Showing posts with label performance pay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label performance pay. Show all posts

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Creating an 'unAustralian' education system

An article in the Australian discusses the challenge of improving schooling in Australia. Another article with opinion and without supporting facts to back them up. What has happened to our media? Why can they not develop a position and then report with supporting or refuting evidence!

The main points were:
  1. Development of a national curriculum (supported).
  2. Minimising or even abandoning plans for national testing programs (supported).
  3. Funding private and public schools on the same basis (?).
  4. Auditing the intellectual capital -- that is, teacher quality -- in all schools (?).
  5. Greater autonomy for schools and principals (?).
  6. Creating a federation of schools, in line with the British model (?).
  7. Refurbishing or replacing most school buildings constructed in the 20th century (supported).
  8. Increasing the business sector's involvement in education, including private funding of schools through foundations and trusts (supported with reservations).
Part three: By doing this we are accepting that we will have a two+ tier society. Those that can afford private schooling and those that can't. Public schools cannot compete with schools that have equal funding with private schools and are supplemented through school fees. Those students that cannot pay fees in private schools will be disadvantaged (students in private schools schools already have the advantage of rapid exit of undesirable students, this is their USP). Public schooling should be given more of the public purse than private schools. Our disadvantaged kids need our support. How is further disadvantaging them going to prepare them to compete equally in the workforce - it just creates an underclass. The funding ethos put forward is grossly capitalist and American. It is decidedly unAustralian.

Part four: Sure, let's audit teachers, how and who shall do it? What makes a good teacher? What happens if a teacher fails the audit? How do we re-educate them? Who plans and pays for the implementation? Who is to blame for poorly performing students - the teacher, past teachers? It's nonsense.

Part five: Where is the research that greater autonomy for schools leads to better student outcomes? The idea is counter intuitive. Surely re-inventing administration currently centralised cannot be cheaper, as flexible to change or as easily monitored than decentralised at a school level. All decentralisation does is decentralise blame for a system that isn't working very efficiently. Today is a time of centralisation as information technology closes the efficiency gains once found through decentralisation. Analysis and change coordinated at one location is far more efficient than directing responsibility to islands of learning.

Part six: I have no idea yet what this idea is of federated schools in the UK but I haven't heard the UK system as a model system for eons. I must investigate this further.

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).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Newspaper reporting

I had the unfortunate experience today of reading the Australian and again finding an article that showed little research and was basically just a beat up bit of sensationalist nonsense. I am happy to beat up the union under normal circumstances but this article in my opinion is poor journalism as it uses emotive language and unsupportable assertions.

"How will it wangle agreement on education reform from state Labor governments beholden to teachers unions? When the West Australian teachers union won pay increases of 21.7 per cent earlier this year, union boss Anne Gisborne boasted that "one of the strongest elements behind this has been the political campaigning that our members have had on track for eight to 10 weeks".

If Janet Albrechtsen had done her research she would know that the 21.7% was not seen as a win, nor was the main push by the union (the push was from state government onto the union to resolve the agreement to the satisfaction of the state government to prevent the wage claim being an election issue). The offer was seen as so poor by union members (don't get me started again on how misleading it is to call it a 21.7% increase without clarification that it is over 3 years and that only a small percentage of teachers would receive that amount.. blah.. blah.. blah..) that it was rejected despite direction from the "union boss" to the contrary. This is hardly the stuff of a powerful union and more of a union boss beholden to state government.

More so it is bizarre that she has chosen WA today as the example of a Labor government/union impediment to federalism as WA now has a Liberal government.

"Consider the union reaction to the Rudd Government's education revolution outlined last month by the Prime Minister and his deputy, Education Minister Julia Gillard. Reforms to make education more transparent by mandatory reporting of student results, allowing parents to compare school performance? Opposed by unions."
And rightly so. Anyone working within a school would know that socioeconomic factors influence the ability of students to perform. Yes, students are as bright in low socioeconomic areas as in other areas but the effect of poor environment and lack of parental support cannot and should not be discounted. This affects school results greatly. Comparing school results puts undesirable pressure on schools to focus on measurables and not on the best possible education of a student. One only needs to look at the effects of league tables in WA and the outcome of students being discouraged to take TEE subjects as a key negative outcome of mandatory reporting.

"Transparency and accountability reforms that will enable the most disadvantaged schools to be identified and receive extra funding of $500,000 for your average school so that they may improve? Opposed by unions."
How will comparable schools be identified and how will improvement be defined? Provide a reasonable workable model and there would be support for such measures. Make overarching statements with deadlines for implementation that can only produce wafty goals and of course there will be opposition. The major reason for the reduction in educational results in WA schools is OBE and the rise of the heterogeneous classroom. In disadvantaged schools this has been a disaster as teaching 4-5 different levels in a classroom has resulted in dumbing down of curriculum. Government fault yes, school fault no.

"Moves to give greater autonomy and flexibility for principals to hire staff? Opposed by unions."
Ok. I agree with Janet here. Permanency is an archaic concept as is the indenture model inflicted on teaching graduates. A move to a currency based economy where scarcity drives salary is desirable (but can the state afford it?).

"Moves to introduce performance-based pay for teachers to encourage better teachers? Opposed by unions."
Performance management in schools is non-existent/ineffective. Fix this first and then introduce performance based pay. With the limited management skills and time available in schools today, the introduction of another layer of administrative requirement would take time, money and skills the sector clearly does not have.

"Moves to introduce a national curriculum so that students moving between states and territories can access a seamless education system? Opposed by unions."
Yes, and it is no wonder given that we have just overcome the last educational fad. The ability of government to deal in 3 to 4 year terms does not equate to the requirements of educational facilities that run to 12 year periods. Bipartisan support is required from both sides of the political fence to adequately trial and research the effects of a curriculum in a range of schools across Australia before implementing in all schools. This is of course politically unacceptable as the completion time is greater than one political term.

Thankfully blogging is an outlet for opinion and the need for accuracy is lessened as by definition and intent it is a discussion between the reader and writer on a topic. It is scary when journalists are allowed to present poor research in the form of fact within traditional media. The public can be given the completely wrong impression through faith in journalistic integrity. I must admit, like many readers, my faith is dwindling faster in media news outlets with each year that passes.

The full article can be found here:,,24427663-32522,00.html