Saturday, February 27, 2010

Allan Peachey: Performance Pay for Teachers

There is an elephant in the room of National Standards. That is performance pay for teachers. People around education circles are beginning to whisper it, a few have the courage to talk about it openly. Nobody who knows anything about how children learn doubts that it is the quality of the teacher in the classroom more than any other single factor that determines whether children learn or not. National Standards of themselves will not make children learn. The way that quality teachers use them will. If we accept that premise, then we have to ask why we are not prepared to pay highly performing teachers more than ordinary or poorly performing teachers are paid.

Those opposed to performance pay claim that performance pay will destroy the collegiality of teaching. They claim it is impossible to separate out top quality teachers from others. And they even argue as to what constitutes a top quality teacher in the first place.

I put my toe into the water of performance pay in “What’s up with our schools?” published in 2005. I have just re-read what I wrote and see no need to change a word of it:

“What we need is a fundamental rethink about how teachers are paid. The most talented people who are considering teaching as a career need to know that, if they make students learn, they will be paid a lot more than is currently available to teachers. The best and the brightest in the profession must be rewarded fairly, even if this means a total overhaul of how teachers are paid, and an end to the mediocrity of the collective employment contracts that are denying so many New Zealand youngsters and their teachers a fair deal. Bring on performance pay!

It would take another book to explore performance pay fully. Perhaps that book has already been written: Paying Teachers for What they Know and Do by Allan Odden and Carolyn Kelley (Corwin Press). There are also examples of performance pay being implemented in a small number of school districts in the United States.

Developing ideas of performance pay for teachers in New Zealand would lead to one of the greatest battles between governments and teacher unions in our industrial history. It is a battle that we might just have to have. Those who defend paying teachers according to their number of years in the job (and nothing else) claim that performance pay would discourage collaborative work practices in schools. I don’t accept this. Additionally, it seems to me that one of the things that most discourages our best young teachers is seeing far less diligent colleagues being paid considerably more simply because they have been in the job longer. It is our best young teachers who most need our encouragement and who need to be paid for ‘what they know and do’. We need to recognise that some teachers contribute a lot more to a school than others, and that this does not necessarily depend on longevity.

Years in the job may be one factor in salary levels under a performance-related pay structure, but there are others. I would add to Odden and Kelley’s phrase the words ‘and how much they do’. To illustrate: I want part of a teacher’s salary to be determined by their contribution to activities like drama, music and sport (the time they put in and the quality of that effort). There should be an opportunity for teachers who invest in their own ongoing training - and who thereby improve their teaching - to be rewarded.

Performance pay is a key to understanding what it is that constitutes good teaching today. It is part of the reprofessionalisation of teaching. Our willingness to tackle this issue quickly will show how determined we are to give every child the outstanding education that they will need for our country to succeed.

However, we must be careful. Look at what happened in England when the Blair Labour Government attempted to introduce a form of performance pay for teachers. The British Government’s objective was to reward and motivate teachers (the ones I define as being those who make students learn). In fact, the so-called performance pay became an increase for nearly all teachers who applied for it. And once such pay has been received by a teacher it is theirs for ever — there is no annual review and no effort to separate out those teachers who make students learn from those who don’t. In England, the teacher unions won again. Excellence and performance have no places in their vocabulary, and the losers are English school-children and the very best of their teachers. We are going to have to be much smarter than the British Government proved to be. Great idea Tony Blair - lousy implementation.

To summarise, these issues need to be dealt with before we can get any significant improvement in school performance: how we can use pay and pay structures to attract and keep our very best teachers (including top graduates who do not currently see sufficient future in teaching); and how we can enable young teachers to work and live in areas of high-cost housing.

There is a third issue to be dealt with when looking at how teachers are paid and how much they are paid. This is the matter of those subjects that are critical to the economic future of our nation. In the New Zealand of 2004 it is difficult to recruit enough capable people in pretty well all subjects. For example, over the last year or so, English has provided me with my greatest staffing difficulties, although I never thought I would live to see that day. Putting that to one side, it has always been very difficult to recruit and retain top teachers in mathematics and science. When these subjects are poorly taught at secondary-school level, too many students fail them or just lose interest. They go on to avoid them at university, so we have a shortage of knowledge in our economy and even fewer capable people to teach the subjects in our schools. However, basing teacher pay on the subjects taught is not the answer. That would mean paying too many poor teachers more than they are worth at the expense of those teachers who make students learn.

Each of the three issues above is in itself difficult to resolve, and when put together they start to take on critical proportions. There is only one answer, and that is much greater flexibility in pay arrangements for teachers to ensure that it is our very best teachers, whatever subjects they teach and wherever their school is located, who are rewarded for making a difference in students’ lives. This cannot be achieved under the current teachers’ collective employment contract system and it cannot be achieved through centralised pay-fixing mechanisms. The trouble with the present system is that every couple of years we see a lot of bluster and posturing by the teacher unions and the government until a settlement is reached. The settlement is always a one-size-fits-all pay increase: enough to keep poor performing teachers in the job, but never enough to motivate and encourage our best teachers to stay and to continue their outstanding performance both inside and outside the classroom. All the wrong signals continue to be sent and, in the meantime, students, parents and principals look on as helpless bystanders.”

Performance pay would quickly re-invigorate teaching as a profession.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I have some reservations about Performance Pay for the following reasons:
We all know we have a HUGE percentage of Welfare families in NZ and these tend to create clusters in geographical areas. Teaching in these areas becomes a challenge that many teachers are reluctant to take on, as the stress associated with the job is enormous - not only because of the abuse towards teachers, but also because of the poor resources and funding available to assist with the teaching. Schools and resources are regularly vandalised, stolen, wrecked, and it can be very disheartening for teachers who have given so much of their own time and resources having to start over again and again in the face of absenteeism, lack of support or interest from families and communities, and downright abuse, verbal, emotional and physical from students and communities alike.
"Teaching" time becomes focused on creating strategies for behaviour management which is an essential before real teaching can even be contemplated - how is a teacher to "teach" when students are climbing out windows and hurling abuse and threats at peers and adults alike. Gang mentality rules in some areas, and children in Primary schools are being used by gang adults for pedaling drugs and beating up others simply because they wear the wrong (gang-related) colours. Even the best and most motivated teachers find it hard to succeed in the circumstances. Are these teachers to be further punished by performance pay systems because their pupils don't succeed like those in high decile schools who have all the resources, and parental support necessary for such outcomes.
Not only will the teachers be punished for factors outside their control, but also the students who will end up with teachers who can't get jobs elsewhere.
I don't see Performance Pay as the answer to motivating teachers to work harder or better.
I think the emphasis should go on educating parents; on breaking up the power of gangs; on getting people off the Benefit Round-about and into earning their own money.
With an improvement in society as a whole, people are generally going to become more motivated and ethical, and standards will improve in all sectors, including teaching.