Julie Bishop announced today a sensible approach to improving teaching standards in schools by means of a two-pronged policy: (i) Giving school principals the right to sack poor teaching performers and the right to refuse to accept teachers transferred to them who don’t match up and by (ii) providing, from 2009, performance pay bonuses, to be awarded by principals, to teachers on the basis of their teaching performance rather than their seniority in the profession.
Principals cannot improve the quality of their schools if they are not in a position to sack poor performing teachers and to reward those with extra money who go the extra yard. Almost everyone who has been through the Australian school system or who has children in that system knows that there are teachers in both camps.
Watch the Labor Party, the dinosaur teacher unions and the left-wing educational think-tanks kick and scream over these proposals. Sacking incompetent teachers - how unfair! Paying good performers more than average performers - how unfair! To the disreputable, teacher unions a teacher’s job is a lifetime position with automatic salary increments paid the longer a teacher has served irrespective of skill.
The arguments that salaries on average are too low or that teachers are currently overworked - if true - have nothing at all to do with the performance pay issue. They have to do with the determination of average salaries and workloads. Salaries are too low and workloads are too high if there are teacher shortages in the schools.
What is decisively unfair is not paying high performing teachers their worth. Performance pay bonuses advantage good teachers.
Some commentators distort the issue by arguing that such measures will not improve the average level of skills of teachers in schools. This drone, for example, believes that paying all teachers higher salaries – irrespective of performance - would achieve the objective of improving average skill levels and that paying people different salaries is divisive. What a ludicrous argument from a former headmistress!
The Australian Council for Educational Research wants a highly codified formula for assigning performance pay and more support for the sorts of educational research it carries out. There is no need to tie performance pay to absolute levels of education performance. Schools do operate in different socio-economic strata with students of different ability. The requisite formula must involve a dimension of value-added – the issue is how much are student educational abilities augmented by an education experience?
That is the only catch in a payment-for-performance incentive contract. Measuring performance in a way that won’t encourage ‘corner-cutting’ (or outright cheating) by teachers. Criteria must reflect educational value-added, teachers must know the criteria they are being assessed on and teachers must be be given the opportunity to improve their teaching skills by furthering their own education.
This is one way of improving educational outcomes in our public and priivate schools.