Should Professors Get Bonuses for Good Teaching Evaluations?
Texas A & M University has a controversial new program that’s drawn a lot of criticism in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications. The school is awarding bonuses to faculty members who score in the top 18 percent of the ranks on their teacher evaluations. Teachers can receive anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000.
Why is this controversial? On the one hand, some are applauding this system because they hope it will increase accountability in the classroom. It’s also a way to reward good teaching, which is certainly not valued as much as it should be.
On the other hand, some are criticizing this idea because they feel it makes college too much like a business. They argue that this system puts students in a position of being thought as customers who must be satisfied.
I can certainly see advantages to this program, but I think the problems outweigh the advantages. Sometimes, being a good teacher is not the same thing as being a popular teacher. I think being a teacher is kind of like being a dentist. If you do your job well, it’s likely that someone is going to hate you. There are plenty of great teachers out there that many students dislike because their classes are too challenging. And there are some teachers out there who get high evaluations because they’re entertaining and easy, but not necessarily great teachers.
In addition, teacher evaluations are widely thought of as being a poor measurement tool of a teacher’s performance. They are influenced by all kinds of things that are unrelated to teaching quality, like attractiveness, or the method through which the evaluations are presented to the class. Women tend to score lower on them, especially pregnant women. If you add in the “bonus” factor, this could further skew evaluations. Students may give teachers a higher evaluation than they deserve if they like the teachers and want them to have the money.
I also know a very distinguished professor who lost his job for tampering with teacher evaluations so he could win teaching awards. This doesn’t happen often, but by adding the monetary factor, perhaps this would happen more.
Incentives for good teaching is a great idea, but I don’t think this is the best system. Perhaps bonuses could be based on a combination of good evaluations and other measurements of teaching quality.