Value-adding, performance pay, and similar 21st century superstitions

24 Feb

Like invading Iraq in 2003 or like building a cross-city tunnel, Julie Bishop’s “idea whose time has come at last” slouches towards Canberra to be born, and like those other great moments of politics you can be sure the result will be a nightmare at worst or a waste of time and money at best.

Come on, given that teaching is quintessentially a human transaction, a human relationship, why not apply this contemporary Fordism to marriage or parenting? Why not? Now I am no expert on marriage or parenting, or indeed on Iraq or cross-city tunnels, but I have been a teacher and/or tutor for more than forty years, and I am here to tell you loudly and often that the current philosophy (if that is not an abuse of the term) embraced by the Howard government in general and Julie Bishop in particular is barking up quite a few wrong trees.

The econometricians, statisticians and various other shamans who have been dreaming all this up should be put back on medication as soon as possible and then ignored, except when they care to tell the truth as has Lawrence Ingvarson, a research fellow at the Australian Council of Educational Research, who was commissioned by the Federal Government to research performance pay for teachers.

The report has not been made public [suspicious, that — N], but the federal Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, has said it supports her push for performance pay in all schools. She maintains that student results should be a key determinant of teacher quality and has suggested asking principals, parents and students to rate teachers…

Dr Ingvarson declined to comment on the report, which he co-authored, but when asked about his general views he told the Herald that existing test data could not be used as a reliable measure of individual teachers.

He said teacher merit pay had been tried in the US and failed and that giving principals power to hire and fire could lead to a messy cottage industry with no common standards for performance. “If we leave it up to the school it leads to cronyism and favouritism,” he said. “We can’t do it well until we have developed methods of assessing teachers that stand up to very critical reviews of their validity, reliability and fairness.”

Dr Ingvarson said value-adding data, which measures the progress of students by comparing their test results over the years through high school, was a narrow measure of teacher quality.

“Any methods of assessing teacher performance need to reflect the complexity of the knowledge and skills of good teaching. No one form of evidence provides a sufficient basis for providing valid or fair judgements.”

Dr Ingvarson said student questionnaires could provide a reliable source of evidence about teaching, but “only in conjunction with a lot of other evidence”, such as samples of student work. You can’t just waltz right in and take a hand count of students,” he said. “You need to do it using instruments like proper questionnaires that have been properly evaluated and validated.”

The principal of Riverside Girls High School, Judy King, said Ms Bishop’s plan to base teacher pay rises on student results was “ridiculous and indefensible”.

Judy King is a damned fine teacher. I would listen to her rather than Ms Bishop any day of the week, I can tell you.

For further discussion, see John Garnaut and Anna Patty, “Teacher bonuses: you do the maths”.

There are disadvantages in the status quo on teacher salaries AND (especially AND) working conditions. The current suggestions are simply going about the problem in quite the wrong way, rooted as they are in the assumption that teachers by and large are either terminally lazy and of dubious competence, or so left-wing and trendy they should be shot. That works fine on A Current Affair or talk-back radio, but as an underpinning of government policy it sucks. (Again, see Literacy — Why I reject Kevin Donnelly’s educational analysis.)

A site also worth visiting for a few home truths is Fair Test (USA).

Jim Belshaw has promised to look at the issue of “teacher performance pay” from a management perspective. I look forward to that. On Monday too the rather dull Difference of Opinion may have a few interesting points to make on the subject; I will watch it.

We’ll examine the state of our national schooling system, the funding of private and public schools, and ask ‘are our teachers as good as they could be’ . The merits of merit pay and the federal governments move into education through the push for a national curriculum, a rethink of values and the way subjects like history are taught. Also the introduction of chaplains in schools, are these the right people to be providing counselling to our kids?

Too many issues in too short a time, though.

If Donnelly is on it I just might throw my TV out the window, mind. 😉

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One response to “Value-adding, performance pay, and similar 21st century superstitions

  1. AV

    February 25, 2007 at 11:02 am

    If Bishop’s plans for performance pay are really more than just rabble-rousing rhetoric, all it will do is accelerate the exodus of teachers from the profession. It is unfair and unjust to have one’s performance as a teacher judged–and one’s level of pay determined–by those who lack qualifications and expertise in teaching. Even the lowly McDonalds employee usually has the benefit of having his or her performance at work appraised by someone with a modicum of retail training.

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