Another Blow to Teacher Performance-Pay Schemes

The OECD has just delivered another blow to the Federal Government’s teacher bonus scheme. It comes on top of the recent report on the schools workforce by the Productivity Commission which recommended against bonus payments as a way to improve teacher performance.

The OECD’s latest PISA in Focus says that analysis of the 2009 PISA data shows no overall relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes. This adds to the growing weight of evidence that performance bonuses do not improve student results (see here and here).

The head of the Indicators and Analysis Division of the OECD Directorate for Education, Andreas Schleicher, said that the international evidence reveals “no relationship” between student test results and the use of performance pay [BBC News, 15 May 2012].

Last November, the Federal Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, announced a national bonus scheme for teachers in government and private schools. Teachers who are accredited at the two highest levels of the national professional standards for teachers will receive the bonuses. Highly accomplished teachers will be eligible for a one-off bonus of $7,500 and lead teachers will be eligible for $10,000. The first round of bonuses will be paid in 2014.

Only about half of OECD countries provide some kind of payment based on teacher performance while those that do use different forms of payment. Countries that do not provide any payments based on performance include several high performing countries such as Belgium (Fl), Japan and Korea.

In contrast, the Czech Republic, England, the Netherlands and Sweden use outstanding teaching performance as a criterion for decisions on a teacher’s position on the base salary scale. Several countries use bonus or supplemental payments to reward high teacher performance. These include England, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States.

The analysis also reveals some contradictory trends. In economies where teachers are relatively well-paid (more than 15% above GDP per capita), performance pay is linked to reduced student performance. However, where teachers are relatively poorly paid (less than 15% above GDP per capita), performance-related pay is associated with improved student performance.

This finding provides no comfort for Federal Government. The data used for the OECD analysis shows that teacher salaries in Australia are well above GDP per capita – 27% above.

The OECD brief emphasises that salary is only part of the work environment for teachers. Countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just civil servants who deliver curricula.

The Productivity Commission report on the schools workforce rejected performance-based pay as a way to improve teacher quality. It said that the long history of mixed results from overseas experiments with teacher bonuses suggests that an effective and widely-applicable system is unlikely to emerge in the foreseeable future.

The Commission suggested that the development of a performance-based career structure would likely be a more beneficial option. A standards-based career structure for teachers is supported by a wide range of

OECD, Does Performance-Based Pay Improve Teaching, PISA In Focus 16, 15 May 2012.

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