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Tackling Performance Pay: Me and Albert Haynesworth


On Friday I was reading The Washington Post, and although I don't usually spend much time in the sports section, this headline got my attention:

How to Measure $100 Million of Impact

Since my job is to impact student learning, I was intrigued by the idea of paying one person one hundred million dollars for his impact on playing a game. While I didn't know anything about Albert Haynesworth, he clearly represents a very big investment for the Washington Redskins. I was particularly interested when I discovered that Haynesworth is a defensive tackle.

Now if you didn't know anything about football, the fact that he's a defensive tackle might not mean anything to you. But if you know just a little bit, it may seem like a really bad idea because it is unlikely that Albert Haynesworth will ever score a single point during his entire football career. In fact, he's not even expected to help his team make forward progress, and everybody knows that you win the game by scoring points. So why is he the highest paid man on the field?

His teammate running back Clinton Portis, who does carry the ball and who does score touchdowns, says the other players don't have a problem with Haynesworth's pay, even though Rick Maese of The Washington Post writes, "...his true contribution will be difficult to measure with statistics."


On Sunday I was reading The Washington Post and as I as reading the editorial section, this got my attention:

Old School in Virginia: Instead of making outdated promises, the gubernatorial candidates should be promoting education reform.

Since I'm pretty invested in promoting education reform myself, I was intrigued by the idea that both candidates seem to have almost identical education reform planks in their platforms. I have to admit that I thought maybe they had been listening to those of us who are out there on the front line, because they agree that Virginia teacher salaries ought to meet the national average.

The Post argued

"Much of the debate has focused on whether the state can afford to do so much and on which candidate would come up with the money. But they both have set the wrong goal. There are more effective ways to improve teacher quality..... Far better use of scarce public dollars is to encourage meaningful reforms, such as linking teacher pay to student test scores so that effective teachers are properly rewarded...."

That sounds sort of like saying, "Hey, we need to reward those guys in the offensive backfield because they're the ones who score points. Never mind about the offensive linemen or the defense because they don't bring in any high scores." When teacher compensation is tied to test scores, how does one "properly reward" the special education teacher who works with autistic children? How is the contribution of the band director who inspires and motivates students going to be measured? What about the vocational teacher whose students leave school with less than amazing GPAs and SATs, but who graduate with highly marketable skills and a job with benefits? Professional teachers, just like professional athletes, know that the contribution of a colleague isn't necessarily assessed by points scored.

The editorialist at The Post nails it when he says, "Low salaries discourage people from entering, and staying in teaching." But he fumbles when he claims "systems don't compete nationally for teachers." Yes, we do; Virginia school systems are forced to recruit all over the country because we do not produce enough teachers to fill our empty classrooms.

When professional sports teams invest enough to run a school system in a single player, they do so because they feel it is necessary to spend big bucks to recruit top talent. When Wall Street investment firms tanked, we were told that they still needed to pay huge salaries and breathtaking bonuses to retain "talent." Teachers don't expect to get rich, but they do expect to be able to support their families. Virginia ranks seventh or eighth in the nation in average income, but comes in 31st on the list of states' teacher pay. Isn't it a little disingenuous to say that money matters in recruitment and retention of talent when staffing the boardroom and the locker room, but isn't a factor in the classroom?

On Monday I was reading The Washington Post and the front page headline got my attention:

The Season Starts, but the Questions Persist

The Redskins lost their season opener to the New York Giants 17-23. The offense didn't do so hot. Defense did okay and Haynesworth play solidly, but had no spectacular plays that were game changers.The Post says "The temptation can be to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about how a season will turn out based on one Sunday afternoon in September....." It sounds like a call to postpone accountability when adults play a game for stratospheric salaries. Armchair quarterbacks care about their team, give them the benefit of the doubt, and hold the players in high regard. I think most education pundits really do care about school; so I wonder why they are quick to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about our schools, and to be so dismissive of the teachers who commit their careers to children?

Before Sunday's game Albert Haynesworth said "I can't sit here and say we're going to win every game or whatever. What I can promise [is] that I can do my job, and I'm pretty good at what I do. They just expect me to play my game and play how I play and that's about it. That's all I can promise."

I know how you feel, Albert.

As the school year gets started I'm just saying, "As a teacher I can't say that all children will become proficient in all areas or whatever. What I can promise is that I can do my job and I'm pretty good at what I do. I wish they just expected me to teach the kids and to teach the way I think works best and that's about it. That's all I can promise."


Susan -

You should earn some kind of bonus for a blog entry this good!

And for what it's worth, I think part of the compensation for some sports superstars has to do with their marketing appeal - how many LeBron James jerseys can the Cavs sell, how high will attendance go, etc. So even in the most statistics-dominated of realms, it becomes very complicated when you try to tease out the relative value and impact a player has on an organization.

Susan, I L-O-V-E-D this analogy. You are so smart! Again, how do we get this brilliant piece in the hands of the right people? Do we just punt, or do we have the possibility of a touchdown here?

Truly insightful analogy. Everyone should read this. Maybe, given the popularity of football, that this entry would sink in and make sense to more people who think testing is the only way to go. I taught multi/severe/profound students in a regular school setting. I wonder how my performance would have been judged, based on test scores (I to was good at what I did).

If you have not checked out the analogy between the NFL and NCLB, I suggest it. You can probably google. "NFL NCLB analogy".

Although I think I agree with the conclusion you draw, that we should not develop an accountability system which is either superficial or too quick to judgement, you are of course aware that professional athletes are perhaps the most tested, prodded, analyzed, and assessed professionals in the world. How many scouts and coaches watched how many hours of game footage on Albert Haynesworth before signing him to such a contract? They might have also checked his physical attributes - height, weight, vertical, 40 yard dash. And they certainly would have spoken to former teammates to get a sense of his character and work habits. And although it seems hasty to judge a team based on one game, I am quite certain the coaches (i.e. the experts) have some system to evaluate how Albert did in that game. And I am confident that by the end of the year the team (not to mention every fan in D.C.) will have an opinion on the Haynesworth signing. And given how much money the team has invested in him, they would certainly be correct to do so - right?

So although I do not think we are that far off in terms of what we believe, I felt compelled to note that when something this important is at stake, we should find ways to evaluate and measure performance to make sure our investment is being wisely spent (whether in the NFL or the classroom). We just have to be smart about how we do it. That's the lesson I would take from the Haynesworth signing.

You've hit a homerun ... oops, wrong analogy. You've kicked a field goal, or perhaps a touchdown, Susan. Excellent. But even that misses the point, right? We're the background support professionals that helped Hayneworth recognize and develop his (super)natural athletic skills. I wonder what was said about Niels Bohr teachers in school or Issac Newton's professors at Cambridge?

Susan, I wanted to add my support to your article. "...linking teacher pay to student test scores..." caught my eye. Did you know that AH might get in on approx. 50-60 plays...each play takes about 4-7 seconds from "snap" to "tackle". Do the math, (which we teach). He's on the field under 10 mins during the 60 min game. Teachers are in "action" 7+ hours a day. Of course, I haven't multiplied his game days by 16 and teachers "game days by 180. Maybe there should be a "link" for AtHletes to be more effective!

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Harry Wolskij: Susan, I wanted to add my support to your article. read more
  • Gary: You've hit a homerun ... oops, wrong analogy. You've kicked read more
  • Adam Cox: Although I think I agree with the conclusion you draw, read more
  • Brandt: If you have not checked out the analogy between the read more
  • J Christian: Truly insightful analogy. Everyone should read this. Maybe, given the read more




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