Teacher Performance Measures: A Reflection

(C) Julie Boyd 2011

Not everything that can be counted, counts, and not everything that counts can be counted                                                                    Albert Einstein



The Grattan Institute recently wrote that a new system of teacher appraisal and feedback in Australia would improve teacher effectiveness, recognise our best educators and lift the outcomes of Australian students to the best in the world, http://www.grattan.edu.au/pub_page/081_report_teacher_appraisal.html, however this is far from a new issue. The quantification of teacher performance dates back to at least 1970 and today, as I write this, the respected Albert Shanker Institute in America just released a report entitled The Year in Research On Market-Based Education Reform: 2011 Edition. (http://shankerblog.org/?p=4483). In this report a number of teacher performance pay programs were canvassed to the conclusion that a review of this year’s research shows that one thing remained constant: Despite all the lofty rhetoric, what we don’t know about these interventions outweighs what we do know by an order of magnitude.

In 1986 Christopher Pollittwrote in the Journal of Financial Accountability & Management (Volume 2, Issue 3, pages 155–170, September 1986http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1111/j.1468-0408.1986.tb00262.x/asset/j.1468-0408.1986.tb00262.x_p1.png?v=1&s=c1fa39b24265c33d6b458f4be28aab36d304b993) that one does not have to dig too deep into the mass of recent documentation about improving management in the public services sector to see the bureaucracy of the future, and perhaps it is the form this bureaucracy has evolved into that we need to address before we will finally be able to develop a set of performance measures which will be fair, equitable and place Australia as world leaders in the genuine recognition of excellence in teaching.

As educators it is incumbent on us to consider why this issue is taking so long to resolve.

Historically, the first discussion of teacher performance appeared in February 1970, the year I commenced my teaching degree, in a paper presented at a conference sponsored by the Office of Education, Bureau of Educational Professions Development called Do Teachers Make a Difference. The author, Alexander M. Mood stated The collection and analysis of data concerning teacher effectiveness will continue to be of very limited use to teachers and administrators until our models of the educational process become much more sophisticated. Teacher performance indicators appear more relevant for judging teacher effectiveness than certification, education, and experience. At the time the question of whether excellent teachers are born or made was forming the basis of extremely lively discussions during a university subject called ‘Philosophy of Education’.

In 1998 as the result of consultancy work with Education Departments across Western Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory who were, at the time, grappling with the distinction between Teacher Professional Appraisal and Performance Management, I published an article and small book called ‘Collaborative Approaches to Professional Learning and Reflection’ which proposed a menu of appraisal processes for teachers to improve their practice.  (http://julieboyd.com.au/creating-sustained-professional-growth-through-collaborative-reflection/ )The same year, consultancy on the same issue in Florida, USA coincided with the election of Governor Jeb Bush who mandated standardized testing in Florida’s public schools, eliminated social promotion for students and established a system of funding public schools based on a state-wide grading system using the FCAT test. Bush also co-founded the first charter school in the State of Florida and established private education companies, before going on to help his brother, George W. win an election as President. The measures Bush put in place in Florida appear to have influenced the current conservative push to ‘corporatize’ and privatize education across America, where “reform” is now considered to be a synonym for firing experienced teachers, cutting salaries, benefits, lowering standards for teaching, and to link teacher pay to performance. This has angered and bemused teachers, and deeply concerned educators across Australia and New Zealand as well as America See http://julieboyd.com.au/a-day-in-the-life-of-the-american-education-saga/

 Teacher performance pay: A review by M J Podgursky, M G Springer in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (2007) concluded that evidence clearly suggests an upsurge of interest in many states and school districts; however, expanded use of performance pay has been controversial. (http://www.mendeley.com/research/teacher-performance-pay-review-1/)

On 24 November 2011 the (Australian) Productivity Commission very sensibly said the federal government should defer its national performance bonus scheme for teachers until it is known how to design one effectively. http://www.educationreview.com.au/pages/section/article.php?s=Breaking+News&idArticle=22726

A very brief SWOT analysis of the topic currently might include:

Strengths – Our reputation for student centred learning.

Weaknesses – A top heavy bureaucratic system which has become increasingly inward looking and political over the past decade.

Opportunities- To develop a world-class system

Threats – A bureaucracy which seeks homeostasis and further pursuit of Americanisation of our education systems.


Written October 2011