Editorials

When everyone is awarded a gold medal, ‘meh’ becomes the standard

East St. Louis native Dawn Harper won the women’s 100-meter hurdles at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The medal means something because hers was an extraordinary achievement.
East St. Louis native Dawn Harper won the women’s 100-meter hurdles at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The medal means something because hers was an extraordinary achievement. AP

It is certainly nice when everyone running the race gets a participation medal, but what really count are the trophies for the top finishers. After all, it is a competition in which effort equals achievement.

Recently the Chicago Tribune took a look at $5.5 million in school bonuses to 3,100 employees. They averaged $1,750 each.

East St. Louis School District 189 with $1 million in bonuses was included, but really didn’t fit the model. Those were cash payments used to negotiate an end to the teachers strike, not bonuses per se.

Some districts handed equal amounts to everyone. They viewed student achievement as a team sport in which everyone, including the janitors, plays a role and should be equally rewarded.

Lake County’s Community High School District 128 was one of those. They were above the state averages in most categories, so maybe their team is worthy.

But do bonuses yield results? Or is consistent money for education on the front end more important?

That high school district in Vernon Hills has a median household income of about $90,000. That is double Belleville’s and about $10K more than O’Fallon’s.

Many performance measures between Belleville and O’Fallon high school students are similar, despite the income disparity. Community High outpaces them both. Wealth in your community may not make the grades, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Still, do the bonuses motivate improvement?

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is also embracing performance bonuses. The $1,000 rewards are coming for meeting performance criteria — including showing up to work regularly — but are currently blocked by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien’s order on behalf of the largest state employee union.

If everyone gets a bonus, is anyone motivated?

Raises, promotions and bonuses should be earned through achievement. Until there is a fair evaluation system, giving everyone something for showing up doesn’t seem to be sound fiscal policy or a way to foster success.

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