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Pink on Motivation: Teacher Bonus Bill Won’t Work!

Last updated on 2014.12.07

My Yankton friends cited Daniel Pink on the science of motivation early in the debate over the merits of Governor Dennis Daugaard's plan to wreck public schools with ineffective merit pay. I posted this animation of Pink's basic pitch: the ideology of carrots and sticks doesn't work in 21st-century education or business.

Now fellow teacher Mike Larson drops by the comment section to provide this TED talk straight from Daniel Pink that gives us reason #1 why we must repeal HB 1234 (soon to be christened Referred Law 16) at the polls this November: teacher bonuses won't improve teacher performance or student learning; they may well hurt our public schools.

Pink talks about an experiment comparing the problem-solving skills of two groups, one told they were being timed simply to measure average solution times, the other told they would receive bonuses for solving the problem faster. The bonus group took significantly longer to solve the problem

[4:15] If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That's how business works. But that's not happening here. You've got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity [Daniel Pink, TED talk, July 2009].

Governor Daugaard's education plan offers teachers bonuses for getting high scores on a state-mandated teacher evaluation scorecard. That's exactly the extrinsic motivation that Pink says doesn't work in complicated modern work like teaching:

[5:19] If you look at the science, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what's alarming here is that our business operating system --think of the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses, how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources -- it's built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks. That's actually fine for many kinds of 20th century tasks. But for 21st century tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach doesn't work, often doesn't work, and often does harm [Pink 2009].

HB 1234 tries to fix our public schools (and you really should ask the Governor to explain to you what in your local high school needs fixing) with bonus plans that are proven not to work.

[8:36] This is not a feeling. Okay? I'm a lawyer; I don't believe in feelings. This is not a philosophy. I'm an American; I don't believe in philosophy. (Laughter) This is a fact... [Pink 2009].

My readers and I are cudgeling our brains trying to figure out an appropriate counter-moniker to challenge Governor Daugaard's propagandistic labeling of his wildly unpopular education plan. But even if we take the Governor's preferred label and call it the "Teacher Bonus Bill," Daniel Pink will make clear that bonuses don't work. That's not a feeling; that's a fact.


  1. D.E. Bishop 2012.06.20

    Sacrificing Students and Schools bill.

  2. Troy 2012.06.21

    KID: Kory In Denial (pardon the license with your name. :) )

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.21

    JERK: Jones Evades Real Konklusions (pardon license with language! :) )

  4. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    Now boys.... don't make me stop this car.

  5. Troy 2012.06.21

    At least you didn't insult me by calling me a liberal. Side bar, a nice soon to be married couple is moving out your way. I told them if they run into you, to say hi to you. Be sure to tell them you think I'm a "jerk." LOL

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.21

    He's looking at me! :-P

    Moving out to Lake Herman? Tell them to stop by!

  7. Barry Smith 2012.06.21

    In the career that I spent the lions share of my life in, teamwork was essential. I worked for numerous companies and was exposed to bonus incentives at several. I found that in an environment that required teamwork, in which everyone must participate, bonuses only created unproductive competition within the team. Every organization has those who will achieve more than others and the over achievers would predictably be the individuals who would get the bonus. The result was that the bonuses did not change the dynamics of the team in any positive way. Incentives that were team based were much more effective in that they encouraged the over achievers to help the under achievers instead of pitting them against each other. The over achievers were of course given promotions when they came along and thus were rewarded for their overachieving. I can see bonuses working within a sports team or something analogous where only the best are allowed to play but in my practical experience I have not seen them work in a team where everyone has to play in order to achieve results.

  8. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    Maybe consider branding HB1234 as a "smoke screen and a trap." Looks to me like even if it's allowed to stand South Dakota teachers will still be among the worst paid in the nation. All this bill does is reinforce the mindset that "some people are more equal than others."

    In other words, we can afford to pay SOME teachers as much as teachers get paid in other states, but not ALL of them.

    p.s. Is the vote to refer HB1234 voing to be a "Yes" or a "No" vote? When doing your campaign, this needs to be made crystal clear, especially if the vote is potentially confusing.

  9. Carter 2012.06.21

    I like DE's, but shorter and easier to say. "Sacrificing Students Bill". Or maybe something like "Student Mediocrity Bill" or "Teacher Mediocrity Bill".

    Bill, I've been thinking it could be something like

    Vote NO on 16
    Vote NO on [insert name here]

    Then it gets people to know the number, that they should vote no, and an association with whatever name that's used.

  10. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    So to "yes, refer the law", we vote "no?" I hate that.

  11. Carter 2012.06.21

    Is the law not already referred from Cory's previous campaign? I was under the impression that the November vote is "Keep this law? Yes/No". I could be wrong.

  12. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    That's what I mean!
    We need to be crystal clear about how to vote for which effect.
    Obviously, I for one am not.
    Who knows this answer? Cory? Anyone, anyone? Buehler?

  13. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    (...isn't this where we usually read a thingie from the SOS and/or the AG explaining what the measure is, and what a Yes or a No vote means? i.e. where we trust our non-partisan elected officials to give us position-free voter information. ;^)

  14. Jana 2012.06.21

    No on 16!

    Let's keep it that simple...even I can remember that. I do love the idea of 16 reasons to say no to this proposal. Democrats, teachers and ministers love to get too nuanced with their messages. We like to provide all kinds of thoughtful support for our logic and end up losing people along the way.

    Not to say there is not a place for a nuanced discussions. But for a vote like this, with an electorate with neither the time or desire to delve deeply into the impact of the law...simple is best.

    Sadly, it will also be important to discredit the opposition. Troy may think that Pink is a hack...but that's just Troy ;-)

    What the Governor's ventriloquists have forgotten to do is show how, and provide the proof, that the elements of HB1234 will actually help student achievement. There is no proof. And the evidence actually shows the opposite is true.

    But then student achievement isn't the goal here, is it? This is, pure and simple, a chance to bust the teacher's collective voice. The $15 million is just the ante to get that done.

    What we are looking at is radical change to the education of our children based on nothing more than ideological wishes. I think most parents and voters would agree that doing something just for the sake of doing it is not worth the $15,000,000 of taxpayer money.

    Think of it this way, the Governor is asking every single household in South Dakota to give him $50 to gamble with our most precious asset - our children- and has no proof that his gamble will work. Just guessing that most people would say No on 16.

  15. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    No on 16.
    Because ALL teachers matter.

  16. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    No on 16.
    Because ALL students and teachers matter.

  17. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    No on 16.
    Because learning isn't about a test.

  18. Bill Fleming 2012.06.21

    (...doing a little billboard campaign here... feel free to jump in, Jana.)

  19. Carter 2012.06.21

    Jana, that's why we've been trying to come up with a simple name! People without the time/desire, at the moment, have "No on 16" (that's as far as we've gotten, really. Maybe we should search through the posts Saturday, pick out the 10 best, and Cory can put up a poll) versus Daugaard's "Teacher Bonus Bill". Unfortunately, someone who isn't interested is going to get more information from "Teacher Bonus Bill" than "16". We need a good name for it so the majority of voters get some other information than "Teacher Bonus Bill"!

    I do like the 16 Reasons to Vote No on 16, though. Maybe that can be a project for next week.

  20. Carter 2012.06.21

    Vote No on 16
    Because life isn't multiple choice

  21. Jana 2012.06.21

    Speaking of being too nuanced...

    Here's a good read on what the conservative assault on education is doing to our kids.

    "Starving America’s Public Schools"
    "How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates Are Hurting Our Nation’s Students"

    Put simply. The cuts inflicted by Republican based austerity programs hurt kids by:
    1. Increasing class sizes
    2. Eliminating critical classes
    3. Eliminating great teachers

    The full report (pdf) is worth the read if you are concerned about the direction Pierre would have us take with our children's education.

  22. Jana 2012.06.21

    No on 16!
    Don't Gamble with Our Children

    Bill you can help on the visual...but I see a bunch of kids in desks stacked like chips on a craps table.

    Which seems kind of ironic since we fund our children's education through revenues from gambling and usury.

  23. Jana 2012.06.21

    Let's also keep in mind that there will be other measures on the table that voters will have to think about, especially a better way of paying for education and health with the The South Dakota Sales Tax Increase Measure.

    This is also important to our children's education, not to mention the health of our children's grandparents, in light of the draconian cuts of last year.

    Then there is also the vote on the "large project slush fund" to consider.

    Voters this fall are going to be barraged with a lot of conflicting information, so keeping things as simple as possible will be critical.

  24. jana 2012.06.23

    Wonder if Bobby Jindal gave our Governor any advice on how to make cuts to education and take reform to new lows.

    Here's what one education reform expert has to say about Bobby's plan from

    "But Diane Ravitch is not pleased. Writing on her blog at Education Week, Ravitch explained that, in her view, what Jindal has wrought is not a good thing. "Unfortunately,' she writes, 'reform' today has become a synonym for dismantling public education and demoralizing teachers."

    Ring any bells?

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.24

    Indeed: Jindal is a model for destroying public education. Ugh.

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