Beyond Tenure

I was talking to a primary school teacher who has recently returned from 3+ years in the UK. She is currently struggling to get the time she spent working at a top London school recognised in her measly NZ salary.

I can’t decide what makes me more angry – that clearly relevant experience is ignored or the patently stupid fact that her pay is tenure based in the first place.

As it stands, I don’t expect we’ll enjoy her company here for long. She is already looking enviously at the better situation she could enjoy in Australia.

So, why do we have this system? Is there any evidence that teachers get better the longer they have spent on the job, or that the best teachers are those who have the longest tenure ? Is this the system that the best teachers prefer – i.e. do they prefer to just be paid in-line with everybody else?

Education is one of the three key area that Bill Gates has identified for his Foundation (the other two are Global Health and Poverty). In his first TED Talk he asked the question: “How do you make a teacher great?” and talked about three things he’s learned about this:

  • Past performance is the best indicator for future performance as a teacher – in other words, there is value in understanding how good a teacher is today
  • There is very little measurable difference after three years’ teaching – which doesn’t align very well with how teachers are usually compensated (see above)
  • Teachers are seldom told how good they are

The last point doesn’t really surprise me. Tenure means that managers can avoid difficult allocation decisions. Performance reviews are much easier – everybody is great, and those who have been around the longest are the greatest of all!

Most of us can point to exceptional teachers who made an impact on our own education. But, how do you systematise that and make it the rule rather than the exception?

This is not a subject that I know a lot about, but I’m interested to learn more. How do we sensibly measure the performance of a teacher, track that over time, report that information back to teachers to help them improve, and ensure that we are rewarding and retaining the best? How can we encourage the best teachers to work at the worst schools, rather than the best schools as they currently tend to? If you have it, please point me at any details about how well we do in these respects in New Zealand.

I’m also interested to learn who benefits from the current system – it definitely doesn’t seem to be the best teachers. I’m assuming that somebody is winning as the result of the status quo? I think they should probably have some sunlight applied to them.

Thanks in advance for your help with this.

Related Reading

Thank You, Sir
What Makes A Great Teacher? – The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2010
The Gates Foundation, Education Strategy – I especially recommend The Widget Effect (PDF, 6.1MB)

7 thoughts on “Beyond Tenure”

  1. It’s because the education sector in New Zealand is one of the most heavily unionised sectors in the country.

    Unions don’t want people to be paid for how good they are; they want everyone to be paid the same.

    And for some reason their logic is that the longer you’ve been in a job the more you should be paid, regardless of how good (or crap) you are.

  2. I share your frustration. Just yesterday I talked to a teacher at Otaki College and was reminded of the many things that are broken with the system. Of course, there are many things that are working well too. I find it encouraging that at least many teachers are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated (money). But that only works when the issue of money is off the table.
    The challenge with performance management is not dissimilar to measuring social outcomes in general. Hard. Personally, I’d love to see better acceptance of qualitative measures rather than quantitative measures. In saying this qualitative needs to get its ass further up the line to win more respect from those of us entrenched in quantitative measures.

    Lastly, here’s a thought provoking TED video on the “Child led” education system, where he poses a hypothesis he hopes to prove: strong> Education is a self organising system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”

    1. Thanks Sam.

      In the business world performance reviews are generally a combination of quantitive and qualitative measures, and I’m sure that would be no different for teachers.

      I find it odd that because this is hard to do the preference in education seems to be to try and avoid the subject all together.

  3. At Vic Uni all lecturers for a course are reviewed by students (on a scale of 1 to 10) on things like organisation, passion for the content, attitude towards questions, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. You can also give feedback on what you liked and think could be improved.

    I’m fairly sure that it is factored in to their bonus or pay rate next year. There’s a lack of transparency in what actually does happen though, so it could all just get put in the bin and students wouldn’t know.

    I’m not sure if it would work in high schools, let alone younger education, due to maturity or comprehension of what’s being asked. But it could be an interesting way of measuring teacher performance.

  4. First of all – all NZ schools have a performance management system mandated since 1999. Movement up the pay scale is dependent on a satisfactory annual appraisal against the performance requirements. Plus every three years the principal has to attest that a teacher meeting the a set of Teacher Council performance indicators in order to be registered. It is illegal to teach without registration.
    Also the pay scales are a rationing devise to save the government money. The union would have no objection to teachers moving to the top of the scale after three years but it would coats a fortune. The teachers needs to contact her union (if she is a member) so they can sort out her pay quick smart. Quite often delays are because the teacher doesn’t have the correct verifying documentation which is absolutely essential when you are spending public money. Sorry to spoil your conspiracies which I know are always more satisfying than struggling with the facts.

    1. Thanks Bronwyn.

      With respect, suggesting that the best teachers aren’t benefiting from the current system isn’t exactly a conspiracy theory.

      How can I find out more about the performance management system that you’ve described? For example, what percentage of teachers currently fail to satisfy the performance requirements each year? How many receive an unsatisfactory tri-annual appraisal and are de-registered? Was I out of line to say “everybody is great, and those who have been around the longest are greatest of all”? Recognising the best teachers means identifying them and treating them differently from their colleagues, doesn’t it?

      As you say, it would be great if the best teachers could get to the top of the pay scale within three years. It only needs to cost a fortune if that means they drag everybody else up with them.

      As per my comments on twitter this week…

      I understand that teachers don’t like the idea of using league tables to measure their performance (football coaches are the same). I don’t understand how teachers *would* like us to measure their performance (or do they just prefer we don’t?)

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