Monday, May 21, 2007

You Can and You Must Measure Teachers

To anyone who has worked in private enterprise, the idea of paying staff according to their ability is, well, common sense. To pay an employee more because of their length of service or because they have a PhD would provoke an outcry amongst staff. The idea of a meritocracy is not only fair and just, but one that is accepted by all workers. Yet in the teaching profession, a meritocracy is still an alien and feared concept. A new study by economist Dr. Andrew Leigh, linking teacher performance with student results, may go some way to ending this inequitable situation.

The study examined the literacy and numeracy test results of more than 90,000 students with more than 10,000 teachers in Years 3, 5 and 7 between 2001 and 2004, tracking the same group as it advanced through the school system. It found that classes taught by the best teachers scored twice as high as those taught by substandard teachers. The top 10% of teachers were able to achieve in six months what the bottom 10% of teachers took more than a year to do.

Interestingly, the study found that additional qualifications, such as a masters degrees, have little effect on results. The study found that demographic differences between teachers account for less than 1% of the variation in their student scores, suggesting other factors such as a teacher's IQ or classroom skills are much more important.

"It's been something of a mantra that all teachers do about the same but this shows there are big differences between teachers. Currently, the factors we take into account are just experience and extra qualifications such as masters degrees. This suggests that's not rewarding the big differences in the profession." according to Dr. Leigh.

Education Minister, Julie Bishop said the findings questioned Labor's policy on linking teachers' pay to gaining higher qualifications, given it found teachers with higher professional qualifications, including masters, were no more effective in raising their students' scores.

Pat Byrne, the federal president of the AEU, which rejects the idea of linking teachers' pay to their performance, said yesterday she did not always agree with Dr Leigh's methodology or conclusions and wanted to see the research before commenting.

Whenever this subject is discussed, teachers are quick to retort that it is impossible to measure teacher performance. However Dr Leigh was confident that anyone in a school would know which teachers would score among the best in his study.

"The principal knows; other teachers know; the parents know; there's a huge degree of consensus about this. Teacher quality matters. A poorer teacher makes a big difference to your kid; poorer teaching can drag kids down."

Indeed. It is absurd and nothing short of scandalous that teachers claim there is no way of determining which teachers are good and which are failing their students.

What is the incentive for good quality, young teachers to go that extra mile if their reward is to be passed over for promotion yet again by a mediocre colleague just because he or she has been at the school longer.

Update; The NSW State Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, has said he is open to a system of merit pay not based on student results.

The president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Jim McAlpine, said the council's plan would be "based on merit rather than performance" (what? this is nonsense-speak).
He described performance pay as "a very narrow performance measure"

How sad that they are prepared to prioritise teachers' pay over childrens' education.