Improving teaching

December 16th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting interview in the NZ Herald with Bali Haque. His background is:

Bali Haque is well known in education, having headed schools, a principals’ association and as the former deputy chief executive of the Qualifications Authority.


Mr Haque – a former executive member of the PPTA

So what does he see as a problem:

Mr Haque stresses that most teachers do a great job and that socio-economic factors are most important when looking at the “tail” of student underachievement.

But he doesn’t shy away from what he sees as problems within the profession. A big one is teachers he terms “free riders” – those he says refuse to work past 3.30pm, do nothing during their holidays and the very minimum required in class.

The collective agreement has provisions for incompetence – themselves often not acted upon – but not for the relatively few teachers who “hover in the only-just-competent area”, Mr Haque says. In the book, Changing our Secondary Schools, he argues that under the current collective such “free riders” will be paid much the same as those who go above and beyond.

We need to better reward the great teachers, motivate the mediocre teachers to improve, and weed out the teachers who are just not able to connect with students.

He says this should be addressed through a version of performance pay – not linked to one measure such as student achievement, but likely judged by the principal and possibly paid as an end-of-year bonus.

Principals should have more flexibility in how they pay their teachers.

also believes that teachers, through their unions, should look at reducing their holidays from 12 weeks to four or five.

The workload pressures that some teachers complain about are often self-inflicted, he says, and other professions work more flexibly to cope. Because most of the workload happens during the 38 weeks of term time, many teachers cope by working evenings and weekends, leading to stress.

Using some of the current holiday time to call all teachers in to school to carry out tasks such as planning meetings and professional development could go a long way to reducing the overall stress levels in most staffrooms, Mr Haque argues.

I can’t see the unions or teachers agreeing to giving up eight weeks holiday!

Train teachers in schools, not universities

March 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aspiring teachers should be trained mostly at schools instead of university to help get the best and brightest in front of classrooms, a report argues.

The push for “training schools” comes in the first year of a groundbreaking scheme by one Auckland school in which aspiring teachers complete their training in school and as members of staff.

A report released today by the NZ Initiative think-tank and co-authored by former Auckland Grammar School headmaster John Morris argues more options are needed for those interested in teaching.

Teachers are the single biggest influence on student achievement in schools, theTeaching Stars: Transforming the Education Profession report states.

One way to improve the profession should be the option to train teachers in schools, which would have top schools accredited as training schools where teacher qualifications could be offered in conjunction with a university.

Sounds an excellent idea to me.

John Morris is the co-author of a NZ Initiative report on teaching quality with Rose Patterson, which argues the case for performance-related pay. The report, published today, proposes a performance-related pay system in which teachers would need to apply to ascend levels on a pay scale, moving up when certain standards were met.

You mean like almost every other job does. I find the idea of automatic progression up any scale as ludicrous when it is for a professional role. Think if we paid MPs more for the length of time they have been in Parliament!

Mr Morris said the standards would not be based on student achievement data but on factors such as contribution to the school as a whole. He said the Education Council of Aotearoa NZ (Educanz), which will replace the Teachers Council, was a strong candidate to articulate such standards.

Mr Morris is the chairman of the transition board overseeing the establishment of Educanz, and his comments have infuriated the PPTA union, who strongly oppose the proposed pay overhaul.

President Angela Roberts said she had written to Education Minister Hekia Parata calling for Mr Morris’ resignation from the board.

Ms Parata said Mr Morris was well-respected and one of 11 people on the transition board. “I am confident that any potential conflicts of interest can be managed,” she said.

Rather than attack Morris, I’d rather hear from the PPTA why they think progression should be automatic, and have their input into what factors should progression up the pay scale be based on if it is not automatic.

So selfish

June 24th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Jody O’Callaghan at Stuff reports:

Meanwhile, teacher unions have launched a campaign to boycott the trial of a computerised national standards assessment tool.

This is a tool designed to mitigate the very issue that some critics of national standards have complained about – inconsistent moderation. A computerised tool to guide teachers (not force, it just suggests where a student is at) seems like a no brainer.

It could be used to introduce performance pay that could see teachers paid according to their pupils’ achievement levels.

So this is what is really motivating them? They will boycott a tool that will improve assessment of pupils, purely because it could be used one day to introduce performance pay.

Is that not the most selfish thing you’ve seen?

A step towards performance pay?

June 21st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Kate Shuttleworth at NZ Herald reports:

A pay deal has been signed between the union representing primary and intermediate teachers and the Government to introduce an allowance for 800 expert teachers worth $4 million, the start of performance pay.

Principals will endorse teachers who meet a set of criteria judged against the New Zealand curriculum and they will be assessed by a panel of people who are yet to be decided.

The union, New Zealand Educational Institute, say they took the idea of an allowance to reward experienced teaching staff to the Education Ministry in its pay negotiation round, asking for as many allowances as possible.

Its Primary Teachers Collective Agreement was fully ratified with the ministry on June 7, after long negotiations.

The “advanced classroom expertise teacher allowance” was agreed to by the ministry, but was capped at 800 eligible teachers.

By 2015, 800 teachers across 2000 primary and intermediate schools will be paid an allowance of $5000 a year – worth $4 million.

A good step in the right direction.

Better teachers should be paid more.

A staff member at NZEI said its members would not see it as performance pay because teachers’ achievement wouldn’t be based on raw National Standards data.

That’s not what performance pay should be about. It should be about flexibility so that top teachers are paid significantly more than other teachers. How one assesses who is a top teacher is something I’d leave to each principal or board.

How to fix school payroll problems

February 8th, 2013 at 7:31 am by David Farrar

Peter Creswell blogs at Not PC:

Yet again another Novopay pay round has been labelled a shocker, as “the Ministry of Education fielded hundreds of calls from school staff either not paid or underpaid by Novopay yesterday.”

As you might have noticed, a ministerial inquiry is about to be established to inquire why the centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all system failed. 

Perhaps the first question to be asked is ‘why is such a system is even necessary?’

Schools have their own pay administrators, who currently spend around half their time making up calculating pay and the other half trying to remedy stuff-ups by Novopay. Why on earth not have them simply pay the staff from the school’s bank account, without any need at all for a centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all payroll system?

Why not?

Because perhaps the second point to contemplate is that the problem with Novopay is not specifically a software problem at all.  I suggest instead it’s exactly what you’re expect of a centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all system.

I agree. Rather than have all teachers employed by the Ministry of Education and paid by them, I’d have each school responsible for employing their own staff and paying them. If a school wished to used a centralised system such as Novopay they can, or they could use another SAAS system, or local software as they see fit.

It would also mean each school would have flexibility over how much they pay their teachers, within their overall funding.  They could pay a great teacher twice as much as a poor teacher.

Chris Hipkins blogs against performance pay at Red Alert:

There are some excellent teachers working really hard in schools where the students are struggling. They get incredible results, and often the students in their classes learn a lot more in a year than a child at a school with better test scores, yet because the kids are still behind some of their peers at the end of the year, these schools are labelled as ‘failures’. Why would a great teacher work their guts out at a struggling school when they could get more ‘performance’ pay by working in a school that wasn’t struggling?

This is not an argument against performance pay. This is an argument against measuring performance on the basis of test scores, rather than student improvement. It is a red herring. No one who argues for performance pay says it should simply go to the teachers whose students get the highest grades.

As Kelvin points out, there is a lot more to teaching than making sure kids hit an arbitrary and narrowly focused set of standards. The fundamental problem with ‘performance’ pay for teachers is that a narrow range of student achievement statistics alone aren’t a reliable measure of how good a teacher is. Can we do a better job of rewarding great teachers? Undoubtedly. Should we provide more incentives for teachers to undertake professional development and continually strive to be better teachers. For sure. Will ‘performance pay’ based on student achievement help achieve these things? No.

Again, no one I know is arguing for performance pay based purely on student achievement. The problem is Chris thinks performance pay has to be like the current pay system – based on one centralised collective scheme with defined criteria for extra pay to be based on.

I’d make each Board and Principal decide how to allocate “performance pay” in their schools. The school community knows who the great and not so great teachers are. I knew it when I was a pupil. Almost everyone knows it. Some teachers have a marvelous gift for connecting with pupils and some teachers just can’t do it no matter how hard they try.

Performance pay will never work as a centralised system based on what marks your students get. It can work as a flexible system where principals can reward the teachers they know make a huge different to their students and whose loss to the school would be a disaster. This is a subjective local decision, not a rigid central decision.

Why kids should grade teachers

October 9th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A great article at The Atlantic.

Nubia Baptiste had spent some 665 days at her Washington, D.C., public school by the time she walked into second period on March 27, 2012. She was an authority on McKinley Technology High School. She knew which security guards to befriend and where to hide out to skip class (try the bleachers). She knew which teachers stayed late to write college recommendation letters for students; she knew which ones patrolled the halls like guards in a prison yard, barking at kids to disperse.

If someone had asked, she could have revealed things about her school that no adult could have known. Once Nubia got talking, she had plenty to say. But until that morning of her senior spring, no one had ever asked.

She sat down at her desk and pulled her long, neat dreadlocks behind her shoulders. Then her teacher passed out a form. Must be another standardized test, Nubia figured, to be finished and forgotten. She picked up her pencil. By senior year, it was a reflex. The only sound was the hum of the air conditioning.

Teachers in the hallway treat me with respect, even if they don’t know me.

Well, this was different. She chose an answer from a list:Sometimes.

This class feels like a happy family.

She arched an eyebrow. Was this a joke? Totally untrue.

In towns around the country this past school year, a quarter-­million students took a special survey designed to capture what they thought of their teachers and their classroom culture. Unlike the vast majority of surveys in human history, this one had been carefully field-tested. That research had shown something remarkable: if you asked kids the right questions, they could identify, with uncanny accuracy, their most—and least—effective teachers.

This does not surprise me at all. I know from my own experience that most kids at school absolutely know who are the teachers who inspire you and make you want to learn, and those who are ineffective. This is not always the same as who the popular ones are. My chemistry teacher was widely mocked as a robot, but everyone said he was a very good teacher.

The point was so obvious, it was almost embarrassing. Kids stared at their teachers for hundreds of hours a year, which might explain their expertise. Their survey answers, it turned out, were more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth. All of which raised an uncomfortable new question: Should teachers be paid, trained, or dismissed based in part on what children say about them?

I wouldn’t go that far, but I think student evaluations should be routine.

So far, this revolution has been loud but unsatisfying. Most teachers do not consider test-score data a fair measure of what students have learned. Complex algorithms that adjust for students’ income and race have made test-score assessments more fair—but are widely resented, contested, or misunderstood by teachers.

So this is what the NZEI and PPTA should propose as an alternative – student evaluations.

A decade ago, a Harvard economist named Ronald Ferguson went to Ohio to help a small school district figure out why black kids did worse on tests than white kids. He did all kinds of things to analyze the schoolchildren in Shaker Heights, a Cleveland suburb. Maybe because he’d grown up in the area, or maybe because he is African American himself, he suspected that important forces were at work in the classroom that teachers could not see.

So eventually Ferguson gave the kids in Shaker Heights a survey—not about their entire school, but about their specific classrooms. The results were counterintuitive. The same group of kids answered differently from one classroom to the next, but the differences didn’t have as much to do with race as he’d expected; in fact, black students and white students largely agreed.

The variance had to do with the teachers. In one classroom, kids said they worked hard, paid attention, and corrected their mistakes; they liked being there, and they believed that the teacher cared about them. In the next classroom, the very same kids reported that the teacher had trouble explaining things and didn’t notice when students failed to understand a lesson.

The Hattie research confirms this also.

But Kane also wanted to include student perceptions. So he thought of Ferguson’s survey, which he’d heard about at Harvard. With Ferguson’s help, Kane and his colleagues gave an abbreviated version of the survey to the tens of thousands of students in the research study—and compared the results with test scores and other measures of effectiveness. The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers at evaluating teachers. This wasn’t because they were smarter but because they had months to form an opinion, as opposed to 30 minutes. And there were dozens of them, as opposed to a single principal. Even if one kid had a grudge against a teacher or just blew off the survey, his response alone couldn’t sway the average.

Student evaluation shouldn’t be the only data a school collects, but it should be a near mandatory one.

Of the 36 items included in the Gates Foundation study, the five that most correlated with student learning were very straightforward:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

When Ferguson and Kane shared these five statements at conferences, teachers were surprised. They had typically thought it most important to care about kids, but what mattered more, according to the study, was whether teachers had control over the classroom and made it a challenging place to be. As most of us remember from our own school days, those two conditions did not always coexist: some teachers had high levels of control, but low levels of rigor.

Again, this meshes with my experience.

No one knows whether the survey data will become less reliable as the stakes rise. (Memphis schools are currently studying their surveys to check for such distortions, with results expected later this year.) Kane thinks surveys should count for 20 to 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluations—enough for teachers and principals to take them seriously, but not enough to motivate teachers to pander to students or to cheat by, say, pressuring students to answer in a certain way.

This would be an excellent Budget 2013 initiative!

Kelvin Davis on Education

June 26th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Former Labour MP and principal Kelvin Davis blogs at Maui Street:

When the government says that national standards, charter schools, league tables, performance pay, quality vs quantity of teachers will all raise achievement, they might be right.

That’s because there are very few strategies that teachers (or governments) can implement that actually make students dumber. Teachers can rightly put their hands on their hearts and swear that what they do in class lifts achievement. Just about everything has some positive effect, but some have a large positive effect while others barely register. It would make sense to develop policy based on those strategies that have the greatest positive effect.

The much quoted Professor John Hattie’s research lists, from most effective to least ffective, 138 different ‘things’ that may be implemented in education, and all but five have a positive effect on learning. The five strategies with a negative effect are: Summer vacation (-0.09), Welfare Policies (-0.12) Retention (Holding kids back a year, -0.16), Television (-0.18) and Mobility (-0.34). So unless we prescribe longer Christmas holidays, keep kids back a year or two, or force students to watch an extra 8 hours of TV a day, almost everything else will have SOME positive effect on learning.

That’s quite interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

Any ‘strategy’ with an effect size of 0.40 or less is practically pointless. Which makes sense. 

In Hattie’s list the strategy with an effect size of 0.40 (Reducing Anxiety) is exactly halfway through the list of possible strategies. Hattie is saying if any particular strategy is to be used it should at least be in the top 50% of strategies.

Also interesting, and I agree you want to focus on those most effective. In fact that was what the Budget announcement was meant to be about.

Charter Schools have an effect size of 0.20, or the 107th out of the 133 strategies that have some positive effect. Charter Schools are therefore an extremely pointless and expensive strategy. 

That’s a fair point the charter schools are not deemed significantly effective. But charter schools are being trialled only. They are not the major focus for the Government. They are something agreed to with ACT, and their future will depend on the outcomes. Davis certainly makes a valid point that charter schools should not be the major focus in education. I agree. But that is not to say I don’t think they should be trialled.

What does the research say about League Tables and Performance Pay? 

Nothing. They don’t rate or feature in any way in Hattie’s research. 

What then is the basis for League Tables and Performance Pay if there is no research evidence to show these two ‘things’ will make a difference? How does the government know these two ‘strategies’ won’t have to be included alongside the five already proven to make students dumber?

Here though Davis is not comparing apples and oranges. As far as I know no one in Government is saying league tables are being done to lift achievement. The reality is that assessment data of schools is public information, and league tables will be done by the media regardless of what the Government does. The issue for the Government is simply given the reality of the media and others doing their own league tables, is there merit in the Government setting up some sort of database or tables of its own which will give more meaningful tables and comparisons than what the media may compile. The Government could do nothing at all, but you will still have league tables – media ones. Unless Davis still subscribes to Labour’s line that school data should be classified as top secret and not made available to the public.

As for performance pay, I presume that is not assessed by Hattie as it is an input. Hattie has found improving teacher quality is the most important factor. Performance pay might help improve teacher quality. As far as I know the Government has not said it is going to implement performance pay. It has said it is one option it is looking at.

I’d be interested in hearing Kelvin’s view on whether he agrees with Hattie that teacher quality or their ability to connect with students is the most important factor, and what measures would he advocate to support and retain the best teachers, improve the performance of the average teachers and get rid of the bad teachers. As a former principal he would have first hand experience, and now he is no longer an MP he doesn’t have to follow the party line.

Lyons on Merit Pay

May 24th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Peter Lyons 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 performance pay 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.

A stupid article

May 19th, 2012 at 5:19 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Education Minister Hekia Parata is refusing to say how much top teachers will earn under a performance pay scheme or where the funding for extra pay will come from.

How dare the Minister keep secret these key details of the performance pay scheme approved by the Government.

Oh wait …. there is no actual scheme approved, so no details to be released. Oh that means the entire story is absolute nonsense. Damn.

In a pre-Budget speech in which she announced $511.9 million of extra education spending over fours years, Ms Parata said performance pay was among the options being considered as part of an appraisal system to boost quality teaching.

So the article even notes that a performance pay system was merely an option, and not in any way decided upon. Yet the article is all about the Minister keeping the details secret!


Education funding

May 16th, 2012 at 10:46 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

School class sizes are going up and the Government is working on performance pay for teachers, Education Minister Hekia Parata has announced.

In a pre-Budget announcement to a business audience in Wellington this morning, Parata said there would be an extra $60m invested over four years for boosting teacher recruitment and training.

“We will collaborate in the development of an appraisal system on driving up quality teaching and quality professional leadership.

Performance pay is but one of a basket of options to reward and recognise that,” Parata said.

“We are not investing in more teachers, we are investing in better teaching.”

Ultimately performance pay can only work well if you delegate funding to school boards and allow principals flexibility in deciding pay rates. You might have a nationwide collective setting minimum salary levels, but the funding should be flexible enough so that the best teachers could be earning say double the worst.

There had been “some trade-offs” so that the Government could afford the new investment, she said.

Teacher – student ratios in the mid-years of education (years two to 10) would be increased. Instead of the existing range of anywhere between one to 23 up to one to 29, there would be a single ratio of one to 27.5.

The ratio for students sitting NCEA at years 11, 12 and 13 would be standardised at one to 17.3, instead of the existing range of between one to 17 and one to 23.

“These ratios are a funding formula – they are how we as a Government fund schools. The actual number of children in a classroom is set by the school.”

New entrants (year one) would keep its one to 15 ratio.

The ratio changes would “free up” $43m, on average, in each year over the next four years.

In the last ten years, student numbers had grown by 2.52 per cent, but teacher numbers had grown 12.76 per cent over the same period, Parata said.

About 90 per cent of schools would either gain or have a net loss of less than one full time equivalent teachers as a result of the combined effect of the changes.

The changes look pretty minor.

UK performance pay

May 7th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Ministers want to link pay to performance in the classroom as part of a new drive to improve results and attract the best graduates into the profession.

A cross-party group of MPs today says that a new payment by results system is needed to stop the worst teachers hiding behind a “rigid and unfair” national salary structure.

The report is here. It is an evidence based report, and is backed by all parties in the UK Parliament. This is not a left vs right thing. It is a improving outcomes for kids thing.

In the report published today, the Commons education select committee says staff should be rewarded for “adding the greatest value” to pupils’ education and be given paid sabbaticals to further their skills.

MPs claim the reforms would address fears that poor teachers are having a “very significant” impact on children’s long-term career prospects. The report quotes international research which shows that the worst teachers could cost a class of 20 the equivalent of £250,000 in lost earnings over their career.

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University in America, has shown that an excellent teacher can cover a year and a half’s material in a single year, whereas a poor one will get only a third as far.

The difference is immense. If a good teacher can teach three times as much as a poor teacher, then there is a case to pay them three times as much.

Teaching unions are strongly opposed to any attempt to alter national pay and conditions. However, the committee’s report says: “No longer should the weakest teachers be able to hide behind a rigid and unfair pay structure.

It is a pity that teacher unions are so wedded to the current structure, rather than seeing the potentially huge benefits performance pay could bring in for the majority of teachers. They are allowing the minority to hold back the majority.

“We believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest teachers, as well as make no excuses — or, worse, incentives to remain — for the weaker. Given the profound positive and negative impacts which teachers have on pupil performance, we are concerned that the pay system continues to reward low performers at the same levels as their more successful peers.”

Change is necessary and desirable.

NZ Herald on performance pay

May 5th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Not many professions are held in such high regard as teaching. People, by and large, recognise that few jobs are so demanding and offer so relatively little in financial reward. All the more surprise, therefore, that a Herald-Digipoll survey this week revealed that a clear majority are now happy to disregard the adamant view of the teachers’ unions and support performance pay for the profession.

Making it the rare combination of both right and popular.

Fortunately, MPs on Britain’s education select committee are less timid. In a report released this week, they said teachers’ pay should be more closely tied to the value they add to pupils’ performance, so the best were rewarded while the weakest were discouraged from staying in the profession. They urged the Cameron Government to develop proposals for a pay system that rewarded teachers who added the “greatest value” to pupil performance. Whatever the practical and political difficulties in this, they said, the value of an outstanding teacher was so great that these must be overcome.

Exactly. Of course there are practical challenges. But that is no reason not to try. The evidence is clear that the ability of a teacher to connect with their students has more influence on educational outcomes than any other factor such as class size, school, poverty etc.

There is no doubt that agreement on measures of excellence presents an obstacle to pay on merit, probably an insuperable one for national negotiations. But it would provide little difficulty if left to school principals and their boards. The boards become well acquainted with the work of individual teachers, while principals must know which of their teachers are doing the most to improve the achievements of their pupils.

This is absolutely right, and why the teacher unions are so against. To make performance pay work, you need to decentralise salaries.

Throughout its first term, the Government showed little interest in challenging teachers’ national pay negotiating system. The new minister’s statement offers little hope of change, and little encouragement to excellent teachers who continue to feel undervalued. Paradoxically, Labour Party leader David Shearer may have given a stronger signal when he talked earlier this year of acting against the “bad teachers in our classrooms”. The findings of the Herald-Digipoll survey should provide the requisite backbone for politicians of all shades. As should the way in which education will suffer until excellence in teaching is recognised.

It is a battle worth fighting.

Damien Grant on performance pay

April 22nd, 2012 at 11:43 am by David Farrar

Damien Grant writes in the HoS:

Parata is talking about performance pay for teachers and publishing league tables for schools based on National Standards. This is, as Sir Humphrey would say, courageous.

Teacher unions are opposed to both policies. To bolster their argument the NZEI recently brought Australian academic Professor Margaret Wu to our shores. Wu was quoted in the Otago Daily Times as saying that “we need to look at education more broadly than just students’ academic results”.

It is hard to imagine a more incredulously stupid comment. We pay teachers to teach – not to eat their lunch. We can and should assess success by comparing what the class knows at the end of the process from what they knew at the start. A competent principal will know which teachers are effective and which are not.

Not just the principal. As a pupil, we knew who were the good teachers. Not necessarily the popular ones, but definitely the good ones. It was common knowledge. Our chemistry teacher was teased mercilessly by students and parodied as a robot. But almost all his students knew he was a good teacher and they learnt chemistry.

A system that does not reward success encourages failure. Poor performers stay, talent leaves, children remain uneducated. Our education industry has become a sheltered workshop for useless teachers and a frustrating workplace for good educators.

The problem with the NZEI and the PPTA is that they are unions masquerading as education think-tanks. Unions exist to advance the cause of their members. This is honest work in a free society and teacher unions have been remarkably successful at shielding their members from any form of performance scrutiny. They are so good I suspect they have convinced even themselves that it is not possible to tell a good teacher from a bad one and that students learn by osmosis rather than by anything a teacher actually does or does not do.

The job of the education unions is not to improve the education system. Their job is to look after their members, specifically to keep them in jobs, get them pay rises, reduce their hours worked, and get them more funding. Now there is nothing wrong with that – so long as one realises their arguments are about self-interest, not about improving educational outcomes.

Yes – performance pay is coming

March 24th, 2012 at 10:12 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

Performance pay for teachers will be developed by the Government, with secondary principals told by Education Minister Hekia Parata to start “sorting the wheat from the chaff”.

Figures obtained by The Dominion Post show millions of dollars are already being paid to scores of secondary principals partly on a performance basis, but Ms Parata has revealed she is “very keen” to develop performance measures for teachers and start rewarding them accordingly.

The choice of rewards for quality teachers were “pretty obvious,” she said.

“Whether it’s promotion, pay, opportunities to attend conferences or representative roles, or whatever – there are a mix of rewards that I think would be reasonably easy to settle on.”

The Government was in the early stages of devising an evaluation system that would have “integrity and regard” and capture all of the different dimensions of quality teaching.

“Typically, you get a response that it’s not possible to design something like that, because this is so difficult. Well, I don’t agree,” Ms Parata said.

“The precursor to being able to reward monetarily or in leadership opportunities is to have a really reliable evaluation system and one that has real integrity and regard for it.

It is good to see the Government finally embracing performance pay so hopefully the best teachers will get paid more than the worst teachers. However I have some doubts about a centralised system of performance pay.

My preferred model is to delegate school budgets to boards (that wish to have them delegated) and allow the board and principal to pay staff as they see best. So they could pay (for example) a brilliant science teacher with five years experience $90,000 and pay a mediocre science teacher with twenty years experience say $60,000.

Go Treasury go

March 21st, 2012 at 9:42 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt reports at Stuff:

More accountability for teachers and larger class sizes are again on the political agenda as Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf shapes up for a scrap with education unions.

He was urged yesterday by a teachers’ union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, to “stick to his knitting” after he went on the offensive, saying it was the quality of teachers that made the greatest difference to student achievement.

Here’s what’s funny. I would have thought a teachers’ union would absolutely agree that the quality of teachers makes the greatest difference to student achievement. They should be proud of the fact, and trumpeting it about how important teachers are.

Research suggested the impact on student learning of a “high-performing teacher” compared with an average teacher was “roughly equivalent” to the effect of a 10-student decrease in class size, Mr Makhlouf said.

So a good teacher with a 30 person class will be as effective as an average teacher with a 20 person class.

He suggested “a number of ways” to assess teacher quality, including in-class observations by other teachers, direct observations by principals, and feedback from students and parents.

At almost every school, students and staff know who are the most and least effective teachers. I certainly knew as a student at Rongotai College. Mr Jackson, Mr Reid, Mr Wilson were all great teachers, and all their students talked about how great they were.

A boost in class sizes of one or two students per classroom could free cash to invest more in quality teachers, he said.

Until we are out of deficit mode, extra funding is limited. So yes I agree investing more in quality teachers is more important than class sizes (within reason).

The case for performance pay

March 1st, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times writes:

A landmark new research paper underscores that the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime. Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn.

The study, by economists at Harvard and Columbia universities, finds that if a great teacher is leaving, parents should hold bake sales or pass the hat around in hopes of collectively offering the teacher as much as a $100,000 bonus to stay for an extra year. Sure, that’s implausible  — but their children would gain a benefit that far exceeds even that sum.

Conversely, a very poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year. We don’t allow that kind of truancy, so it’s not clear why we should put up with such poor teaching. In fact, the study shows that parents should pay a bad teacher $100,000 to retire (assuming the replacement is of average quality) because a weak teacher holds children back so much.

That is a staggering figure. A poor teacher has the same impact as a 40% truancy rate. This is why bad teachers should not be paid the same as good teachers. A flexible pay scale would allow principals to send messages to bad teachers by not giving them automatic payrises. It would encourage them to leave the profession. Also it would allow principals to pay the good teachers more.

Salmond on education data

October 26th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

First John Pagani writes a post on national standards I agree with, and now Rob Salmond does a post on assessment data which I also largely agree with.  Rob blogs:

The Los Angeles Times has produced a detailed set of estimates about how much value each teacher in Los Angeles adds to their classroom. That is hugely valuable information. New Zealand’s education establishment should be doing something similar.

I blogged last year on the remarkable data published by the LA Times. It basically measures the effectiveness of individual teachers.

Why should we follow the Times’ lead? Because it helps us to reward great teachers and provide remedial support for teachers in difficulty. And because it allows us to diagnose, early, easily, and with reasonable precision, what is going wrong when a school is performing badly. Is it one or two bad teachers? A bad english department? Poor school-wide leadership? Or is the issue in the community itself, a problem at home rather than in the classroom? The data can answer that crucial question better than a big round of finger-pointing in front of an inspector from ERO.

We can do all kinds of helpful things with this information. If one school has a dysfunctional maths department and there is a great maths teacher at another school, the government can fund the Board of Trustees to pay generous incentives to convince the great teacher to take on the troubled department as HoD. Same thing for giving great teachers powerful incentives to teach at generally underperforming schools.

Absolutely agree.

It is true that there are already multiple ways to assess teachers in New Zealand. There is teacher registration. There are periodic assessments against professional standards. In some situations, there are Teacher’s Council investigations. There is ERO. Those are all good things to have, and this data-driven assessment should be used to extend those assessment regimes, not to replace them. The data based assessment does add real value, however, both as a nationwide diagnostic tool for educators and administrators and as an individual assessment tool for rewarding great teachers and helping others improve.

True. But with teacher unions so against even allowing data on schools to be collated and analysed, I can only imagine how far they would go to stop what Rob proposes.

Who should find out the results? Well, the teachers for a start. They need to know how they are doing. And their local Board of Trustees. And the government folk should know, too. They are collectively charged with improving the educational outcomes for New Zealand’s tragically long “education tail.” Once they know how their teaching resources are distributed, they can better shuffle them around to make the system more effective.

Which is of course what the Government is trying to do with national standards, as well as give parents better information.

Parents should probably get some information about how their kid’s school does compared to other schools with similar student demographics. That is a valuable accountability mechanism for Principals, who get paid good money to be accountable to their local communities. But unfiltered league tables of area schools do more harm than good, presenting an apples to oranges comparison as if it were apples to apples.

The answer to bad league tables is good league tables. Not banning league tables.

Parents should also not get access to individual teacher rankings. Here I disagree with the Times. Why? Because it is little more than a recipe for school administrators to be drowned in a tide of the pushiest, over-caffeinated parents demanding that Little Johnny should move over to that excellent Mrs Paki’s home room. Now! We don’t get to see the latest performance review of the cop that pulled us over, or the nurse in the hospital ward, or the customs agent at the border. And rightly so. Teachers are no different.

I’m okay with parents not seeing results of individual teachers, so long as School Boards and the Government does.

Rob also says in his comments:

Secondary teachers with a BA and a teaching diploma start at $47k and can earn up to $71k at current scales, even without any of the additional salary Units under the control of Boards of Trustees. The top of their base salary scale is more pay than 90% of New Zealand adults recieve, according to IRD data. I think **great teachers** should receive substantially more compensation than this, but I do not think **all teachers** should get a big raise.

Again I agree. I’d love School Boards and Principals to have the ability to have performance pay.

A top teacher

December 6th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Last week it was announced:

An Auckland secondary teacher, who has transformed the teaching of junior science by using new technology to create online lessons and inspiring students to higher levels of achievement, has won New Zealand’s top teaching prize.

Steve Martin, of Howick College, has created virtual science lessons to encourage students to think for themselves, learn at their own pace and use new technology, which he says tricks them into learning by having fun.

His outstanding teaching has won him the 2010 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize worth $150,000, with Steve receiving $50,000 and the remainder going to the Howick College.

The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes were introduced in 2009 to raise the profile and prestige of science among New Zealanders. The five prizes combine recognition and reward, with total prize money of $1 million spread across five awards.

The 41 year old joined Howick College as Head of Junior Science in 2005. Since then, he has rewritten all the junior science programmes and developed new resources including a wealth of activities, videos, worksheets and PowerPoint presentations.

The idea of rewriting junior science programmes and delivering them on a digital platform through the school’s intranet was fuelled by frustration with students falling behind with their work while away from school for sports tournaments, family commitments and holidays.

Through his ‘Virtual Classroom’, students can access their lessons at any time, extending their learning beyond the classroom and enabling them to study at times to suit. Netbooks, laptops and mobile phones replace pen and paper. Students can access resources, instantly message to share information or post questions, ask Steve for help and get instant feedback, all online. They can create cartoons, videos and digital posters to demonstrate their understanding of a topic.

Surveys of Steve’s students during the past three years show a significant increase in academic achievement, motivation, understanding of science and ability to think more creatively. The number of students achieving excellence in their end-of-unit tests has increased from three percent to 53 percent. …

“Those type of teachers are like gold and don’t come around very often,” says Mr Ropati. Steve is also involved in professional coaching and development, with his work helping to improve teaching practices throughout the school.

Steve has a Bachelor of Science (Hons) and a Masters in Education leadership and management. He was last year named a Microsoft Distinguished Teacher.

Isn’t that a great example of how one teacher can make a huge difference.

Teachers like Steve should be on at least $150,000 a year. Probably worth $200,000  a year.

He is obviously a rare find.

Sadly the entrenched interests are against performance pay which would allow a school to pay its best teachers enough to keep the top teachers in teaching.

I do not believe there should be a national scale for teachers pay. I think a school should be bulk funded and they should be able to pay the top teachers $150,000 and the bottom teachers $40,000.

We need a system with genuine flexibility.

Performance Pay

May 4th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Primary school teachers fearing a move toward performance pay have proposed an alternative plan.

God forbid that teacher’s performance have any impact on their pay packet. It is vital that the worst teachers be paid no less than the best teachers.

A draft NZEI claim suggested a “potential counter” to any proposal to move toward performance pay. Teachers had said they did not want performance pay.

“However, a skills-based pay model that can objectively identify exemplary teaching practice and provide additional remuneration has merit, and further developmental work on it should be done,” the draft claim said.

This may have some merit. Encouraging exemplary teaching practice is worthwhile. However it is unclear how it would work. Is it something that 99% of teachers would easily be able to claim they do, and hence qualify for the extra remuneration?

“This is very different to, and is potentially a counter to, any proposal to move towards performance pay.”

Any skills-based pay system would have to be objective, fair and rigorous and not based on student results, the draft claim said.

“It must not lead to competition amongst teachers.”

Basing pay purely on student results s stupid. But it is equally stupid to not take any account at all of student results. They should be one input into the remuneration.

My performance pay system is simple. Each principal is free to pay each teacher whatever they think they are worth, within an overall budget. In other words, just like almost every other sector of society.

Student Success

January 4th, 2009 at 11:15 am by David Farrar

The SST reports on a “study of studies” on student achievement done by Professor John Hattie of Auckland University. It has been a 15 year study that merges results from 50,000 indiidual studies of 83 million pupils.

So what does it show:

… that the key to effective teaching is the quality of the feedback students get and their interaction with teachers.

Anne Tolley is welcoming it:

The research has been dubbed “teaching’s Holy Grail” by an influential UK education journal, the Times Educational Supplement. National’s new education minister, Anne Tolley, says it will have a “profound influence” on the future of schooling in New Zealand.

Hattie says:

Auckland University professor John Hattie, who authored the study, says some of the results fly in the face of National’s popular election promise to reduce class sizes. He believes extra money should instead be spent on boosting teacher salaries. “Class size has a pretty small effect… and I wonder why they would spend a penny on it.”

He also believes it is time to revisit the controversial idea of performance-related pay for teachers.

I am all in favour of higher pay for teachers, so long as there is proper performance pay. The top teachers should be earning six figure salaries. But none of this automatic pay scale nonsense.

Hattie used these studies to rank 138 aspects of schooling and found that overwhelmingly, student-teacher interaction at schools came out on top.

Number one is “self-reporting” when the student knows exactly how well they are doing and can explain this, as well as any gaps in their understanding, to their teacher.

Tactics such as letting students take turns to teach the class, and teachers doing post-mortems on their own lessons, are also key.

Heh I used to teach the maths class – even at intermediate school!

And teachers, Hattie says, should ask themselves, “how many of the kids in your classroom are prepared to say, in front of the class, `we need help’, `we don’t know what’s going on’ or `we need to have this retaught’?”

He says that sort of trust is too rare which is why he wants to work out a way of paying teachers extra for excellence, rather than experience.

“It’s a lot easier to throw money at smaller classes, more equipment, more funding, to worry about the curriculum, to worry about the exams. “It’s a hell of a lot harder to differentiate between good and bad teaching… I think we need to spend a lot more policies on worrying about this.”

Tolley says that although rewarding teachers for excellence is a “tricky issue” it needs to be on the table, particularly as Hattie is close to defining what makes an excellent teacher.

I think this research and its implications are terribly exciting.

Of course the PPTA is against:

Kate Gainsford, head of the secondary teachers’ union, defended teachers, saying they deserved praise for being in the classroom despite in many cases poor resources, pay and support.

She says teachers are already using many of the interactive methods. But she points out that to have time to interact with students, classes need to be kept smaller and that some now have more than 30 students, despite what schools’ teacher-student ratios claim.

“This is not rocket science. We know that relationships between students and teachers are very important. And we know how those relationships can be supported, and how they can be eroded.”

She emphasises that teachers need to be backed up by resources, policies and training.

Gainsford says it would be “extraordinarily problematic … on so many fronts” to work out an excellence-based pay formula. She would like to see the focus on supporting “all kids, in all classes, in all schools”, rather than on a sorting mechanism for teachers.

Why does there need to be a formula? Other workplaces do not have formulas. They have employers who agree on a pay rate with you, based on their judgement of your experience, ability and worth. This is not some untested concept, but the norm in most sectors.