OPINION: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Bonus scheme degrades teachers' sense of team spirit
, June 9, 2012
Victoria’s state Teaching Minister, Peter Hall, is right to question the value of the Commonwealth government’s teacher bonus scheme — a scheme whereby a very small percentage of teachers, if successful, will be eligible for an additional payment of $10,000.
Paying individual teachers a bonus is divisive and will only lead to ill feeling and distrust among staff.
As someone who taught for many years in government and non-government schools, the reality is that teaching is a collaborative affair where teamwork is crucial.
When teaching year 12 and when students achieved commendable examination results I knew that as important as my role was, so was the effort and diligence of students’ previous teachers, who had been so effective in laying the groundwork for success.
As a past faculty head, I also know teachers depend on one another in terms of mentoring, sharing resources and teaching strategies and that developing a collegiate relationship is critical if students are to be properly taught. One can only imagine the hostility and recriminations if particular teachers are rewarded for accomplishments that depend on the skill and work of others in the faculty and school.
It’s also the case that the proposed standards on which eligibility for the bonus are to be based, the National Professional Standards for Teachers, are an exercise in bureaucratic red tape and educational mumbo-jumbo.
Many of the descriptors used to detail graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead teachers are vague and generalised and it is often impossible to recognise what constitutes the difference between the various levels of performance.
Having to abide by the descriptors will also force teachers to adopt teaching fads and fashions that often bear little relationship to what happens, or needs to happen, in the classroom and that are educationally counterproductive.
The plethora of descriptors not only impose a checklist mentality (simply tick enough boxes and recognition follows), but the evaluation process also forces teachers to spend an inordinate amount of energy and time collecting and collating lesson plans, student work, evidence of professional development and whatever else might be relevant.
It goes without saying that teaching is already a difficult, stressful profession and that teachers are being drained of energy and enthusiasm by being forced to implement, monitor and evaluate directives from governments and bureaucracies that often have little relevance to the classroom.
Adding to the burden by forcing schools to adopt the Commonwealth government’s teacher bonus scheme will only make the existing situation worse.
Ironically enough, it’s also the case that the national teaching standards, endorsed by state and Commonwealth education ministers in December 2010, emphasise the importance of teachers working collaboratively — the very quality lost if some teachers are rewarded and not others.
Much of the so-called Rudd/Gillard education revolution, including imposing teaching standards and a bonus scheme, is copied from overseas experience. In England and the US, for some years now, governments have designed and implemented a uniform approach to standards and performance pay.
Instead of proving a success and worthy of emulation, the fact is there is increasing evidence that many of the innovations we are being forced to follow haven’t worked. In England Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has described the teaching standards regime introduced by the previous Labour government as ineffective, time-wasting and rife with educational waffle and jargon.
In the US, researchers have found little, if any, evidence that performance pay schemes, including offering individual teachers a one-off bonus, lead to more effective pedagogy and improved learning outcomes for students.
As noted by numerous reports into the characteristics of successful education systems, more important than offering rewards and reducing teaching to what can be quantified and measured are factors such as teacher commitment and enthusiasm, teachers mentoring and supporting one another and creating a school environment based on trust and reciprocity — the very qualities that are undermined by a teacher bonus scheme where only a select, privileged few are recognised and rewarded.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is author of Australia’s Education Revolution (available from News Weekly Books) and is founder and director of the Melbourne-based think tank Education Standards Institute.
This article originally appeared in the Melbourne Age (April 25, 2012).