasionally the nice folks at the door invite me to make the really hard sell, and more often than not, I make the sale.
Add to the hard sell the following article by Chrystia Freeland, which cites neurological and sociological research that indicts the pay incentive planks of the Governor's school-wrecking plan:
A bitter fight between workers and management at Bridgestone/Firestone's plant in Decatur, Illinois, in the mid-1990s, including a long strike and the hiring of scabs, coincided with the production of poorer-quality tires.
"Looking before and after the strike and across plants, we find that labor strife at the Decatur plant closely coincided with lower product quality," a paper on the subject by Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economist who is now the head of the U.S. president's Council of Economic Advisers, and Alexandre Mas, also of Princeton, reports. "Monthly data suggest that defects were particularly high around the time concessions were demanded and when large numbers of replacement workers and returning strikers worked side by side."
Workers who feel they are being treated badly aren't just unproductive; they can be downright dangerous [Chrystia Freeland, "The Triumph of the Social Animal," Reuters, 2012.04.20].
This research talks about perceptions among workers. Even if you think merit pay and state-mandated evaluations based on standardized tests are good ideas, a lot of teachers consider them unfair (for good reason!). Impose a plan teachers think is unfair, and teachers will not perform better.
If teachers perceive the state-mandated evaluations with their increased testing and observations as micromanagement, that will also hurt performance:
An obvious response to this finding if you are in the H.R. department, particularly if your colleagues in finance are giving you a hard time, is to find ways to control your employees more strictly.
But another study by Dr. Falk, with Michael Kosfeld of Goethe University Frankfurt, suggests that keeping workers on a tight rein can be counterproductive. When our bosses closely monitor our work and restrict our opportunities to slack off, we feel we are not trusted. The counterintuitive result is that the more strictly we are controlled, the less hard we work. Another triumph for the social animal over Homo economicus [Freeland, 2012.04.20].
Dr. Falk and colleagues did research on subjects receiving different pay for the same level of work. Using MRI scans, they found significant neurological impacts. They also found physical impacts:
Some of Dr. Falk's most recent work takes the question of fairness back into the medical laboratory. He and a team of colleagues asked what the physical impact of unfair pay was, this time as measured by our heart rate rather than brain waves. Experimental subjects who felt they were being unfairly paid showed higher heart rate variability, an indicator of stress that has been shown to predict heart disease [Freeland, 2012.04.20].
Remember, one of Governor Daugaard's education reforms gives top math and science teachers $2500 bonuses but offers no comparable bonus to equally hard-working teachers in kindergarten, special ed, civics, or other fields. Wow: Governor Daugaard's plan hurts teacher performance and raises our health care costs.
The thrust of this economic research is that fairness matters:
Faulty tires and failing hearts are the grim consequences of unfairness suggested by Dr. Falk's talk. But the new vision he and like-minded researchers are developing of how human beings operate in the economy is actually rather uplifting. We aren't driven solely by self-interest; fairness and decency matter, too. Kindness and justice turn out to be useful concepts not just at the pulpit or among philosophers, but also as essential tools in the workplace.
Many employers already know this intuitively. Smart ones will start to apply these findings more explicitly, too [Freeland, 2012.04.20].
Merit pay is not fair when it is based on flawed, brain-numbing standardized tests. Bonuses are not fair when we make them available to one set of employees but not the rest (hey, what about secretaries and custodians?). Taking away continuing contract rights is not fair for anyone, teachers or students, since it makes schools worse.
If you need more reasons to refer and repeal House Bill 1234, I'm sure I can come up with more. But the fundamental unfairness of the bill and the harm that unfairness does to teachers and schools ought to be plenty.
So, care to sign?