Teachers deserve better

This year New Zealand parents and the public at large have been witness to a number of unseemly events in education as teachers, the trusted educators of our children people who should be held in high esteem by society, have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Broadly, the situation has arisen from two issues:

  • Teachers’ objection to national standards – a system designed to help parents understand their children’s educational progress, and which is official government policy (remember teachers are public servants).
  • Teachers demanding, and striking for, higher salaries that are completely disproportionate to other sectors, having regard also to their recent pay rises – especially in the wake of the GFC.

Of course, not all teachers are implicated, but this is the danger with a highly unionised profession – the few acting on behalf of the many spread the opprobrium around.

Here are some examples of how this is playing out in the media:

  • A Dominion Post editorial slammed teachers with the headline ‘Get back to work greedy teachers’.
  • Blogger Whaleoil was leaked documents which show that the national standards boycott campaign is paid for by the principals’ associations – which are ultimately funded by the government and the taxpayer.
  • The Dominion Post reports a group of insurgent principals contrived to “quietly take over” a school trustees association representing 90% of school boards in a bid to silence parents who support measuring their children’s performance through national standards.
  • A principal compared the Minister of Education to Hitler.

Unfortunately, this has all reflected very badly on teachers.

Meanwhile, two interesting international reports have been published. Both show that teacher effectiveness is far more important than class size (another major teacher union issue here).

In a media release announcing the launch of the Grattan Institute’s Investing in Our Teachers, Investing in Our Economy, the author Dr Ben Jensen said:

Measures to improve teacher effectiveness will deliver better value for our children’s learning outcomes, improve Australia’s economic productivity and be a better use of public funds than reducing class sizes.

Improving teacher effectiveness benefits our children. Young people who stay in school longer can expect to earn an additional 8-10% per year for each additional year of education they undertake. A 10% improvement in teacher effectiveness would improve student performance and productivity, increasing Australia’s GDP by $90 billion by 2050.  

Another report by British think tank Reform echoes the need to focus on teacher performance:

The new Government wants to improve the quality of teaching. In July 2010, the Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Education Select Committee: “The single most important thing in education is improving the quality of the educational experience for each child by investing in higher-quality teaching … There is simply no way of generating educational improvement more effectively than by having the best qualified, most highly motivated and most talented teachers in the classroom. Everything should be driven by that.”

This is absolutely the right focus.  Academic research suggests that the difference in a pupil’s achievement between a high-performing teacher and a low-performing one could be more than three GCSE grades. The Coalition is right to move on from the debate about class size, which has a much smaller impact on pupils’ achievement than teacher quality.

As reported by the NZPA, class size was one of the ‘pivotal demands’ that the PPTA have held strikes over, yet both these studies indicate that teacher quality is far more important.

However, in New Zealand we don’t even measure teacher quality in any serious way – and quality teachers aren’t rewarded properly.

The answer is improved pay arrangements for teachers so as to reward performance.

Coincidentally, my attention was recently drawn to a post on Red Alert some time ago by MP Kelvin Davis titled Performance Pay for Teachers. He writes:

Roger Kerr made the comment, “How hard can it be? Surely schools aren’t that complex?”

I’m interested in the performance pay model Roger has in mind.

Well, it’s very straightforward – see this article of mine titled Teachers Should Be Rewarded for Performance that appeared in the Otago Daily Times. Essentially I argue that performance should be evaluated not by simplistic metrics (like test results) but by the kind of evaluation processes used in most other walks of life, especially other professions.

Teaching is an honourable calling. Unfortunately unions, and rogue individuals and groups, are besmirching the profession in New Zealand. They would do better to be more reasonable with their salary demands, accept national standards as official government policy (while continuing to debate their application), and open their minds to being paid according to their performance – like almost all other professions. It is in their interests. 

Let’s hope New Zealand policy makers take note of some of the recommendations in these two useful reports.

The full Grattan Institute report is here

The full Reform report is here

Teacher sacked for telling the truth

A British deputy principal has been sent home after she ‘exposed shocking failures in Britain’s broken school system’. I saw the clip (below) of Katherine Birbalsingh’s rousing speech and was impressed by her forthrightness and honesty.

The Daily Mail reports:

Katharine Birbalsingh won a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference after she delivered a damning indictment of ‘utterly chaotic’ state schools.

But she was sent home from her school in Camberwell, South London, after her speech, and has now lost her job as a deputy head teacher at the inner city academy. 

Defiant Miss Birbalsingh, 37, insisted she did not regret her strongly worded attack, in which she said teachers were ‘blinded by leftist ideology’ and refused to admit they were failing children.

She said she was surprised by the response to the speech but added: ‘I don’t regret it, it had to be said. I’m pleased I did it. ‘It was never about me; it was about a school system that is fundamentally broken. I want people to take notice of what I’ve said and demand change.’

Teachers and students in New Zealand also suffer from the problems of a state-dominated system. Greater school choice and autonomy are badly needed including with employment arrangements. Good teachers are tarred with the PPTA’s brush over excessive wage demands, and held back by their collective refusal to contemplate performance-based pay. It would be nice to hear some speak out in a similar vein.

Here’s Katherine’s speech (hat tip: Steve Blizard):

 

Teachers’ union to send students home

The NZPA reported this afternoon that secondary school teachers are set to strike this week after their union rejected increased pay rises offered to them.

I have blogged before on the absurdity of not paying teachers according to their performance. Leaving that aside, when are teachers going to realise that New Zealand is trying to claw its way out of a recession?  To have any hope, the government must control, if not cut, government spending. PPTA member teachers are government employees, and just as other government employees have accepted wage freezes, teachers should also accept that these are tough times. But we’re not talking about wage freezes for teachers – they’ve actually rejected an increase and are striking for an even higher pay rise.

I’ll re-paste in some HoS figures from my other blog:

The plain fact is that the average secondary teacher salary is now more than $71,000 or $1365 a week. It has risen since 2000 by more than 45 per cent – almost twice as fast as wages in the public sector as a whole (24 per cent) and the private sector (25.3 per cent).

And to put that into perspective, the graph below shows that public sector wages are still much higher than in the private sector.

Click to enlarge

So teachers are striking. And it is students and parents who suffer.

The strikes mean year 9 students will be rostered home on Wednesday, while year 11 students, who were to be rostered home last week, will now be rostered off on Thursday.

Ministry of Education workforce group manager Fiona McTavish said the ministry was “extremely disappointed”.

“There is absolutely no justification for PPTA to walk away from bargaining a second time,” she said.

Parents, students and the rest of the general public can rightly feel extremely disappointed too.