Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Performance pay for teachers--- yet another sideshow?

Performance pay---- Here we go again!

Here we go again. Every so often the Government (usually a National Party one) trots out the old ‘performance pay option.’  As with all ‘announcements of late, the real reason for any philosophical discussion emanating from the above source, is almost certainly driven by Treasury or National Party desire to cut spending. We are seeing it in many places at the moment. Hell--- they have just cut seven military bands to save a measly two million dollars.
We have seen health cuts, defence cuts, police reorganization (using civilians to save money) and attempted cuts to our Diplomatic Service--- the list goes on. What is interesting is the ‘stick your big toe in the water,’ strategy and if it gets burnt pull it out until the water is lukewarm. I don’t know how far they are in their planning for the latest ‘Educational Sector’ proposals.
Let’s take a closer look at the idea of performance pay. If it looks like a minefield then it probably is.  I would hate to be a principal, trying to decide who to award this extra money or who to punish by not awarding it. There are so many hooks, not just within schools, but between schools.
One would think that finding a yardstick to measure teacher performance will be a trial in itself. Who is going to say that this teacher deserves an extra incentive and on what basis it is awarded? Do we look at Asttle scores at the beginning of a school year and then give those teachers in English a reward for moving the students up a level or two? Do we take raw scores in other subjects and apply some sort of measuring device or do we reward the teacher who has gained the most NCEA credits in their classes? Too bad if you work in a school which is heavily ‘banded’ and you are the unfortunate teacher at the bottom end.
 I am trying not to be cynical here. There are many reasons why students don’t achieve just as there are for those who show an improvement throughout the year. Yes, much of that success can be achieved through good teaching, but that is not the whole picture.
Schools can and do make a difference in students’ lives. The home is also a critical factor. Socio-economic factors play a huge role in how much a student will achieve. If there is a strong Cultural Capital influence in a family, then students have a head start. If the role models for success are present in a family, then it is easy to make the link between success and not failing.
Our Government leaders will talk about examples of students who have achieved at high levels, despite their backgrounds or school. No doubt Paula Bennet will use her own example, but she is on shaky ground given that the very tool that helped her has been stripped away in previous cuts.
The debate about what makes an effective teacher has some commonality. Factors like personality, teacher training, good support structures, and on-going professional development are just a few. Put the same teacher in different schools and there can be a difference in outcomes.
Our teacher unions have possibly not done enough to inform rational debate about performance pay. They are too busy trying to retain the conditions they have fought for over the last several decades. Calls for performance pay are a smokescreen. I suspect that the Government/Treasury is employing the same tactics that they have used to sneak in cuts that they were going to make anyway. We need to be careful that other changes to our conditions aren’t slipped through while our eyes are turned elsewhere. Sounds a bit like the eye in the tower in ‘Lord of the Rings’ doesn’t it? While we are fighting this issue, perhaps they will quietly bring back real ‘bulk funding.’
Finally--- is there a similarity between the struggle that Ports of Auckland workers are going through and the debate about performance pay? I shall let you think about that.