Lyons on Merit Pay

writes in the Herald:

A key rule of economics is that incentives shape human behaviour for better or worse. I am starting to like the idea of for teachers.

I have taught for more than 20 years. I have authored text books in my subject and been a lecturer for beginning teachers in commerce.

I think a merit-based system of pay would suit me.

I think Mr Lyons would do very well with merit based pay also. While not the most scientific of methods, he gets excellent comments and ratings at Rate my Teachers:

Brilliant mate … the man can not be faulted … Probably the best teacher in NZ … legend … Peter Lyons is a legend. He defines economics.

With such glowing references from his students it is with trepidation I challenge his column, but I will. Peter said:

I teach economics, which is an option students can choose to take. If performance pay was introduced the first thing I would do is restrict those students who could take my subject. There will be no low achievers or slackers taking my subject if it costs me money.

Two issues with this assertion. As far as I know, individual teachers do not determine admission policies for their classes. The principal or board does.

The second issue is that having performance pay means you don’t want someone who has been a low achiever in your class. If the performance pay was based on what improvement you make to that student, then having ones that start from a low base could actually be an advantage over some know it all students who can’t improve on their alreeady high marks.

There is little point in teaching the less able kids if my pay packet depends on exam results. I’ll leave that to the idealistic first-year teachers who believe they can make a difference.

Who says performance pay will depend solely or even mainly on exam results. One could have a system where say the principal and board have 10% of the staffing budget flexible to be allocated to whichever teachers they think have performed best on the criteria that works for that school.

 I will focus exclusively on the exams. There is no point in teaching students about financial literacy and how to manage money if this is not going to improve their marks and my pay. Show me the money! I love incentives.

Here Peter has a stronger argument. A performance pay system could encourage teachers to teach for the exams only. But again performance pay doesn’t have to be about exams only.

Under merit pay I have a great opportunity to be one of the highest paid teachers in New Zealand. I will get my NCEA students to do endless resits of internal assessments until they get it right. I will make them rote learn the answers for the exam until they can repeat them in their sleep. Any student unable to perform this simple cognitive task will be withdrawn from sitting the exam to maintain my excellent pass rates. 

Again I am unsure that individual teachers can withdraw students from exams, or for that matter force resits for higher grades.

What I’d challenge Peter to come up with is what are the attributes that make a great teacher (as he seems to be) and how can they be recognised and even quantified, so that the great teachers are getting paid more than the not so great teachers.

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