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The Problem With Performance Pay for Teachers

By   /  March 8, 2014  /  42 Comments

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Tying teachers’ wages to test results does not improve their performance. Research just out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (UK), reveals that where salaries in similar school catchment areas differed by around £1,000 ($2k), “the higher-paid teachers did not perform any better than their less well-paid colleagues.”

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The usual suspects are mooting performance pay for teachers again, proposing government reform to extend the teacher pay scale based on performance factors.

The report is a farce, and John Morris should be ashamed of his part in it.What’s the point pretending it is an independent and rigorous consideration of the issue, when it is authored almost two years after Hekia made it clear the government fully intends to implement PP?  It’s a foregone conclusion that they will try to force it through, much as they do with everything else.

Hekia chimed in this week to say all would be well because the application of PP would be “consistent and rigorous”.  She is apparently oblivious to the fact that applying rules consistently is pointless if the rules themselves are based on a faulty premise.

So let’s get to the nitty gritty.

What’s the problem with PP?  Why do teachers not want it?

A Barrier to Good Practice

PP is a barrier to teamwork as people become more self-interested and start to fight it out for the available pay rises.  This is a disaster in schools, as it means teachers are less likely to share resources, share best practice, or ask for help.

Teachers worldwide have been warning that PP’s negative effects:

singlaughlove Tweet

This is totally contrary to what is needed for great teaching and learning.

Carrot and Stick

Tying teachers’ wages to test results does not improve their performance. Research just out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (UK), reveals that where salaries in similar school catchment areas differed by around £1,000 ($2k), “the higher-paid teachers did not perform any better than their less well-paid colleagues.” Source.

It’s no surprise. There is a mountain of evidence to show that PP motivates employees to focus only on doing what they need to do to gain the rewards – in other words they learn quickly to jump through the hoops. Worse than that is that the hoop-jumping takes place at the expense of those things that would help students, the school, and the education system as a whole.

So not only does PP fail to raise standards, it actually lowers standards.

Testing times

It cannot be stressed strongly enough the error of using National Standards, NCEA or any other test results in assessing the performance of teachers. Hekia Parata has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of National Standards data in judging who gets performance pay.  Indeed the new PaCT Tool has been developed with that totally in mind, as all students’ “standards” will be tagged to a teacher.

performance-pay-paradoxFor a start, you have the serious concerns around the reliability of test scores and grades.  Last year a whole section of National Standards results was moved down by the Ministry, with no input from teachers or principals.  How would that affect someone’s chances of getting their performance pay?  What if the results were moved for unscrupulous reasons by those in power?  It’s happened, trust me.  Which leads me nicely into another concern.

PP leads to people at all levels of education, teachers included, massaging the figures, either consciously or unconsciously.  Quality teaching and learning makes way for more hoop jumping, with teachers feeling pressured into coaching students not to become good learners but just to pass tests.    There is evidence of lenient marking and plenty of cases of just plain forging results.

How any of that helps the students is quite beyond me.

Attracting and Retaining Great Teachers

Performance pay takes no account of factors outside the control of the teacher.  If PP is related to test/exam results, it is likely to lead to many of the most experienced teachers avoiding the most challenging communities, schools and students, concerned that social factors affect students’ achievement, which in turn would lead to a decreased chance of the teacher meeting whatever benchmarks have been set for PP.

So, over time, some schools will have difficulty filling positions.

Wait – aren’t we meant to be giving more help to those in most need?

This is all so totally counter-productive.

Motivation

As most teachers know, as soon as you start offering extrinsic rewards to modify behaviour, you are seriously off track.  Such measures crush intrinsic motivation, which is essential in all but the most mechanical of jobs. PP is also linked to decreased job satisfaction and lower self esteem.

This explains it brilliantly:

We already have a serious issue with job satisfaction in the education sector, top to bottom. What we don’t need is for staff to be even further beaten down – we need motivated, energetic teachers who are respected and trusted.

Your Homework

Recent research done by Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) showed that performance pay for teachers “is deeply flawed, and is yet to work anywhere in the developed world” and suggests instead that teachers should be judged against “rigorous appraisal against professional standards or criteria”.  Like we already do.

Huh! So why change?  Well, despite the fact that it is the better way, the current system doesn’t suit Hekia and co.

Your homework now is to start asking yourself why.

.

Further reading:
Special Topic / The Problem with Performance Pay

Tying Teacher Pay to Test Scores Does Not Work

Teacher performance pay gets tick – NZ Herald – Thursday May 3, 2012

National Standards ‘may aid rating of teachers’ says Parata

Why do teachers not want performance pay?

Peter Greene Knocks the Highly Qualified Teacher Talk Outta the Park

 NZPF Launches PaCT Tool Position – 17 June 2013

‘PaCT’ sent packing by teaching profession

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42 Comments

  1. raegun says:

    This whole thing just makes me shudder, especially seeing as I have school age grandchildren, who are blessed enough to be receiving alternative education (and I mean alternative). Through all of this I am absolutely in favour of it. It is I just believe it can be offered and offered more widely, under the current system, easily, if people’s minds were open to different concepts and ways of learning. Kids learn differently, so why not different methods of teaching within, horror of horrors, a single school. Be far less expensive, I reckon.
    This lot bothers me with its focus on the 3r’s so much and lack teaching the whole person, from gardening through to cooking through to healthy lifestyle choices, through to developing a child’s natural enterprising or artistic nature, to a bit of economic sense. Educate the whole person, not just that bit that will get it a job.
    There is too much emphasis on “job ready” which kind of sounds to me like we are just turning out people who can do someone else’s bidding, well I want my grandkids to seek their own fortunes wherever possible, not just automatons turned out for corporations to make profit from their work.
    It might sound all free-markety and so on, but it really feels more like the results will better suit an authoritarian regime, myself.

  2. unsol says:

    “PP is also linked to decreased job satisfaction and lower self esteem”

    Only if you fail to meet the targets & don’t get a bonus!

    PP works well in all other sectors so why not teaching?

    Of course I agree there is an argument in terms of favouritism & the process not being objective, but such things can be worked around. Plus any PP always has an out in terms of reviews whereby the employee can dispute the PP outcome.

    Given that most teachers are fairly assertive I can’t imagine they would have difficulty pushing for a review if they felt their PP assessment was not accurate!!!

    I have come up against favouritism in the workplace; anyone who has seen me online knows that I can be pretty feisty & not afraid to go against the grain & stand up against what I consider to be BS. So you can imagine in an environment that was clicky & where career opportunities etc depended on whether was in favour I quickly fell out of favour. This started to impact my PP so I took it further and I found the second you call the bluff of the bullshitters they buckle. It doesnt matter whether you are in with the ‘in crowd’ – if you are good at what you do then you get rewarded accordingly. If you don’t you take it further – DOL if you don’t have a PP review option in your workplace.

    So I don’t see any reason why we can’t have something similar with teachers.

    Good teachers will always be rewarded handsomely & those who tend to be on release every other day will soon find out that this is not in their best interest; good teachers are those who are actually in the classroom 90% of the time & I think it is time we had a system that encouraged this.

    • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

      Actually, PP does not work well in most sectors. Watch the video, read the MIT research and the other research out there. And it leads to lower morale even in those who do get the PP, not just those who miss out. That’s the irony of it – it lowers standards, morale, output, etc and does not a jot to improve things for the students. Good teachers will always work hard to do the best they can for their students – poor teachers will try to find ways around any measures put in to make them improve. The carrot and stick method just does not work.

      • unsol says:

        Like I said, I understand the reservations, but that does not mean it has no validity whatsoever. It is a useful tool to weed out the useless – the ones who often escape under the radar, who appear to be productive, but achieve very little.
        Fighting against Hekia is just a distraction; parents are saying the current system of teacher assessment is not working so if not PP then what?

        • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

          But it is not a useful tool at all. If the tool causes more problems than it solves it cannot be deemed useful.

          The parents I talk to are overwhelmingly happy with the teachers they come in contact with. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent randomly discussing how teachers should be assessed, let alone saying PP is the way to go. Do you have sources for that assertion so I can read up, please?

        • mpledger says:

          I don’t know any parents who are saying the current method of teacher assessment isn’t working. I would guess most parents don’t even know how teachers are assessed.

          I would assume that most parents think that the professional training that teachers have had make them competent and that is as far as they have thought about it at all.

        • Andrea says:

          How (does this ‘weed out the useless ones)? Have school principals and mentors for the newbies opted out of doing their teacher development work? How come THEY are missing the mismatched teachers/classes? Don’t they earn enough to do this job well?

          And who does the weeding? And what makes them ‘right’?

          And who are you pleasing?

          And who are you supposed to be serving?

          And why are teachers being treated as if they’re on some weird production line for Every Widget The Same! Produce 100 extra clones and get a mighty $100 more!

          Why?

          Is that the sort of school you longed to go to?

        • ” It is a useful tool to weed out the useless – the ones who often escape under the radar…”

          No one has yet to explain how this “performance” will be measured.

          Against what standard?

          And how will it take into account the different learning abilities and backgrounds of 30-plus kids in each classroom?

          How do you compare teachers from two different classrooms – one from a predominantly pakeha area (Epsom) or mixed ethnic groups (Porirua), where the latter has 30-plus kids where English is not even the predominant language spoken at home?

          It’s like we’re trying to compare children as if they were like two assembly lines from two factories producing cans of beans.

          In what manner can we compare children to cans of beans?

          If we’re going down that route, the question begging to be asked is; what teacher in his/her right mind would want to work in a school with disadvantaged kids?!

          The teacher would find his/her “performance” marked down through no fault of their own.

          Meanwhile, in a Decile 10 school in Remuera, where the children are predominantly of one or two cultures, and where education has higher value in their family homes (see: http://www.thepoliticalscientist.org/pennies-from-heaven-or-a-corpse-flower-by-any-other-name), teachers would have a much easier time with their students.

          These are just a few of the complexities that exist, and which undermine the puerile concept of “performance pay”.

          Children are simply not comparable to standardised consumer goods.

    • AB says:

      “PP works well in all other sectors so why not teaching?”

      No it doesn’t – PP is usually a fiction, or at best an approximation, unless the task being performed is really, really simple .
      This is my experience of 20+ years trying to administer performance reviews and performance pay in the private sector.
      If I have 4 software developers, a test engineer, a couple of BAs and a project manager working on a small-medium development project, it simply isn’t possible to unpick their individual contributions from the whole. The only thing that vaguely works in terms of bonuses is to set team goals and try to create a sense of collective responsibility for the whole project and an unwillingness to let you mates down. To make it work you actually have to de-individualise it.
      Again – this is pure ideology from the Nats – their incompetence is exceeded only by their malevolence

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      PP works well in all other sectors so why not teaching?

      You didn’t watch the video did you? The video that explains why performance pay doesn’t work.

      • Mike says:

        I think that in this case TDB is right. Performance pay cannot possibly work in the teaching profession.

        Why? Because teachers in NZ are an incredibly strong pro-socialism, pro-big government pro-collectivism lobby group. They are strong enough in their collective will that if they decide as a group not to support a certain government initiative or report, they will sabotage it to the point where even the best ideas are made to look like a complete disaster.

        It doesn’t matter how good the idea is or how well it has the potential to work, if a minority of childish closed minded nay-sayers decide that it would in some way put them outside their comfort zone, you can be rest assured that it will not fly.

        • Darridge says:

          “It doesn’t matter how good the idea is or how well it has the potential to work”
          Watch the video. It is not a good idea. It. Doesn’t. Work.
          This is an incredibly well researched area, with studies in many many many contexts, and it has been conclusively shown performance pay not only doesn’t work, but when the task becomes more cognitively challenging it actually makes things go backwards.
          Google gave up on the idea this year, why on earth would we want to try it on those responsible for educating our young people?!?!?!?

          • Mike says:

            Well well, first the teachers want a pay rise, then they are led to believe extra pay is no incentive to improve their lot. There must be hundreds of boards of trustees up and down the country wondering why they are paying their teaching staff up to $3500 per management unit when it is not money that they actually need.

            Yes I did watch the video, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the real reason that when we are asked to associate performance pay with more of a cognitive challenge is that maybe we want the extra money as of right but we are just too lazy to do anything extra in return.

        • Draco T Bastard says:

          Oh noes, it’s the fault of the big bad socialism, waaaaaah

          /sarc

          You don’t have an argument and so you go straight to ad hominem. You really are working overtime to deny reality.

          • Mike says:

            Yes Draco, I am anti-socialism, but no more than most readers of this blog are anti capitalism, anti John Key and anti progress. What I said was merely a statement of fact based on experience.

            I do have an argument and I went to the trouble of articulating my thoughts on the matter, unlike you Mr Bastard, who in this case have contributed nothing other than sarcasm, revealing an attitude and intelligence as shallow and childish as said teachers.

            • YogiBare says:

              Definition of AD HOMINEM

              1: appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect

              2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made

            • Draco T Bastard says:

              I am anti-socialism, but no more than most readers of this blog are anti capitalism, anti John Key and anti progress.

              LOL

              Dude, I’m anti-capitalist because I happen to think that listening to the psychopaths about how to run a society is self-defeating but I’m also the one pushing for NZ to have its own space program.

              And, no, you don’t have an argument – all you have is your stated hatred of socialism.

              BTW, in a democracy the people are the government. Making it any smaller than that turns society into an oppressive dictatorship – as we have now.

            • darridge says:

              “I couldn’t help but wonder if the real reason that when we are asked to associate performance pay with more of a cognitive challenge is that maybe we want the extra money as of right but we are just too lazy to do anything extra in return”
              the studies have been done in almighty capitalism as well, and have been SHOWN NOT TO WORK.
              Which part of this do you not understand? The science is very, very clear. You pay people enough to take money out of the equation and give them the freedom to do their job well.
              Just as a by the way, money is NOT an issue for most teachers. They are not clamouring for more – I don’t know where you get that idea. The performance pay issue, therefore, is completely moot. There must be another reason for wanting to implement it.

  3. Pasupial says:

    The NZInitiative is the Business Round Table’s current mask. From this post’s first link:

    “The New Zealand Initiative, a business-led think tank, contracted former Auckland Grammar School headmaster John Morris to write three reports on the state of the education system, with the final release today recommending that teachers be paid according to performance rather than experience… Morris is the chairman of a transition board tasked with creating Educanz, and was appointed to the role in November by Education Minister Hekia Parata… Morris said he was surprised by the PPTA’s reaction and disputed that there was a conflict of interest.”

    As for why? It seems that the public education system is being targeted for future privitisation.

  4. Tom says:

    “PP is a barrier to teamwork as people become more self-interested and start to fight it out for the available pay rises.”

    Would you oppose a system such as that in the university, where there are pay rises but any teacher who performs well can get them, as is the case (or used to be) in universities?

    Otherwise, thanks for a good article.

    • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

      Can you tell me more about that system, Tom. How is “performs well” determined? I’d like to know more.

      • Tom says:

        You publish decent stuff in decent places, you get promoted. Doesn’t matter if your colleagues have been promoted.

        • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

          That doesn’t work for classroom teachers, though, Tom. If a uni educator’s worth is measured on publications, so be it – who am I to argue, since it isn’t my area of expertise at all. But in schools it’s more customary to focus on the students.

          • Tom says:

            All that means is that teacher effectiveness would have to be measured in some other way.

            I can’t see a reason for complaining about performance pay if it is available to every teacher who reaches a certain standard. That’s different than making it so that only the top 10% get it, which would destroy collegiality.

        • Ovicula says:

          In the English speaking countries, if you bring money into the university, you get promoted. Publications in high quality journals are very much a secondary factor these days. My view is that this approach works very well to improve the wealth of some academics, and maybe even the knowledge in some narrow areas, usually those of interest to financial institutions or the military industrial complex, but has a very negative effect on the university as a whole.

  5. Allan Alach says:

    I suggest people who think performance pay works in any situation read Daniel Pink’s book “Drive – the surprising truth of what motivates us’ or if reading is too hard, watch this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

    and also Pink’s Ted Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation”

    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation

    However I’m not holding my breath for PP proponents to open their minds to the possibility that they don’t know what they are talking about – ideology over evidence any day…

  6. Allan Alach says:

    There’s another aspect to performance pay spin – the implication that teachers are not giving their all, and that the prospect of extra $ will make them pull their finger out. The vast majority of teachers give their all to ensure that their classes receive the best possible learning experiences. There’s nothing left in the tank. Anyone who suggests otherwise hasn’t had much involvement in schools. But as usual, that doesn’t stop ignorance.

    • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

      You’re totally right, there, Allan. I am constantly in awe of how many teachers not only do the work they have to do but then spend their own time researching, finding/adapting/making resources, attending online conferences, talking to other educators, coaching students, and so on. By their very nature, teachers normally go the extra mile and then some.

  7. Tom says:

    This performance pay is absolute garbage. Teachers are motivated to work, they just need to be paid a little more than rabbits feed each week. Secondly we have an over crowded curriculum. So if we were to fine tune and make our curriculum more compact then technically you will be creating less of a workload for teachers and a much healthier working environment. You would also see a greater shift in reading, writing and maths (the only thing the Government measures and gives a shit about) so in turn the Government would actually SAVE money without introducing performance pay and teachers would be happier as well.

  8. Lesley Muray says:

    Taking a slightly different angle, from the jaundiced perspective of someone who is a full-time teacher but is obviously viewed as a volunteer by Novapay (zero pay to date this year), how on earth would they manage a system even more regulated and complex than it already is? How many more wouldn’t receive any pay?
    Then there is is the issue of teachers working with learning disabled students, where would they fit with PP?
    I almost dread reading comments online because when-ever there is an article which makes complete sense to those actually working in the classrooms, as opposed to those with their hands on the purse strings, or those who attended school once so have an intimate working knowledge of what is great practice, you get accused of being left wing/trendy eco-hippies etc etc (as if all those things are inherently bad anyway), and the whole comments thread turns into a different beast altogether.
    Having worked as a teacher/special needs teacher/teaching Principal/high school teacher/relieving Principal/visiting teacher over the last 29+ years working with students from 3 to 19 yrs of age, there will always be those who are amazing and those who need a tad extra assistance and support, whether we mess with pay/scales/incentives or not. PP isn’t the answer- and I suggest it’s even the wrong question.

    • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

      “there will always be those who are amazing and those who need a tad extra assistance and support, whether we mess with pay/scales/incentives or not. PP isn’t the answer- and I suggest it’s even the wrong question.”

      Amen to that.

  9. BEATINGTHEBOKS says:

    Incentivisation will work, especially if applied carefully. It might take years but you will see educators who come into the teaching who would previously have seen low pay as unattractive. There are reasons why private schools score better and also grammar zones, simply higher quality teachers, who are paid better, with smaller class sizes, 1 cannot teach 30 as well as 15. What I would like to see is an initiative that would improve teacher ratios in Maori, why can’t some treaty settlements allocate to their tribes an educational entitlement to their kids, ( even if they don’t live in the tribal area their blood line entitles them to it), to improve literacy and numeracy, they are the future after all. Education is the first step to getting Maori out of prison, and improving their health stats. Main stream education does not address the fact Maori were a stone age people a very short time ago, the challenges they face are enormous, the main teachers ( their parents) need to be educated themselves before they can teach their kids sums and spelling. I believe they need special help and the Treaty of Waitangi settlement belong to all Maori, not just the fat cats who dominate Marae meetings. Once you teach a kid to read they can educate themselves, But if you don’t you condemn their whole family to endless poverty.

    • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

      You seem to be making these statements (that it will work if done carefully) having not read a jot of the research about PP – not even watched the video above. It doesn’t matter what you “feel” might work – the research tells us very clearly indeed that not only does it NOT work, it is destructive.

      At which point people need to ask, if it is clearly destructive, why would government want it? Perchance to destroy public schools so they can be privatised?

    • Beatingtheboks;

      Incentivisation will work, especially if applied carefully. It might take years but you will see educators who come into the teaching who would previously have seen low pay as unattractive.

      As I asked Tom and Unsol above – how would you measure performance so as to “incentivise” teachers?!

      No one seems to be answering this most basic question.

      Because you can measure performance and outcomes, when the starting points of children vary so wildly.

      And how would you “incentivise” teachers to work in areas with multiple ethnicities; low income families (low decile); and special needs – all lumped together. No teacher would want to work in such schools if they risked labels of “poor outcomes” and”poor performance”.

      Better to work in more risk-free schools where children in high decile schools generally come from more affluent families and have more access to resources.

      There are reasons why private schools score better and also grammar zones, simply higher quality teachers, who are paid better, with smaller class sizes…

      You mean the ones subsidised by the tax payer so that the children of the “elite” can continue sending their children to these “better”, “higher quality”, schools?!

      Funny how Right-wingers demand choice- then expect taxpayers to fund their lifestyle decisions. (I wonder if I can get taxpayers to subsidise my life insurance?)

      What I would like to see is an initiative that would improve teacher ratios in Maori, why can’t some treaty settlements allocate to their tribes an educational entitlement to their kids …

      You are referring to scholarships?

      They already exist.

      (Though there are those racists who begrudge Iwi’s funding scholarships for Maori children. They see it as some kind of “reverse racism”.)

      Main stream education does not address the fact Maori were a stone age people a very short time ago…

      Jeezus H! Can you be any more f*****g racist?!

      …believe they need special help and the Treaty of Waitangi settlement belong to all Maori, not just the fat cats who dominate Marae meetings.

      I doubt you’ve ever set foot on a marae.

      Quite simply, you haven’t a clue and are parroting racist nonsense as some kind of pseudo-concern for educating children.

      But your attitude toward Maori is crystal-clear from your words.

    • YogiBare says:

      BEATINGTHEBOKS,
      Even as a Kiwi of European descent I’m appalled that you would say “Maori were a stone age [sic] people”, so I shudder to think what Maori will make of your comment.
      I’m justifiably proud of the voyages made by early European navigators, but these achievements pale into insignificance when compared to the incredible skills and courage of the earlier navigators who colonised these lands.
      On a lighter note, if the wakas were made of stone they probably would have sunk!

      • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

        I despair, sometimes, when a reasoned discussion descends into racism and name calling. Like Yogibare, I am proud of the travels and accomplishments of people from many countries, and one does not negate the other. It serves no-one to get into simplistic statements.

        You might want to stop spouting such things, Beatingtheboks, and learn to listen, debate and consider the point in hand.

    • Priss says:

      Beatingtheboks – any point you’ve tried to make is lost in your nasty little racist comments. Shame on you.

      If anything, this shows the vindictive ideology that “teacher performance” is based on!

      Thanks Dianne!

  10. Kingi says:

    “the fat cats who dominate Marae meetings”
    oh dear… I have to say honestly that there aren’t many “fat cats” on the several marae in my district. Quite the opposite. Just ordinary people. You are clearly just making stuff up, aren’t you?

    • Dianne Khan Dianne Khan says:

      I agree with Kingi here. There is little point in having a debate if you throw in “facts” that have no basis.

      No-one wants a shouting match – we want a sensible and reasoned debate about the merits of the reforms being put forward. Teachers want schools to be ever better, to make learning relevant, to enjoy their work so that they can make it a great experience for students. Any reforms that would work contrary to that are not in the best interests of students.

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