"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, August 30, 2013

Performance Based Bonus: Lessons from Bill and Melinda Gates?

An article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss has the following very catchy title: "Microsoft’s lesson on what not to do with teachers". It starts by citing an op-ed piece written by Bill and Melinda Gates in the Wall Street Journal back in 2011:
...At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not. Teachers don’t work in anything like this kind of environment, and they want a new bargain....
Bill and Melinda Gates
Photo copied from http://www.library.okstate.edu/dean/jpaust/legends/people/gates.htm

Personally, I think it is quite assuming to regard the Microsoft environment as the "ideal" environment. Google may have something totally different to say. Elise Hu at NPR writes in "Microsoft Vs. Medium: A Tale Of Two Office Cultures":
...Most technology companies are moving in the complete opposite cultural direction, especially because they need to innovate. Google encourages its employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on individually exciting projects that aren't mandated by the company....
Whether in the Philippines or in the United States, the debate continues. In the Philippines, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) maintains their opposition to the Performance-Based Bonus system introduced by the Aquino administration. Anne Marxze D. Umil cites the following statement from ACT in "Stop implementation of ‘divisive’ incentive system – public school teachers":
“In truth, any rewards system that pretends to set apart the ‘performing’ from the ‘non-performing’ falls flat in the face of the shortages that continue to be unmet by this administration.” – Alliance of Concerned Teachers
Beyond shortages, there are two angles worth examining to see whether it is indeed proper to apply an incentive system produced in a corporate setting to public schools. First, what do workers at Microsoft really think about Microsoft's working environment. An article in Vanity Fair describes Microsoft's culture not in a positive way, "Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant". The adjective used in the article's title is "cannibalistic". The following are excerpts:
Analyzing one of American corporate history’s greatest mysteries—the lost decade of Microsoft—two-time George Polk Award winner (and V.F.’s newest contributing editor) Kurt Eichenwald traces the “astonishingly foolish management decisions” at the company that “could serve as a business-school case study on the pitfalls of success.” Relying on dozens of interviews and internal corporate records—including e-mails between executives at the company’s highest ranks—Eichenwald offers an unprecedented view of life inside Microsoft during the reign of its current chief executive, Steve Ballmer, in the August issue. Today, a single Apple product—the iPhone—generates more revenue than all of Microsoft’s wares combined.

Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
Second, one needs to reflect on what a classroom or a school should really be. Is it a place for competition or collaboration? Thomas answers this question in a post on his blog:
...Education is a collaborative venture; a culture of competition is poison in the teaching/learning dynamic. Labeling, sorting, and ranking teachers and students is inexcusable in any form as long as we are genuinely committed to fostering a culture of collaboration necessary for learning...
...Teachers want all students to succeed. Teachers want to be treated as professionals. Teachers want school conditions that support their work as educators. 
Teachers do not want to use their students to outperform some other teachers’ students. 
A Cannibalistic Culture will certainly create students as weapons of mass instruction that will destroy universal public education.

For the Philippines, mixing this "cannibalistic culture" with a "culture of corruption" will surely lead to a disaster in Philippine basic education....

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