Class acts

Ian Leckie
Ian Leckie
The Government's plan to increase class sizes has crashed and burned in the face of overwhelming public opposition. That has only added to the fog surrounding its intention to introduce performance pay for teachers. Shane Gilchrist reports.

"The single most important thing we can do to raise achievement is to improve teaching quality." Education Minister Hekia Parata's statement on May 16 might have come a week before the Budget but still it echoes, having prompted an outcry as shrill as nails down blackboards as teachers, principals and parents learned class ratios were poised to swell.

That Ms Parata was forced into a complete backdown this week, pledging that class sizes would get no bigger, was celebrated by many.

However, there is much in the Minister's education review that remains foggy, including the Government's proposal to develop a "teacher appraisal system" - in other words, introduce performance pay to the sector. Of the $174 million that was to be saved by increasing class sizes, $60 million was meant to pay for it.

Ms Parata said this week that investment could not now be made "at this time".

Patrick Walsh
Patrick Walsh
However, a statement from the ministry said it "remains committed to the priority of raising achievement and teaching quality".

The background issue of performance pay requires robust investigation, according to Darrell Latham, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago College of Education who works in the Centre for Educational Leadership and Administration and whose research interests include the politics of education.

The assumption behind the plan to make performance pay part of teachers' salary packages is that teachers will be motivated to do high-quality work if they know they are eligible to receive performance pay, Dr Latham says.

"School principals are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue. They must take all of the direct responsibility and accountability for what happens in their schools, but they don't really have a lot of control of teacher salary budgets or the financial resources to reward teachers for exceptional performance.

"On the other hand, they are expected to work collegially and in the best interests of the school.

"They are damned if they do and damned if they don't," Dr Latham says.

Currently, teacher performance is assessed each year by the school's principal and board of trustees, a Ministry of Education spokesman explains.

"A main purpose of the assessment is to attest, or agree, that a teacher can move to the next step on the base salary scale.

"In 2011, 99.9% of teachers able to move up a step on the scale did so. This is similar to previous years, and strongly suggests that there is room for more rigorous performance appraisal - and support for the boards of trustees and principals who do the appraising," the spokesman says.

However, the pressing problem for New Zealand schools and teachers is that the Ministry of Education has refused to say how much top teachers would earn under a performance pay scheme, Dr Latham says.

At present, the top of the base salary scale for teachers (after seven years) is $71,000. It is also near the average earned because about two-thirds of teachers currently have taught for seven years or more.

The base scale differs slightly in different sectors (primary, area school and secondary) and actual salary will depend on a teacher's qualifications and experience. A teacher's entry point on the scale is based on a salary qualification group; there are five groups, each with a minimum and maximum salary.

In addition, allowances (or units) recognising leadership and professional responsibilities add, on average, about $5600 to a teacher's base salary.

Patrick Walsh, president of the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand, believes the current system of teacher pay is inflexible, that it doesn't give enough discretion to principals and boards to reward high-performing teachers.

"What you have is a system where, unless you're promoting a teacher into a management position, there is no effective way to reward high-performing teachers or those who go the extra mile.

"Someone might become a head of department or a dean, but there are others who may wish to remain in the classroom ... We acknowledge there is a range of abilities within the classroom, from barely competent to inspirational. But unless we promote someone to extra responsibility, there isn't any other way - in the current system - to recognise that. Their pay remains the same.

"And that's the irony: those who are excellent classroom teachers get promoted out of the classroom, but that's the only way for them to get rewarded."

On the other hand, New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian Leckie believes that rewarding teachers on an individual basis poses all manner of problems, including hindering collaboration among school staff.

"The thing about performance pay is you're competing [against other teachers] for your salary. That goes against the collegial element," says Mr Leckie, who represents more than 50,000 teachers and support staff working in primary, area and secondary schools and early childhood centres, special education and school advisory services.

"Any pay system needs to recognise and encourage teacher effectiveness and quality. That's not necessarily about performance pay.

"That said, there needs to be a career path that keeps good teachers in the classroom rather than taking them out and giving them other responsibilities," Mr Leckie says.

"We are working at that at present with our membership, to develop career pathways and remunerate teachers appropriately.

"We haven't seen anything proposed yet so we welcome the discussion. It's a debate we wouldn't back away from."

Dr Latham says if Ms Parata wants techers to take performance pay seriously, the carrot will need to be reasonably substantial. It will have to avoid any perceptions of unfairness, as evidence suggest that is demotivating. And even if those hurdles can be crossed, there is a growing body of research that shows bonus pay is unsuccessful in raising student achievement.

It might seem a little obvious to state, but any system that bases pay on performance requires a rigorous definition - and measurement - of that performance.

John McGill, chief executive of Strategic Pay, a consultancy firm that deals with both the public and private sector and has worked with universities, polytechnics, local government and the Ministry of Education, among others, says performance-related pay is not difficult to implement.

"All the tools and processes for performance-related pay are well-understood and used in many other sectors. You can measure performance with any professional group."

However, Steven Grover, a behavioural ethics expert at the University of Otago's department of management, contends it is "impossible" to exactly measure performance.

"It doesn't matter what industry you're looking at - it could be in manufacturing, service industries, whatever - if you are looking at measuring numbers, people will find a way to manipulate those numbers," Prof Grover says, pointing to a 2009 teaching scandal in Atlanta in which teachers and principals in 44 schools were found to have altered test answers.

In some United States jurisdictions, test scores are the main criteria in teacher evaluations.

"In Atlanta, they had a pay-for-performance issue quite similar to what they are trying to introduce here for teachers."

Though no-one is suggesting New Zealand teachers would do the same, measuring a teacher's ability solely on the basis of a pupil's test results is too narrow a lens. On this, all those interviewed for this article agree.

Dr Latham: "If National Standards are used as a basis for performance pay systems then we are in for a factory line production approach. The current standards lack consistency and are being implemented differently across the country. Using them to judge teacher performance would provide a distorted picture."

Mr Walsh: "It is about added value. Regardless of where a pupil sits on the academic spectrum, if a teacher can demonstrate they have added value to that child's education, then that is the key. In the modern education environment, we collect a huge amount of achievement data, so it is not as complex as people might think."

Mr Leckie: "If you were going to use student performance data from a narrow area - say, a single subject - then it is very difficult to say that one thing reflects a teacher's ability. It is also difficult to say it is the result of that year's teacher."

Mr McGill: "It doesn't have to be an unhealthy focus on the teacher whose class is getting the highest grades; there are a number of other things that make a good teacher, such as the ability to keep good discipline within a classroom, the ability to engage with the kids and also outside the classroom with parents and colleagues."

Mr Grover: "You have to have multiple performance measures, which are levelled at both an individual level and a group level. Quite often people need to work as a team to make things happen." Shane Gilchrist asks the Ministry of Education to explain its proposal for performance-based pay for teachers.

Hekia Parata
Hekia Parata
The ministry explains
Q In her pre-Budget announcement, Minister of Education Hekia Parata stated, "a teacher appraisal system will be developed over the next two years in collaboration with the sector, to ensure it is robust and helps improve performance". Can you be more explicit about the timeframe and details of investigations into performance-based pay for teachers?

Engagement with the sector about teacher appraisal will start later this year. The focus will be on how principals can use good appraisal, based on clear standards, to drive up teacher quality, to recognise and reward our outstanding teachers, and to support improvements when required. It's important to recognise that performance pay is just one option for reward and recognition of excellent teachers.

Q Are performance-based rewards the most effective way of motivating teachers and/or raising teacher quality (and therefore pupil outcomes)?

A Not on their own. As part of a suite of measures to raise teaching effectiveness and lift student outcomes, performance-based rewards can provide the right recognition and motivation to teachers. These don't always have to be in the form of pay.

Q Please explain what research justified/prompted this move towards performance-based pay for teachers.

A We refer you to the report of the Education Workforce Advisory Group, "A Vision for the Teaching Profession". This report discussed ways to raise the status and profile of our teaching profession overall.

The value of appropriate recognition and reward, and the need for principals to be well supported to do effective appraisals and lead performance improvements is discussed in this report, along with other aspects of the workforce strategy such as improvements to initial teacher education, and more career options, in addition to management, for excellent teachers.

Q What methods of appraisal might best serve our teachers - and therefore our pupils' education?

A This is what the Ministry of Education will be engaging with the sector about. Clearly, any appraisal system must be rigorous, consistent, and based on clear standards, use multiple sources of evidence, and should lead to appropriate outcomes for the person being appraised.

Q Is it possible National Standards results would be used to determine teachers' performance?

A Any rigorous appraisal system must use multiple sources of evidence and feedback. National Standards and other achievement data would naturally form part of a teacher's appraisal.

Answers were provided by a Ministry of Education spokesperson on behalf of Hekia Parata.

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