Thursday, October 2, 2008

Establishing performance criteria for teachers

I have commented on how difficult it is to produce meaningful performance criteria for schools and discussed how poor an idea 'performance pay' is for schools as an incentive. One would think that you could use graduation data as a key performance indicator. It could be used very effectively as a media "beat up" story.

The table shows that in the 2006 census, 55% of 20-24 year olds proceeded to yr 12 (or equivalent) in Girrawheen/Koondoola/Balga. In contrast Warwick/Greenwood/Ballajura had percentages on average of 73%.

Let's suppose an increase in graduation rates was a key performance indicator for teachers and schools. After all the only real gap between Warwick (77%) and Girrawheen (57%) is a 5-10m strip of Wanneroo road.

Over the next 20 years the 20% gap will reduce but I doubt schools will get the credit - and nor should they, it will be demographic change that drives performance not school performance to any great degree. All schools teach basically the same curricula (guided by DET and the curriculum council), have very similar students in terms of IQ and have the same quality of staff. These factors in combination are not enough to justify the 20% difference today. There must be other issues at play outside the control of schools.

Social change is the key driver - not educational inputs. Nutritional awareness, social attitudes, pre-school learning, ESL requirements are all key factors other than schools. In one family the first student in a generation will make it past yr 10, then the next generation past yr 12, then another generation to university. In another family, the family home is sold and they move deeper into surburbia removing themselves from the local statistics.

Julia Gillard has stated that underperforming schools will recieve $500,000 to rectify deficiencies. It would make a squidge of difference but not much more than that.. The idea of putting this money to finding and paying "super teachers" shows a clear lack of understanding in the sector and huge pressure on the teacher - to my mind these teachers are being set up for failure. After all, a 'super teacher' in one school can be a struggling prima donna in another demanding of resources to get the job done. What works in one location does not guarantee success in another. Horses for courses!

Typically large amounts given to schools are earmarked for infrastructure or very narrowly focussed programmes with short term outcomes to measure the impact of the funding. It is deemed impractical to wait 5 years to see if long term mainstream programmes have truly worked, evaluate flaws and modify the programmes; or wait a further ten years to see if the programme has provided benefit in finding employment.

A less attractive suggestion to 'powers that be' is to have more hands on deck and create more developmentally appropriate classes (eg. specialist upper school subjects or sports/arts/dance/T&E programmes) and smaller class sizes available for enrolled students. This would make upper school more attractive to students and would in most cases produce higher yr 12 graduation figures. Our school does this quite effectively for challenging students that would have finished school in yr 10 in past years.

Even this approach for using graduation figures as a KPI is fraught with danger - as I pointed out in earlier blogs, students are fickle and tailoring courses to students may work to increase graduation one year and be an absolute failure the next due to changes in the directions of courses (eg. with the implementation of NCOS), changes in teaching staff or student whim. The recent mining boom is a great example of 'uncontrollable factors'- students graduating year 12 will drop as a result of the 2006+ boom as the lure of the mining labour exceeds the desire for schooling. It is poor planning to decrease school capability(losing the capability to offer subjects in the future due to staff losses from decreased funding or losing incentive funding due to lack of perceived positive effect) purely because of financial trends in the marketplace.

I have only used one statistic as a possible measure of performance, imagine the complexity of a full blown model evaluating schools including academic, emotional and social factors drilling down to individual classrooms. A teacher is deemed to have done well because they have been provided a well prepared class from previous years (or vice versa). Performance pay lifts the blame game in the primary-middle senior school to a whole new level.

To my mind it is not possible to do accurate performances measurements to the degree necessary and any attempt would be largely ineffective due to the differences across schools/classes and the lack of fine grained control over these factors throughout Australia.

That data used has been taken from the ABS (here).

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