Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sack poor-performing teachers & pay performance bonuses to those who teach well

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.


Conrad DiDiodato said...


I've been an educator in Canada for twenty-four plus years and the notion of tying salary to performance, in a publicly-funded system, is rife with self-contradictions!

Seniority is a hard-earned privilege that mustn't be tampered with. Everyone can recognize the 'bad apples' out there by the smell they leave behind. We know who they are: parents, kids, administrators. The good will be good, the bad, bad, in any type of educational system!


conrad said...

Its still seem excessively focused on the teachers, versus the managment. When can we sack the principals? And to what extent are the current problems caused by the teachers versus the managment? Given some of your positions, I'm sure you must realize managment (and the government for that matter -- they are after all responsibile for the curriculum --which people falsly attribute to the teachers) is just as responsible as the lower level staff.

A major problem with it is that it also in effect takes a condition of employment away (i.e., job security) -- but this is not compensated for by anything (like more pay). Surely the obvious consequence of this is to restrict further the number of people entering the profession. Why spend 3 years learning how to do a crappy, poorly paid job with few benefits? I guess its far easier to score political points by offering a cheap one-line fix than worry about the consequences. I'm glad you noted that, although I don't see any suggested fix.

hc said...

Conrad, If there is an excess demand for teachers at current wages then they need to be paid more.

Increasing the effective wage by providing something called 'job security' is not a fix if it means that people who cannot do their job properly remain employed.

Moreover while enabling people to be sacked might reduce incentives the prospect of a good teacher being able to take home $100,000 annually if they outperform well, might be attractive to strong university graduates who enjoy teaching.

I am not attacking teachers. There are good ones and very poor ones. The point is to reward the good ones to provide incentives for effort and provide incentives for those who can't do their job to retrain por to upgrade their skills or to get out.

conrad said...


I agree with you. But no-one is yet suggesting how to get teachers paid more (like, where will the "bonus" money come from?). Until someone answers that, its just cheap shots and cheap suggestions. If we got rid of all the poor maths teachers, for instance, there simply wouldn't be maths teachers, and poor job security isn't exactly going to attract replacements.

No-one is attacking managment too. Somehow or other these guys get off any responsibility -- yet I presume almost anyone in the education sector should realize that a lot of the responsibility (perhaps most) lies on these guys. Not doubt all the crazy government employment rules make a difference, but in the end, bad managment means bad employees.

hc said...

Conrad, I think the Minister is expecting higher salaries for good teachers.

The situation with maths teachers is scandalous. Maths departments around the country cannot secure undergraduates and yet there is an enormous need in schools. Plenty of people studying marketing, sports management and tourism.

Clearly a case for paying maths teachers much more.

derrida derider said...

I've got no problems in principle with performance based pay. But the devil really is in the detail - badly designed incentive schemes are worse than useless as they destroy the efficiencies of collegiality while not giving the right individual signals.

Given that, I absolutely don't trust some Tory minister and her bureaucrats in Canberra to impose an appropriate scheme on my kid's local school.

hc said...

DD. Don't you think you should drop the Tory stuff. Why not just focus on the issue not the politics?

Do you really believe Labor will do a better job managing education? Do you recall John Dawkins?

I agree its difficult to designb incentive contracts that target quality. But the ideals of maintaining high academic standards and/or increasing educational accomplishment can be translated into useful value or value-added indicators.