Teacher! Measure thyself!

March 22, 2007

Why is our public education system in such dire straits? Is it a lack of funding? Is it the poor standard of teachers? Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has a remedy for both: funding contingent on performance based salaries.

To be clear, I am not against performance based criteria for pay increase (although I do think that there are other criteria which should be taken into account, and length of tenure one of them). That is generally how it is done in private industry, and provides incentive and rewards for excellence in the field.

However, what I do object to most strongly is that:

  1. Any such criteria be set by the government rather than the individual schools
  2. Such an enormous amount of funding should be contingent on compliance, despite a complete lack of evidence that the proposed changes are needed or will have an effect sufficient to justify the expenditure.

Federal funding is provided to the schools, and it is the schools themselves who contract and hire the teachers to meet their individual requirements. As such, if anyone should be setting performance criteria surely it is the schools themselves? Why should the government be able to specify standard criteria? And would such standard criteria also apply to private schools who receive government funding?

And look at the proposals:

At an education ministers’ meeting next month, Ms Bishop will ask the states to consider three performance-based pay models. The first would assess teachers by how much their students improve academically;

Based on improvement or overall academic standing? Because there is an upper limit on academic achievement – how do you improve past a certain point? Are academic results the best metric of student development at all stages of the education process? Is this providing teachers incentive to lower their standards or finesse student development to maximise their earning potential?

the second would rank teachers according to the views of their peers, principals, parents and teachers;

I love peer review. Peer review is just great. Peer review is just about the best thing ever. But parents? How are they qualified to make objective assessment of a teachers performance? Probably about as qualified as teachers are to assess parental performance.

and the third would allow bonuses through a merit pool.

I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean.

So. No support from ministers, no support from the industry and no evidence to suggest that the proposal offers a solution to a problem which has not itself been demonstrated to exist, let alone justify such a huge outlay of tax dollars. Brilliant.

Imagine running a business like that. Or rather, imagine raising your children like that – because that’s what this will be.

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