Performance pay for teachers

I don’t really want to have a fight with Paul, but I disagree with his stance on performance pay for teachers. I respect Paul on many levels, and perhaps sometimes we should just agree to disagree on some things.

However, I find his attitude towards performance pay defeatist. As best as I can tell his argument can be summarized by this quote:

The problem is: how do you judge the teacher’s actual performance? How do you separate this from the abilities of their class? How do you know, empirically and repeatably, that they’re better than another teacher?

I think you can measure this. You can test basic skills at the start of the year, and then at the end. You can then compare this with the other students across the entire country at that year level, and determine what is an above average improvement based on statistical modelling. Sure, that wont test if a child is inspired to become a great artist, but the most important role of schools is to provide our children with the skills needed to survive in a modern society. If the artist can’t count and read, then they’re going to have a much harder life.

Now, I don’t claim that naplan is a perfect measurement system, but then again it is very new and it takes time to get these things right. Henry Ford didn’t go into his workshop and come out with a Toyota Corolla. Instead he built something relatively crap, and then the world iterated. Let’s give naplan time to iterate and improve before we write it off.

Another argument I’ve seen is that teachers don’t teach in isolation, and we should therefore not attempt to measure their performance. Its something about parents et cetera affecting learning outcomes. So, I have a couple of counter points. I also don’t work in isolation, given I work on a team with 700 other people, and yet we still manage to measure my performance. Perhaps that’s because part of my job is to advocate with others that they work on the bits that I need them to work on. Its the same with teachers — part of the job is to encourage and support parents as well as children, and to do whatever it takes to help the child learn. Surely we don’t want defeatist teachers who just give up if not everyone immediately falls over to help them out?

Also, the statistical sample for children at a given year level is huge, and surely if unsupportive parents is a problem, the statistics will handle that. This is especially true once we let the system run for a few years and gather some baseline data. Worst case if a school is in a disadvantaged area, or the teacher works with kids with special needs, then a tweak to the numbers can be applied to compensate for that.

Another thing which is huge is the proposed bonus pool — $425 million is a lot of money. I’m hoping this means a lot of teachers get a good bonus.

Ultimately this is too important a problem to just give up on because it is hard. When I went to school, a lot of my friends put teaching down as their last choice degree, not because they cared about teaching, but because it was a safe comfortable job out of the rain. We need to stop attracting those people to teaching, and redirect talented people there. To a certain extent people go where the money is, so if we can find a way to pay good teachers more money than they would earn doing real estate conveyancing, then that’s a good thing. The bonus scheme is part of that.

Anyway, I’m not really trying to convince Paul here, we can agree to disagree I think. I’m just trying to explain my stance.