Read The House, Premier. Performance pay for teachers ma…

(MENAFN – The Conversation)

Inevitably, whenever a politician is tasked with educational reform, the issue of performance-based teacher pay is brought to the table. It is truly strange that such a controversial idea can continue to make the rounds with such enthusiasm from government leaders. But that is exactly what New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet announced as part of his platform to reform education.

The policy is presented as innovative and designed to “modernize the education system“, according to the Prime Minister.

Read more: Nearly 60% of teachers say they want to go out. What will Labor do for an exhausted school sector?

The proposal drew strong criticism. The two largest teachers’ unions in the state – the NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union of Australia (NSW/ACT) – voted unanimously for a 24-hour strike on Thursday, June 30, as part of a dispute over wages and staff shortages. This is the first time that members of both unions will strike together.

It’s unclear if the Prime Minister had anticipated this kind of response, but a brief look at how similar proposals have been received in the past suggests it’s not terribly surprising.

The proposal ignores everything we have learned about why teachers leave the profession. We know they leave because of an unbearable workload, low morale, and stagnant pay.

Performance pay will not solve the fundamental problems that lead to the departure of teachers. This might make things worse.

Read more: Higher salaries could attract teachers, but salary is not among the top 10 reasons to leave

What is the evidence on performance pay?

What do we know about similar efforts to introduce performance pay for teachers? There is a lot of international evidence to rely on. Unfortunately, the evidence paints a grim picture of what performance pay might look like in the Australian context.

For starters, what is pay-for-performance? And why do government leaders continue to propose it as a solution to school reform?

Performance-based pay is based on a simple principle: good teachers should be financially rewarded for their excellent teaching. The idea is that teachers will be motivated to try harder, perform better and produce better results.

This may sound like a great idea. Don’t we want good teachers to be rewarded for their outstanding performance? According to decades of research, however, there are many problems with this premise.

First, we know that the best teaching happens when teachers are able to collaborate, share, and learn from each other. This only happens when teachers have the time, but also the motivation, to work together.

Performance pay, on the other hand, is based on a competitive model. Only the best will receive financial rewards. Others will be absent.

Creating this kind of competitive environment has damaged teacher collegiality, trust, and morale. At a time when teachers are already finding their workload unbearable, adding a layer of competition is the last thing that will help them stay in the classroom.

Read more: Performance pay for teachers will create a culture of fear and isolation

This requires a level playing field, which does not exist

One area that most pay-for-performance research is clear on is that such policies require very specific conditions to be effective. At the same time, this research shows that achieving perfect conditions is nearly impossible.

The only way to make performance pay fair is to create a perfectly level playing field for all teachers. Of course, that’s not realistic. Classrooms are messy and complex environments.

Students have varying backgrounds, different levels of privilege, and varying needs. Teachers are expected to teach all students, regardless of circumstance.

However, research has shown us time and time again that different benefit levels have a significant influence on results. When teachers teach in schools or classrooms with high concentrations of disadvantage, it is often more difficult for them to demonstrate achievement growth.

On the other hand, experts also warn of “ceiling effects”. When teachers teach high concentrations of high-achieving students, they also struggle to demonstrate learning growth.

In a notorious case in the United States, a teacher lost his performance pay for teaching high-performing students. His students had already performed so well that there was little room for growth in performance. This teacher went “backwards” because students did not meet their predicted scores – some better than perfect – under the state’s value-added model (VAM).

Florida’s value-added performance pay model penalized teachers of high-performing students.

Read more: Making better use of Australia’s best teachers will improve student outcomes: Here’s how

Decades of work have not solved these problems

These are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed before pay-for-performance can be considered a viable option. School systems around the world have been trying to do this for decades, with limited success.

What we have learned from these attempts is that performance pay is based on narrow measures of quality that inevitably lead to poor teaching practices. Not only is the policy outdated and ineffective, but international evidence shows that performance pay hurts teacher morale and collegiality.

At a time when teachers are leaving the profession in droves, this policy proposal threatens to further worsen current conditions. Now is not the time to take an already precarious workforce and impose policies that we know have had adverse effects elsewhere.


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Norma A. Roth