Thursday, January 17, 2008

Performance pay for teachers

Iain Hall has a post on the case for merit pay among teachers. Its seems 2/3 of teachers Australia-wide believe schools are having problems retaining staff and, of those, 70% believe that paying extra to those with additional qualifications and those who are most competent would stem the tide. The sample included about 1/3 of all teachers in Australia.

The Australian Education Union refuses to support merit pay – the Victorian Branch just wants a 30% unconditional salary increase over 3 years with a maximum class size of 20 students.
Teachers must reject the trade unionist ethics that dominate their profession and it seems they do. Why then do teachers end up with trade union representatives who are such deadheads? Bring on performance pay with a vengeance and give at least 100% bonuses to teachers who really excel in their profession.

Adverse incentive effects (selecting only initially bright students, cheating on performance testing) can be overcome with ingenuity. The key objective should be to increase student thinking abilities and enthusiasm for education particularly basic education.

We should provide teachers with incentives to improve their performance and give ambitious, hardworking teachers the opportunity to earn a really good salary that rewards the socially-worthwhile task they carry out.

10 comments:

The Editor said...

Hi, Harry. Couple of points here:

1) Iain Hall has done nothing more than reprint an article from The Oz and repeat its conclusions as his own opinion.

2) The size of the Australian teaching workforce (according to the ABS) is just over 250,000. Not the 40,000 claimed by The Oz

3) It's important to separate "performance" and "merit-based" pay systems. Simply put, performance pay rewards teachers based on little more than student results while merit-based pay rewards teachers who continue to actively further their professional knowledge and develop their practice.

Teachers, roughly speaking, support merit-based pay and don't support performance pay. The main problem is that it is practically impossible to fairly judge teacher quality using quantitative student academic performance as an indicator.

A lot of teachers disagree with the thrust of the union's preferred salary structures but look at the alternative -- the government has to be pressured to even award barely-CPI increases to wages. Who'd be a teacher when the most you'll ever earn without leaving the classroom is barely $70,000?

This issue is so much more complicated than a simple (incorrect) paragraph in a newspaper or a one-question poll of handful of teachers. It's certainly more complicated than Iain Hall's cut-and-paste commentary.

Spiros said...

Harry

I agree in principle but it's hard to measure performance in practice. I teacher I know whose Y12 students got excellent results told me that they could have taught themselves. Teasing out the value added brought by the individual teacher, as distinct from the school environment in general, the leadership by the principal, the students' innate ability, the home environment, the peer effects from other students, is no trivial task.

The alternative to performance pay is to pay all teachers more to attract good people into teaching but coupled with far less job security, so that the bad ones can be easily fired. I reckon bad teachers do more harm than good teachers do good.

derrida derider said...

The devil is always in the detail - in my experience you really can't say whether performance pay is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing unless you get down to the tin-tacks of specific schemes.

Given the known incompetence of most education bureaucracies if I was a teacher I'd be very wary of the idea. On past form they'll come up with a shocker that will do far, far more harm than good.

conrad said...

I completely agree with you DD. However, I think its worse that the devil is in the detail, because any detail is likely to detract from the overall support -- even if it isn't completely botched. I imagine that would be true even of really simple things like "lets pay people with maths degrees $10K more", since then everyone else would think they are missing out.

Iain hall said...

The facts of the matter is that I make no apology for citing the Australian article in my post and my conclusion about the large variance between what the ATU advocate and what teachers themselves claim to want in the survey was not explicitly part of the piece although I do think that it was implied.
Scott Bridges (aka the editor) has issues with me and seems to resent my style of blogging but even a cursory inspection of his own blog does not find a paragon of blogging virtue or any kind of example to aspire to. It is also worth noting that although he clearly has a stake in issues pertaining to the payment of teachers (as he is one) such topics do not find their way into his own writing rather than the snarky whines about conservatives(anyone to the right of Mao that is)or whingy pieces about problems with his ISP.
Cheers

hc said...

To all, The correct incentive contract is one based on intellectual value-added. How much do teachers add to student performance?

This has equity-promoting effects since the biggest potential for improved academic performance comes from students starting with low starting scores.

I agree that the scoring system will inevitably be complex but anything is better than nothing.

Offering teachers the chance for productivity-linked salary increases will induce greater effort and confidence in the profession.

The universities have elaborate schemes for assessing teaching performance and sometimes provide cash bonuses for quality teaching. They are however invariably 'level' rather than 'improvement' oriented.

I don't think merit pay does the trick since it can lead to credentialism without an impact on student performance.

By the way I agree $70,000 as a terminal achieveable pay scale is hardly likely to induce entry to the profession or to keep staff in the profession.

I would have thought double that would be about right but not across the board - only to those who value add in a significant way.

conrad said...

I disagree that a complex scoring system will inevitably be better than nothing. Rules cost money to implement, have administrivia costs and cause weird behavior. I point to the wonder of DEST points in this respect, which as far as I can tell caused large numbers of people to waste large amounts of time killing trees. In addition, the postitive outcomes (which I'll take as high impact stuff) from those rules were essentially zero. Why do you think this wouldn't happen in a high-school teaching context?

The Editor said...

I broadly agree with you, Harry. I think that, in principle, performance pay is something that needs to be implemented but fair and effective implementation will be very difficult. None of the models so far placed on the table by governments or research bodies have been even close to fair and effective so far. At the risk of looking like I'm promoting my own blog I'll point you to a post where I discussed these issues at length. It's probably easier than doing a big cut-and-paste job into this comment.

One point I'll repeat from that post is that (despite the fact that teachers should not have to fund education out of their own pay packets) I reckon most teachers would forgo large pay increases if governments resourced government schools better. Not the piecemeal trickle of pathetic grants for flagpoles and stuff, but the provision of grounds, buildings and academic resources that the larger private schools take for granted. Try to find a functioning class set of protractors in most public primary schools.

I have one response to a point you made above:

This has equity-promoting effects since the biggest potential for improved academic performance comes from students starting with low starting scores.

I'm not so sure about this. Every student has the potential to progress relative to their own starting points -- low or high -- and teachers have a responsibility to facilitate maximum achievement for each student rather than uniform achievement. Every classroom and school comprises students with a range of abilities and personal levels of achievement. The bulk of the students will be middling with outliers on either side. The high achieving student has just as much right to be extended well beyond his or her peers as the low achieving student to be extended as far as possible.

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