Prior to 1930, thought, little attention was given to pay-for-performance in the public sector in the United States except for the blue-collar, manufacturing functions that were being primarily performed for the military. During this period in American history, government was viewed (and perhaps still is by many) as a competitive threat to private enterprise; as a result, there was not much public support for developing a highly motivated and effective workforce for civil service jobs (Shafritz, 2000). When strictly applied, in fact, the term "job" would seem to indicate that such merit systems are particularly inappropriate for the public sector that has a specific mandate; for instance, Black's Law Dictionary (1990) notes that a "job" is "A specific task or piece of work to be done for a set fee or compensation" (p. 835). According to Shafritz, pay-for-performance initiatives were first introduced into educational settings as part of the positivistic administrative management reforms brought about by the Classification Act of 1923. "Exceptional performance was to be rewarded through merit step increases and grade promotion," Shafritz says; however, he also points out that "restrictions to prevent favoritism and abuse limited their use" (p. 316). These early efforts to tie teacher performance with academic outcomes were doomed, though. Over the course of time, merit pay plans were gradually merged into a system of automatic annual increases that merely rewarded longevity and loyalty, as well as a method to provide those employees in the public sector with an automatic inflationary cost of living adjustment (COLA) (Shafritz, 2000).
Pay-for-performance is an application of expectancy theory wherein employee motivation is considered to be extrinsic and follow B.F. Skinner's (1904-1990) operant conditioning models. According to Shafritz, "Expectancy theory posits that employees will be motivated to the extent to which their calculation of the desirability of rewards, the effort required to perform a task, and the probability of successful performance are viewed favorably" (p. 316). Pay-for-performance plans generally focus on identifying the appropriate balance between some extrinsic reward, such as the pay that is provided, and the amount of effort that is required to achieve it, which is the performance component involved in any job (Shafritz, 2000).
Modern Pay-for-Performance Plans in Education. Today, a wide range of extrinsic pay-for-performance approaches are in place across the country. Contemporary pay-for-performance arrangements are founded on a base pay system. "The salary or wage put 'at risk' is such to encourage or motivate the worker without jeopardizing his or her basic financial security," Shafritz says. Pay-for-performance schemes can be linked to overall individual performance or group performance at the organizational or team level. The individual systems are based on merit pay step increases, annuities, bonuses, and suggestion awards as well as skills or competency; group or organizational level schemes are the focus of gain or goal sharing programs.
Most pay-for-performance plans use employee reviews as the primary means to measure how well an employee achieves specific goals. Such performance reviews are used to determine which workers, or groups or teams, will receive performance awards as well as the amount to be awarded. According to Shafritz, "Management by objectives (MBO) systems may also provide a measurement instrument for a pay-for-performance system; in fact, such appraisal by objectives approaches formally incorporate MBO into the performance appraisal process)" (Shafritz, 2000, p. 316).
Constraints to Pay-for-Performance in K-12 Public Schools. Given the benefits associated with pay-for-performance that have been identified time and again, it would appear that this approach would be appropriate for almost any type of enterprise; however, critics of such alternatives for K-12 public schools point to a number of disadvantages in using pay-for-performance plans. One educator, for example, suggests there are three fundamental flaws with a pay-for-performance approach that will constrain any such initiatives in the future:
Public school teachers work in the public sector. Unlike their private sector counterparts that are free to recognize their employees in whatever fashion they feel is appropriate within the limits of the law, public school teachers are subject to intense public scrutiny. Lafee points out that, "While some would claim we are not accountable for our actions, I would argue that schools typically are the most scrutinized body in a community. Our audits and report cards come home every afternoon in the form of our children" (emphasis added) (p. 15).
It is difficult to measure output. The nature of the end product of America's public school system is unique and because of the diversity and regional differences that pervade the public school system in America, it is virtually impossible to develop one-size-fits-all quantifiable standards that can be fairly applied. According to Lafee, "It is very difficult to measure the output of school districts. Educators, parents and community members have difficulty agreeing on what should be measured to determine the quality of a school district" (p. 16). Based on the mandate to provide successful student learning outcome in this setting, public schools inevitably encounter a wide range of measurement problems and correlation issues surrounding the configuring of a fair pay-for-performance plan.
It is easy to misrepresent merit awards to administrators. Despite the seeming advantages inherent in pay-for-performance plans, Lafee suggests that taxpayers invariably object to rewarding teachers simply for "doing their jobs." When such plans are introduced, Lafee notes that a common taxpayer's response that the schools must have more money than they actually need was: "How could tax dollars be available for this purpose?" one critic asked (Lafee, 1999, p. 16).
The criticisms do not stop there.
Yet another educator opined, "I don't think any teacher is against accountability, but the problem is the public wants a perfectly measurable way to make every teacher accountable. There is no number" (Lafee, 2000, p. 14). This author suggests that this "magic number" is the essence of the pay-for-performance controversy: "Do student test scores give a full and accurate measure of a teacher's ability? Is it fair to use them as the basis for determining a person's financial compensation?" (Lafee, 2000, p. 15).
There are also serious voices in opposition to pay-for-performance approaches coming from those with the most to lose if these changes are implemented. In response to questions concerning the effectiveness of its approach to delivering educational services from the Milwaukee Public Schools, for example, a representative of Edison Project, one of the leaders in for-profit schools, stated their company anticipated serious problems with a pay-for-performance system that was being considered by city officials. According to Edison's representative, "Education is a complicated business and we have many, many objectives.... Educational progress is notoriously difficult to quantify. We would be dishonest to say we can precisely forecast progress in every area quantitatively" (p. 112).
Edison also asserted that it would be a disservice to the students and teachers alike to impose such accountability measures. Molnar suggests that this type of attitude, particularly from those with vested interests in the existing system, is not only predictable, it serves to highlight the lack of accountability that pervades the current approach to educational services delivery in public schools in the United States today. "Because many of the variables that might help these children succeed seem outside the school district's control," Molnar says, "it is, no doubt, tempting to hand the burden of being 'accountable' to someone else" (1996, p. 112). The sad reality of the situation is, though, that there remains a paucity of accountability across the board in many school districts in the nation that has contributed to the need to explore alternatives such as for-profit schools and pay-for-performance initiatives in the first place.
Chapter 3: Methodology.
Description of the Study Approach. Following a critical review of the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature, a three-part survey will be used to collect responses from one hundred K-12 public school educators employed in the researcher's school district who have agreed in advance to participate in the study. The first part of the survey will consist of a series of yes/no and fill-in-the-blank questions concerning demographic and employment information; the second part of the survey will be comprised of a series of five-part Likert-scaled questions designed to elicit responses concerning how well pay-for-performance plans are regarded; the third part of the survey will be an open-ended comments section that encourages respondents to provide any comments, observations and anecdotal accounts that might develop additional insights. These comments will be reported verbatim in an appendix to the final project and generally discussed in the study findings.
Data-Gathering Method. The surveys will be hand-delivered, mailed and emailed to the respondents depending on their stated preference; hand-delivered and mailed surveys will be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope for the completed survey's return. While general limitations of survey research such as nonresponse and lack of data dimensionality have been cited as reasons for not using surveys by some authorities, the cost efficiency of the method has generally outweighed…