Rick Hess' post on the Nashville performance pay experiment yesterday received a lot of attention. In the post, Hess, a merit pay proponent, argues that the results of this experiment will "tell us nothing of value".
I found the post somewhat surprising (as did many others, I think). And I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that, as I read it, my inner cynic said "I wonder if Hess knows that the results weren't spectacular and he's just trying to discredit them ahead of time?". But I quickly shook that off, since I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Hess raises a lot of good points, and he seems sincere when he warns readers about the dangers of either side making wild claims based on the results.
Well, I was wrong. Wrong to trust Rick Hess. Re-read his post again, but this time be aware that Hess already knew the results of the experiment -- and that the results weren't what he wanted.
That's right. Hess already knew the results. I was informed of this by a reliable source familiar with the project -- who also tells me that Hess has spent the last few years lauding the researchers and chomping at the bit to rub the positive results in the faces of unions across the country. And now that they didn't turn out the way Hess had hoped, he's decided to pretend that he didn't know the results and tell everybody that the results don't matter.
Regardless of one's point of view, that's simply dishonest and disgraceful. Shame on Rick Hess.
Now, that's not to say that Hess is the only one being dishonest. I'm sure that there are plenty of people on both sides of the debate that have been, and/or will be, dishonest to some extent. So I don't want this post to be construed as vindication that opponents of merit pay are always victims and proponents are always evil liars.
But, at the same time, I find this post particularly galling. Hess has made a name for himself lately by being somewhat independent-minded on a number of issues. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I disagree -- but he always has something interesting and insightful to say. In short, he gave me good reason to hold him to a higher standard than most policy wonks who too often seem incapable of seeing an issue from multiple sides. Indeed, a good portion of what he wrote yesterday is useful and insightful (though he takes it too far), and that's what made the post so remarkable. But now I don't know what to believe. A number of his points should still stand (for example, examining the ways in which merit pay affect recruitment and retention is important), but I don't know which ones are sincere and which ones are not.
I respect honesty. I respect people who seek to advance the discussion of education policy. Today, I do not respect Rick Hess.