Further thoughts on performance pay for teachers

13 Apr

This is on the agenda of the meeting of education ministers in Darwin at the moment: Education meeting: performance pay could be sticking point.

MICHAEL TURTLE: While the Labor ministers are trying to present a united front, the truth is they all have different levels of support for different proposals. But there is some consistency in their opposition to the federal plan for merit-based pay for teachers.

Julie Bishop says she’s willing to talk about different options, but her original plan used students’ marks as a deciding factor.

The Northern Territory’s Paul Henderson is worried about what that will mean for his remote schools.

PAUL HENDERSON: What Julie Bishop is proposing and the way she’s proposing it, would see all of the best teachers really sort of coalesce around the best schools in the urban areas in the CBDs of our cities, and that’s not in the best interests of all of the students in Australia.

MICHAEL TURTLE: And Western Australia’s Mark McGowan puts it like this:

MARK MCGOWAN: If Julie Bishop is so committed to performance based pay, perhaps John Howard could apply it to the Federal Cabinet, and we could have Cabinet ministers paid on this basis. He hasn’t done that because her model will not work.

MICHAEL TURTLE: The meeting will continue this evening and tomorrow morning.

Mark McGowan’s point is one I made myself last Saturday! I have been, as you may see, very chary about this issue.

It was a nice coincidence that when the latest Teacher Magazine from the USA appeared in my emails yesterday it featured Just Rewards.

In a recent opinion piece, 2003 National Teacher of the Year Betsy Rogers argues that the traditional teacher-compensation system is unfair and ultimately harmful to schools. Referencing new recommendations made by the TeacherSolutions group (of which she is a member), Rogers says that teachers’ salaries should be determined in part by their level of initiative and their success in helping students learn.

What’s your view? How should teachers’ pay be determined? How best can teachers’ performance be judged for compensation purposes? What role can teachers play in redesigning school-compensation systems?

The ongoing discussion there is worth visiting. Certainly the detail of such schemes really needs to be carefully examined and not ideologically driven. There have been very bad models of “performance pay” tried already, not to mention the odious “payment by results” of the 19th century. However, one can sympathise with some of the points made by Betsy Rogers.

A few years ago, an excellent young teacher asked a question I could not answer. Nodding down the hall at a distant figure, she wondered: “Why do I get the same pay as Ms. Early?”

Her real name is not “Early,” but I always think of her that way, because she effectively took “early retirement” years ago. Unfortunately, she’s still a member of our faculty at Brighton, a high-poverty K-8 school on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, where I’ve served as the school-improvement coach since completing my term as National Teacher of the Year in 2003.

During my NTOY experience, I spoke many times about my belief that all children deserve—and must have—quality schools staffed by well-prepared teachers who know how to help them succeed…

Also in an earlier issue of Teacher Magazine is a valuable article, with resonance here in Aboriginal education, Cultural Studies: “For Navajo children, a rigorous program draws on tradition to spur achievement.”

Ask Marilyn Begay why the Navajo-immersion school where she is a 5th grade teacher has fared well in meeting student-achievement goals under the No Child Left Behind Act, and she’ll say it’s because the school integrates Navajo language and culture into its curriculum.

Put the same question to Maggie Benally, the school’s principal, and she’ll credit instruction driven by analysis of students’ test scores. The Navajo Language Immersion School—Tséhootsooí Diné Bi’ólta’, to use its Navajo name—made adequate yearly progress in all subgroups under the federal law last school year, Ms. Benally said, because “the teachers know exactly where their students are in terms of data.”

The K-8 school with 235 students in the Window Rock Unified School District, here on the reservation of the Navajo Nation, draws on both Navajo tradition and modern accountability tools to improve student achievement…

Even some of those who admire the achievements of Tséhootsooí Diné Bi’ólta’ caution that the results may be difficult to replicate.

John L. McIntosh, the principal of the 527-student Window Rock Elementary School—which failed to make AYP with a similar population—agreed that the immersion school’s performance shows that a bilingual approach can work. But the fact that it has fewer special education students put it in a better position to make AYP than other Window Rock elementary schools, he said.

Delia Pompa, the vice president for education for the National Council of La Raza, a Washington-based Latino advocacy group that runs a network for charter schools, sees a connection, though, between culturally relevant curricula and school success. “If you use relevance as a big umbrella, you can’t leave out culture and be successful,” Ms. Pompa said. “We need to look at culture in broader terms, beyond ethnic culture. We need to look at culture as inclusive of community values and of youth culture.”

In the Window Rock school system, tools such as surveys have informed the district about what local parents want for their children’s education.

“Right now, our states set the standards; we don’t,” said Jennifer Wilson, the federal-projects coordinator for the district. “But here, because we are on the Navajo Nation, we are teaching our children through the culture and language.”

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Posted by on April 13, 2007 in Aussie interest, Current affairs, Education, Indigenous Australians, Multiculturalism and diversity, News and Current Affairs


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