Equal pay for unequal results

All teachers deserve the same pay, says this editorial attacking a merit pay plan in Pennsylvania. Kimberly Swygert disagrees.

Has the idea that teachers do what they do purely of love for the profession, with no thought whatsoever to the practicalities and necessities of life, become this thoroughly ingrained? That someone could say with a straight face that a job this demanding doesn’t deserve better pay? And that a teacher who “gives her all” but yet doesn’t teach well deserves as much money as one who actually educates her students?

On the other hand, this type of thinking certainly reflects the “effort matters more than results” and “anyone who loves teaching should be allowed to teach” theories that infest our school systems.

This kind of hostility to recognizing and rewarding merit drives good teachers out of the system, Kimberly argues.

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Comments

  1. Mike in Texas says:

    The problem with merit pay is that education is a cumlulative process. If you limit the merit pay to the teachers who teach at the grade level the tests are given (in Texas they don’t start until 3rd grade) who is going to teach the younger kids? How do you reward them? How do you reward the librarians, PE coaches, special education teachers, and lab teachers?

    What about the kids who had a rotten teacher the previous year? Are who transfered from another school? Who gets the merit pay for that child?
    I have yet to see a merit pay that addresses these issues.

  2. Mike in Texas wrote:

    I have yet to see a merit pay that addresses these issues.

    Now you’re just being disengenuous by suggesting that if only there were some merit pay proposal that addressed all these fatal flaws you’d happily support it.

    In fact, no merit pay system would satisfy your objections. Not because it’s impossible to measure teacher performance but because you’re opposed to the idea of measuring teacher performance.

    Thankfully, the time when that sort of self-serving nonsense ruled the education profession seems to be coming to a close.

  3. This kind of hostility to recognizing and rewarding merit drives good teachers out of the system, Kimberly argues.

    Perhaps. My experience has been that the better teachers stick with it more out of love for the kids. Those who absolutely can’t will find greener pastures elsewhere.

    I think levelling the field, as in the PA proposal, leads more to an increase in lower quality teachers who will take any steady income they can get their hands on. Either way, it’s not good for the kids.

  4. Andy Freeman says:

    > The problem with merit pay is that education is a cumlulative process.

    Almost everything is a cumulative process, yet we figure out how to measure things in the middle.

    But, consider the source. MiT thinks that public schools should get money no matter what they do, or fail to do.

  5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best way to use “merit” pay is to put it in the hands of the principals. Raise teacher salaries across the board — for everyone — and eliminate job security. We don’t need to have standardized tests in every grade. Every school has a principal, a set of eyes on the ground who knows the teachers and can make decisions about their teaching.

    Of course, we should do the same for the principals (without necessarily raising their pay). Superintendants should be able to get rid of principals at the drop of a hat.

    Keeps everyone on their toes, you know.

  6. “My experience has been that the better teachers stick with it more out of love for the kids.” I remember two great teachers who were out of the public schools pretty quickly. One went to a private school that paid what he was actually worth, and didn’t bog him down in bureaucracy. The other got out of teaching altogether, after only about three years. Meanwhile, the worst teacher in the entire Junior High stayed right there until retirement age. We figured he knew he’d be utterly incompetent at any other job, too.

    As for the difficulty of measuring one teacher’s contribution: test the kids at the end of every year. Test transfers in the first week after they start. Compare end of year scores to the previous score. If you don’t think this is a good idea, I suspect you just don’t want to know if the kids are really progressing…

  7. Mike in Texas says:

    As for the difficulty of measuring one teacher’s contribution: test the kids at the end of every year. Test transfers in the first week after they start. Compare end of year scores to the previous score.

    You’re still forgetting about the lab teachers, PE coaches, special ed teachers and librarians.

    Allen wrote:

    Not because it’s impossible to measure teacher performance but because you’re opposed to the idea of measuring teacher performance.

    I see your back to your “say it enough times and it will be true” tactics, Allen. I already have an assessment of my teaching, done by my principal as defined by the state, “a set of eyes on the ground who knows the teachers and can make decisions about their teaching.” as someone else called for.

    We have 4 areas we are judged on that relate directly to our classroom teaching, based on observtions by the principal. I’m all for merit pay based on my performances in these areas. Would you say getting the highest score, in Texas it is “exceeds expectations” in all 4 areas would earn a teacher merit pay? OF COURSE ALLEN WOULDN’T. He will argue principals are not good judges of teachers’ abilities and someone else (who agrees with him that teachers are a lower life-form) should evaluate teachers.

    What I am against is performance assessments based on high stakes tests, which do little more than identify the socioeconomic status of the test takers (I’ve posted links to the research here before). I’m also against some politcian hundreds or thousands of miles away deciding how I will be assessed.

  8. measurement doens’t have to be just by test; often it’s easy to fall into adverse selection.

    Here’s how we implemented it successfully in a 400 student high school. It’s built off of a foundation where each student has a “personal learning plan” where they need reach over 4 years: academics, extracurriculars, college entrance, career exploration.

    Merit and differential pay comes in five parts:
    1) progress the student makes on their plan (which does includes test scores, but also other elements) teachers intersect in two ways: in the classroom by subject and as mentors to a subset of students

    2) outside review we arrange for people from other schools and departments to view the teacher and record

    3) student and parent review
    they do know what is going on

    4) objective skills
    e.g. second language fluency this may be the likely source of valuing marketable skills that generate differentiated pay.

    5) spot events: these aren’t part of the annual bonus but meaningful ones given on the spot for extraordinary success. Often these are even more valued than the annual bonus: although the latter is larger, the former is immediate and personal

    Principal makes the call for teachers on bonus selection; board does the same for the principal. targets for the years are agreed as part of each person’s developkment plan. Local decision-making and knowledge is at the core of it.

    we’re also evaluating a sixth marker for overall school success. Each is concrete, achievable and necessary. There is no tenure, but the good teachers stay and stay motivated. It is an enormous tool for teacher recruitment; it values (and underscores) what is important.

  9. Mike in Texas: “You’re still forgetting about the lab teachers, PE coaches, special ed teachers and librarians.” So, because it’s harder to figure merit pay for some of the staff, you don’t want to give it to anyone?

  10. Mike in Texas wrote:

    I see your back to your “say it enough times and it will be true” tactics, Allen.

    Close. Actually though it’s more in the way of a “say it as many times as I feel like because it is true” tactic.

    I already have an assessment of my teaching, done by my principal as defined by the state…

    You already have an assessment? Since that’s pretty clearly the law in Texas, in what way does that relate to your steady dismissal of teacher accountability? The issue at hand is merit pay and that’s pretty clearly a joke unless A) there are objective standards by which teachers are judged or B) the subjective judge of merit pay increases has some objective measure of their performance related to educational quality. Otherwise it’s just another across-the-board pay increase for which the public gets nothing.

    He will argue …

    I guess you’re so anxious to see my response that you can’t wait for it, hey?

    What I am against is performance assessments based on high stakes tests, which do little more than identify the socioeconomic status of the test takers (I’ve posted links to the research here before).

    You were going on about “say it enough times and it will be true” tactics I believe. Since I debunked your studies by finding those doggone exceptions that prove the linkage between lousy test scores and socioeconomic status is anything but clear, here you are pounding on the same, old cable.

    Oh, and about those high stakes tests? Get used to them because they aren’t going away.

    I’m also against some politcian hundreds or thousands of miles away deciding how I will be assessed.

    Think of it as the payoff for suborning local boards of education. You didn’t put an end to parents, and taxpayers, wanting to know what they were getting for their kids and their dollars, you just delayed a solution and pushed it up the hierarchy to the state and federal level.

    And now your unhappy with the fruit of your labors. Well boo-hoo and welcome to the real world where damn near everybody gets judged all the time.

  11. Mike in Texas says:

    Some more examples of Allen’s “say it enough times and maybe people will believe its true:

    And now your unhappy with the fruit of your labors.

    When did I ever say I was unhappy?

    Since I debunked your studies by finding those doggone exceptions that prove the linkage between lousy test scores and socioeconomic status is anything but clear, here you are pounding on the same, old cable

    You’ve never successfully debunked anything I’ve said and asserted

    I also noticed you dodge my question about my assessment. What do you say? If I get the highest rating on all 4 of the sections actually relating to my teaching do I deserve a bonus or merit pay?

    Oh, and about those high stakes tests? Get used to them because they aren’t going away.

    Hardly, 11 states have already refused to comply with NCLB or spend their money on it. More states will join, high stakes testing will be exposed for the harm it is doing, and hopefully teachers will take control of education, as it should be.

  12. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Why not just pay everyone the same wage?
    Why not require all cars to sell for the same price. What would happen to the quality of cars then?

  13. Andy Freeman says:

    > hopefully teachers will take control of education, as it should be.

    Unless teachers are planning on paying themselves, that’s not as it should be.

  14. Mike in Texas wrote:

    When did I ever say I was unhappy?

    You whine about the NCLB constantly yet it’s teachers like you who prepared the political ground so that seed could sprout. If there’d been any reasonable degree of state-based accountability then the NCLB would never have come into existance.

    Since one of the great “accomplishments” of the public education establishment has been to prevent the development of accountability mechanisms at the state and district level, the only way to prevent the NCLB or something like was to maintain control at the federal level. Well guess what? You lost.

    You’ve never successfully debunked anything I’ve said and asserted

    Yawn. Yes, of course. Wake me up when you’re through beating your chest.

    I also noticed you dodge my question about my assessment. What do you say? If I get the highest rating on all 4 of the sections actually relating to my teaching do I deserve a bonus or merit pay?

    Didn’t dodge it but there’s so little time and so much bullshit.

    For instance, you’re asking if you deserve merit pay for aceing your assessment.

    My answer? Of course not.

    A valueless assessment shouldn’t result in a real payoff and an assessments has no value if it doesn’t highlight the below-average performers as well as the above-average. Does your Texas assessment make it clear to anyone who wants to know which teachers are good and which teachers suck?

    Hardly, 11 states have already refused to comply with NCLB or spend their money on it.

    No states have refused to implement NCLB and you know it. The one article you linked – am I really going to have to go back and find the thread where you were exposed? – didn’t quite say what you claimed it did.

    …hopefully teachers will take control of education, as it should be.

    That’s already happening. They’re called “charter schools” and you can hope in one hand and start a charter school in the other and see which hand fills up first.

    And speaking (writing) of avoiding issues, how come you’re so quiet about my observation that charters are the one sure way to get the district bureaucracy off of teachers backs? A little too in love with the status quo? Or do you just enjoy complaining about a problem too much to be interested in solving it?

  15. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    you’re asking if you deserve merit pay for aceing your assessment.

    My answer? Of course not.

    A valueless assessment shouldn’t result in a real payoff and an assessments has no value if it doesn’t highlight the below-average performers as well as the above-average.

    Just as I predicted, you attacked the evaluation system. I wonder though; when you’re evaluated at work (assuming you’re not self-employed) isn’t it done by your immediate supervisor? The one who sees your work daily? But you would rain down some politician developed assessment system on teachers in a heartbeat.

    No states have refused to implement NCLB and you know it. The one article you linked – am I really going to have to go back and find the thread where you were exposed? – didn’t quite say what you claimed it did.

    Actually it did. 11 states so far have refused to buckle under NCLB or have refused to spend any state funds on it. EVERY other state has asked for extra funds over and above what the federal govt. is providing to cover the costs. Its only a matter of time before financial reality catches up with NCLB and states refuse to squander their limited budgets on high stakes testing.

    how come you’re so quiet about my observation that charters are the one sure way to get the district bureaucracy off of teachers backs?

    I’ve already commented on it. Charter schools have as much local bureaucracy as public schools, what they don’t have is the state bureaucracy (or the federal one) imposed on them. If the charter schools are doing one thing right its refuse to abide by the idiotic rules politicans create for schools.

    Didn’t dodge it but there’s so little time and so much *&^*&%.

    Careful Allen. Like personal attacks, vulgarity merely exposes your lack of a proper vocabulary, or the ability to use one.

  16. Allen, are you claiming that there is no linkage between socio-economic status and academic accomplishment, or merely that the correlation is not 1.0 (in other words there are exceptions)?

    If pay is based on either the student’s marks or student’s improvement in marks, it essentially discriminates against teachers who are teaching poorer students. It would be as bad as a basing doctors pay on survival rates and wondering why all the oncologists are quitting :-).

    If pay is based on principal assessment, you are basing on how well you get along with the bureaucracy, rather than the effect of the teacher upon the students. (And given the wildly different assessments I see of the same teacher by different people, likely very arbitrary.)

    Now, I think we all know tremendously successful teachers that everyone acknowledges should be rewarded somehow, and tremendous failures that we all think whould be let go. The trouble is that covers only the top/bottom 1 or 2 percent. Any program that is instituted is going to have a very real, and fairly arbitrary effect on the 96% of teachers in the middle where it’s not so obvious.

    Should the teacher be penalized this year because she had 6 disruptive students in her class (she handles those students better than anyone else on staff), and they disrupted the class for everyone? Should he be penalized because he finally gave up and decided it wasn’t worth the effort?

    Should he be rewarded because a student’s home life finally stabilized and he achieved his potential? Should she be rewarded because she spent the extra hours to really reach out and help somebody understand?

    The problem is that there’s not really a good way of assessing who should be credited/blamed. So, we end up with an assessment system that is only vaguely correlated with what we want to reward. (Yes, Mr. Freeman, there is a correlation, just not a big one.)

    The real question is whether an inadequate system better than no system at all. I won’t utterly rule out support for merit pay, but I doubt that it would make most teachers (including the better ones) more motivated and more likely to put in extra effort. Likewise, I doubt it would discourage the poor performers. Most likely it would have the effect I see in most large businesses. It simply becomes arbitrary reward/punishment while people do the job they’ve always done.

    Some people have jobs where the metric is obvious and connected to their efforts. The vast majority do not (we live in a complex world). I think teachers, like most jobs, are in the second group.

  17. Andy Freeman says:

    > If pay is based on either the student’s marks or student’s improvement in marks, it essentially discriminates against teachers who are teaching poorer students.

    Actually, the latter doesn’t, but this is the sort of mistake that West often makes.

    > So, we end up with an assessment system that is only vaguely correlated with what we want to reward. (Yes, Mr. Freeman, there is a correlation, just not a big one.)

    Except that West’s argument for “not a big one” is “it might not be perfect”.

    Moreover, even if we assume “not big”, that doesn’t lead to West’s conclusion that we shouldn’t use it.

    As I’ve pointed out before, no merit pay system for anyone satisfies West’s objections. Yet, lots of folks are subject to merit pay. Is it wrong for them? If not, why is it wrong for teachers?

  18. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Just as I predicted, you attacked the evaluation system.

    Really? Where did you make this prediction? Certianly not in this thread.

    Oh, and when I’m assessed by a superior, the assesment has real consequences. Not only do people get bonuses and promotions for superior results but they also get dinged, up to and including being fired, for poor results. Anybody ever get canned based on their poor assessments in the great state of Texas?

    Actually it did. 11 states so far have refused to buckle under NCLB or have refused to spend any state funds on it.

    Actually, you didn’t. The story you pointed to didn’t say anything like what you purport it did. All it said was that eleven states weren’t in compliance with NCLB. It didn’t say they refused to comply with the law.

    EVERY other state has asked for extra funds over and above what the federal govt. is providing to cover the costs.

    What!? Politicians demanding more money? I’ll alert them media right away. I’m sure that’s never happened before.

    I’ve already commented on it. Charter schools have as much local bureaucracy as public schools, what they don’t have is the state bureaucracy (or the federal one) imposed on them.

    You must have commented on it in the same place you predicted my attack on your evaluation system – your imagination.

    I await anything resembling proof that charter schools expend their limited resources on the sort of fiscal tumors that the district-based education system would be quite helpless without.

    Careful Allen. Like personal attacks, vulgarity merely exposes your lack of a proper vocabulary, or the ability to use one.

    I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself that you’re clever but that’s settling for a pretty poor judge, don’t you think?

    Tom West wrote:

    Allen, are you claiming that there is no linkage between socio-economic status and academic accomplishment, or merely that the correlation is not 1.0 (in other words there are exceptions)?

    Here’s what I said:

    Since I debunked your studies by finding those doggone exceptions that prove the linkage between lousy test scores and socioeconomic status is anything but clear

    What I’m claiming is that the exceptions prove that the correlation between socio-economic status and educational achievement overshadows a different problem. My claim is that being poor isn’t the reason for a lousy education – it’s, at most, a contributing factor. On a local, temporary basis those “other factors” can overcome both the inbuilt bias of any public education establishment for mediocrity and the exascerbating factor of poverty.

    The real question is whether an inadequate system better than no system at all.

    If only it were that benign a choice but it isn’t. The nature of public education makes mediocrity the best that one can generally expect and punishes excellence where it isn’t ignored.

    If excellence mattered in the public education system then the name of the teacher of the year would be on every teacher’s and administrator’s lips. If excellence mattered then most educational fads wouldn’t get beyond a gleam in some nameless academic’s eye.

    Excellence doesn’t matter and part of the reason is that it’s indescernable beyond the classroom. How do you expect to know what’s working and what isn’t if you aren’t even trying to measure for that quantity?

    Some people have jobs where the metric is obvious and connected to their efforts. The vast majority do not (we live in a complex world). I think teachers, like most jobs, are in the second group.

    Well sure. But that doesn’t mean that accountability shouldn’t be pursued. If the first attempt to develop a metric turns out to be a failure then you try again. Sooner or later some metric is developed which does a creditable job measuring what needs to be measured.

    But the current situation isn’t just the absence of a useful measure but of an active avoidance of any accountability mechanism. That’s a very different thing.

  19. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    the linkage between lousy test scores and socioeconomic status is anything but clear

    You have got to be kidding. There’s tons of research, the links to which I’ve posted in this forum before, showing the only thing standardized tests measure with any consistency is socioecomic status.

  20. Yeah, I’ve already had a look at some of what you like to pass off as “research” – a newspaper story and a survey of teachers by a teacher’s union.

    If the NCLB drops on the big, urban school districts like a nine-pound hammer, the one’s where most poorer people live and too which they send their kids, I say good.

    To the best of my ability to determine, the loathsomeness of a school district, in terms of their ineffectiveness at making education happen as well as their irresponsibility with the public dollars that run them, correlates positively with size.

    Oh, and by the way, if your “research” doesn’t take into account and explain the bothersome exceptions that just seem to keep popping up, it’s worthless.

  21. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself that you’re clever but that’s settling for a pretty poor judge, don’t you think?

    Not at all. Unlike yourself I’ve never had to resort to personal attacks or vulgarity so I’m ahead of your in that aspect.

  22. What? No vigorous defense of the status quo? No charges of teacher-bashing?

    How about racism? You wanna throw that scat at the wall and see if it sticks?

    I think what’s really sticking in your craw is that the wheels really seem to be coming off the wagon.

    The guys the NEA threw it’s weight behind in this presidential election and the preceeding presidential didn’t make it and the guy who did is showing himself to be none too shy about pursuing his policies.

    Can you say “NCLB”? I knew that you could.

    At the same time the mighty teacher’s lobby can’t elect their president, the party they think they own is starting to display some evidence of second thoughts on the subject of education.

    There’re more then a few Democrats who seem to have developed a taste for charter schools. How are you going to hold them in check if you can’t get your guys elected, hmmmm?

    And who’s lead are these renegades following? All you have to do is look at the statistics.

    What racial demographic has the greatest support for educational alternatives?

    Blacks.

    Tough choice, hey? Go with the teacher’s union and risk further alienation of the black vote. Go with the black vote and risk alienating the teacher’s unions.

    Decision, decisions.

    I know which way I’d go on the issue. Which way do you think that Democratic party will go on the issue?

  23. Tom West wrote:

    Now, I think we all know tremendously successful teachers that everyone acknowledges should be rewarded somehow, and tremendous failures that we all think whould be let go. The trouble is that covers only the top/bottom 1 or 2 percent. Any program that is instituted is going to have a very real, and fairly arbitrary effect on the 96% of teachers in the middle where it’s not so obvious.

    Oh come on Tom, if you’ve got some evidence that teaching ability isn’t spread along a bell curve then present it. Otherwise you’re just trying to make a case where none exists.

    But drawing attention to the extreme ends of the bell curve is probably worth some discussion.

    Do you think having one or two really lousy teachers in a school doesn’t have a bad effect on moral? Do you think the other teachers don’t get tired of making up for the shortcomings of the bottom 1%? Especially when they know that they’ll be doing that extra work for the rest of their working lives?

    I don’t know about you but if I had to work in an environment where the least able and least caring got paid just as much as me, I was expected to make up for their failures and there wasn’t any realistic hope that the situation would ever end, I think I’d have a tough time dragging myself to my job in the morning.

    I don’t think it’s at all difficult to make a strong case for the very worst 1% among teachers having a negative effect all out of proportion to their numbers.

    Wouldn’t getting rid of them be enough of a reason to institute hard-nosed accountability?

  24. Oh come on Tom, if you’ve got some evidence that teaching ability isn’t spread along a bell curve then present it.

    Of course it is, except for the fact that teaching ability is not one dimensional. I site the 1-2% whom *everybody* feels are exceptional at the ends. There are vast numbers who, for example, are loved by the parents but hated by the administration, or who are loved by the kids, but don’t consistently raise test scores. (My second favourite teacher certainly was almost incompetent in the subject area he was assigned to.) For those in the middle, you could certainly find someone who would dispute their abilities and their worthiness for merit pay.

    And of course, having a lousy coworker does sap morale. On the other hand, I’ve yet to meet anyone who worked in a large, old organization that actually thought all their coworkers were competent. Why? Because in the end, the metric that people used to measure their coworkers’ competency was (obviously) different from the one’s used by the coworkers superior. Suprise, the world is a complex place.

    As for getting rid of the “obvious” deadwood: Well, the trouble is that what is “obvious” is rather, well, not so obvious. The “I know it when I see it” doesn’t really cut it in our legal world. Even worse, whenever we do give someone the power to arbitrarily terminate people for “obvious” incompetency, stories of misuse of that power pretty much inevitably follow. To be honest, I’d be prey to the same tendency myself. After all, I trust *my* judgement enough to know whether someone is incompetent, and I don’t trust anyone elses (at least those who disagree with me). No doubt, you feel the same way :-).

    So, we’re stuck with either protecting teachers from arbitrariness, in which case the cost is being forced to keep a few “obviously” incompetent teachers, or putting all teachers at risk of arbitrary dismissal in order to weed out the few truly incompetent ones. It’s not a fun tradeoff, but it’s one that I can imagine teachers make fairly easily. After all, why should the good teachers choose to endanger themselves in order to deal with the few incompetents?

    Sooner or later some metric is developed which does a creditable job measuring what needs to be measured.

    That’s assuming that such a metric can exist. I doubt that teaching ability will ever be correlated more than .7 (probably more like .4) with actual student performance, presuming you could actually manage a double-blind study by cloning students and situations.

    You actually expect to have teachers accept that level of randomness in assessments upon which their pay depends? Not bloody likely. No matter what the assessment technique, every teacher can imagine themselves unfairly victimized. That fear would have to be a *lot* less than the chance of being fairly rewarded…

  25. Sorry Tom but the sort of “something bad might happen” hand-waving that you’re offering doesn’t impress me and, based on the continuing political strength of the educational alternatives movement, it isn’t impressing an increasingly large part of the electorate.

    Besides, the objections you raise to teacher accountability have to be viewed against a backdrop of precieved failure of the public education system. When it comes to their kids, do you think parents are going to be impressed by the argument that teacher accountability standards might not be perfect, or even all that good?

    Every time a parent makes the choice to enroll their kid in a charter, much less apply for a voucher, it’s an explicit rejection of the current model of public education. But for each parent that pulls the trigger on that decision there are plenty of others who, for one reason or another, don’t but give the thought consideration.

    These are the parents who see their children’s future’s at risk. How important do you think it will be to them that “every teacher can imagine themselves unfairly victimized” by a measurement scheme when they balance that against the education they want for their children?

    The argument that the measurement methodology is flawed will be met by a shoulder-shrugging indifference because an imperfect methodology is better then no methodology at all and no measurement. Once you’ve lost the faith of those you claim to serve you won’t reacquire it by finding shortcomings in the yardstick they’ll now use to measure you.

  26. Andy Freeman says:

    > So, we’re stuck with either protecting teachers from arbitrariness

    Why is this a goal?

    No one else is protected from arbitrariness. Everyone else is subject to things outside their control.

    Since I must choose between successful education and protecting teachers from bad luck, I’ll choose the former.

    Perhaps West will tell us why he chooses the latter.