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

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5 thoughts on “Teachers deserve better

  1. Moataz
    If by that you mean attracting children to a school would be one element of a teacher’s performance appraisal, I’d support the idea.

    Rob Bishop made that point (see my 26 November post): “You can reward good teachers if they can actually attract clientele. And I’m positive even in the public school system if you have a public school system where their money is dependent on the number of kids they attract.”

    If you mean teachers who can handle large classes (say maths classes) successfully, so that one teacher is more productive in that sense, I’d be for recognising that in performance appraisal and rewards too.

  2. Roger said…
    interesting international reports have been published. Both show that teacher effectiveness is far more important than class size (another major teacher union issue here).

    Well, here is what such reports are missing. Teacher effectiveness is linked to class size. It means that those variables are inter-dependent, i.e., one will affect the other. This is when education experts are way off mark. They do their study using simple descriptive uni-variate statistics and not multi-variate.

    It is commonsense to see that if a single teacher teaches only 1 student (ratio is 1:1), then the performance of that student will be expected to be higher than performance of a group of 10 students taught by 1 teacher (ratio is 1:15), considering everything being equal. Why? The single teacher, single student class will cover much much more in a single class period in a one on one basis while the teacher with 10 students will cover less (with each student), since he/she doesn’t have infinite class time/hours on his/her hands (it is limited) to go into detail tutorials (one on one with every one). Thus the single teacher, single student class will have quality teaching compared to the single teacher, 10 students’ class.

    Now, the effectiveness of the teacher is clearly linked to class size and anyone who can’t see this fact in front of his eyes must be blind or being driven by a preconceived ideology.

    Here is a fact. A teacher doesn’t instantly become less knowledgeable when he/she teaches 10 students and become knowledgeable only when he/she teaches 1 student. The same knowledge is there whether he/she teaches 1, 5, 10 or 30 students. When class size is decreased, then effectiveness will definitely increased, but this is not what education experts tried to look at. They collected data on a single variable only (i.e., class size, etc) and come up with simple descriptive uni-variate statistics that doesn’t tell the full story, because other factors are not thought to be connected to the variable they’re looking at. This means that they assume independency (i.e., of various variables) from the word go.

    Anyway, I agree that teachers should be rewarded according to performance.

    I tend to dismiss, education experts’ opinions, because I think that most of what they have come up with in their types of (peer review) researches hasn’t changed the performance of students in (any) education system by much. Of course, there have been improvements from 3 or 4 decades ago, but students learning ability of today are not that much difference to students from back then over 3 or 4 decades ago.

    I coach math for primary student kids in the evening and when I have just 1 student in some evenings, then I cover much more in those sessions (i.e., more quality with less number of students). In evenings that I have 5 or 6 students, I tend to repeat what has been covered in previous night sessions because I didn’t have enough time with each one (i.e., to go one on one) in those sessions.

    There are currently 3 primary school kids (two 9 year olds and one 8 year old) that I am preparing for 2011 math Cambridge Exams in IGCSE-level (NCEA Level 1 equivalent or year-11), AS-level (NCEA Level 2 equivalent or year-12) and A-level (NCEA Level 3 equivalent or year-13). The 9 year old kid that’s preparing for Cambridge A-level is shown in the following 2 YouTube videos doing algebra and calculus.

    “Solving Simultaneous Equations”

    “Polynomial Differentiation Calculus”

    I have managed to accelerate the learning of my primary school students, since we have started at the beginning of the year, which is something I doubt that education experts know how to do. There are others who have done the same from around the world, i.e., teaching young kids (7, 8, 9 and 10 years old) higher level math, but those parents or tutors had never been education experts.

    Those parents/tutors (which I include myself) can see ways of how to accelerate kids learning capability/ability which the so called education experts seemed to have completely clueless about or have missed entirely of how to do it, despite their influences in education policy advises. My students are not gifted, because they haven’t been identified or regarded as gifted in their respective primary schools. This only shows that kids can be made gifted if they’re being given outside help.

    • We have performance pay for teachers right now – see this article. But it is surely a very crude system.

      Also many mechanistic systems like those mentioned in the article make no sense. Why not just move in the direction of most other employment arrangements?

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