Sunday, February 25, 2007

On teaching and performance pay

You may be aware that the Howard Government is pushing for a system of performance pay for teachers--one in which parents and students will be given a say in both the evaluation of teachers' performance and the determination of what they should be paid. True to the Lib/Nat's authoritarian-Right bully-boy form, Education Minister Julie Bishop has stated that while she will discuss the initiative with her State counterparts, if they don't fall into line she will make it a condition of funding. Ninglun has been covering this issue in some depth of late, and those of you who are elitist enough to listen to Radio National might have caught the Background Briefing programme on performance pay this morning.

I'm new to the teaching myself, and as I remarked at Ninglun's, I think this is a disgraceful proposal--even if it might end up being little more than rabble-rousing rhetoric on the part of a Government that is getting nervous about its own performance in the polls. In a nutshell, I think it is unfair and unjust to have teachers' performance--not to mention their pay--evaluated by those who lack qualifications and expertise as teachers. Bishop insists that by having parents and students appraise teachers the latter are being treated as professionals. But can you recall the last time you had any input in what your doctor or dentist earns? Having unqualified individuals with zero teacher training determine what teachers get paid will only undermine their status as professionals. Even the spotty kid who cleans the fry vats at McDonalds has the benefit of having the quality of his work adjudicated by someone who with a modicum of retail experience and training--at least more than he possesses.

Allow me to summarise the Howard Government's attitude towards education thus: Any idiot can walk into a classroom and be a teacher; the actual teachers are just those who are stupid and desperate enough to do it. Why shouldn't we shit all over them?

Other objections:

1. Students in higher socio-economic areas tend to do better than those in lower socio-economic areas. If teacher performance is to be measured in terms of student performance, those who teach in schools located in wealthier suburbs will have an unfair advantage over those who do not.
2. Prove to me that a method exists for measuring all dimensions of what a teacher is expected to do that is objective, mathematically-sound, and able to be translated into a dollar figure? (Or is it all down to how students perform on standardised tests?)
3. A curriculum that emphasises standardised testing as its chief mode of assessment = a dumbed-down curriculum. (e.g. Teaching to the test, etc.)
4. As Ninglun suggests--and as experience in the US reveals (according to Background Briefing)--paying teachers according to standardised test results will give some teachers a greater incentive to fudge their students' results.

Evidently the Libs believe that teacher-bashing wins votes, but I foresee an accelerated exodus from the profession if this ridiculous scheme ever sees the light of day.

A thoroughgoing analysis of this topic is provided by Jim Belshaw. (Via Ninglun)