Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Canute S. Thompson | Whither performance-based contracts for Jamaican teachers (Part 2)

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Dr Canute Thompson
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In Part 1 of this series, I examined the principle and practice of performance-based contracting and showed, among other things, that school improvement plans (SIPs), which are being developed and used by some schools, represent the key elements of performance-based evaluation. It is simply that the element of performance consequences is not included in those plans and that the contractual obligations are not fully explicated.

Williams and Engel (2013) of the George Washington University found that teacher evaluation is used for both accountability and instructional improvement in most school systems; and observe a growing trend to use student test results and metrics to inform accountability for schools, principals, and teachers, instructional improvement in classrooms and schools, and reforms at the system level.

These findings are corroborated by Walker (2013), who found that in many countries, teacher-evaluation systems are a work-in-progress and "of the 28 countries surveyed in the OECD report, 22 have formal policy frameworks in place at the national level to regulate teacher evaluations".

The six education systems that do not have such frameworks, according to Walker, include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. It is perhaps hardly surprising that these five countries do not have national frameworks for teacher-evaluation systems since their education systems are doing so well.

Walker explains that in Denmark, teachers receive feedback from their school administrators once a year, while in Norway, teacher-appraisal policies are designed and implemented at the local or school level, whereas in Iceland, evaluation is left to the discretion of individual schools and school boards.

 

Finland

 

Though having one of the world's most successful education systems, the Ministry of Education in Finland plays no role in teacher evaluation. Instead, broad policies are defined in the contract with the teachers' union. These contracts give the local school principal extensive powers over the performance of teachers, who are typically evaluated against the national core curriculum and the school development plan.

Finland does not use standardised testing, so individual student test scores are not used to evaluate teachers. Using the school's development plan as a reference point and the provisions of the contract of employment, teachers who do not perform acceptably are eventually removed from the system.

 

The United States of America

 

Unlike countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden, for example, which have high-performing education systems, the public education system in the United States of America is struggling in many states. Many states, as well as cities and counties within those states, therefore, have implemented performance-based contracts for teachers. But as Lohman (2011) explains, "Most pay-for-performance plans augment, rather than totally replace, traditional teachers' pay plans."

 

Denver (and Washington, DC)

 

The two most well-known performance-based pay plans, according to Lohman, are the systems used in Denver and Washington, DC, both of which were implemented as part of collective bargaining agreements between the school district and its teachers and which make participation voluntary. Other key features of the systems in Denver and DC are that they use a combination of annual bonuses and increases in teachers' base pay and offer bonuses for increasing students' academic achievement.

The Denver system, known as ProComp, went into effect in 2006 after a four-year pilot programme in 12 of Denver's 142 schools. The system covers classroom teachers and other special instructional personnel, such as librarians, counsellors, and therapists. The system was made optional for teachers already working for the school district when the programme became effective, but mandatory for those who were employed on or after January 1, 2006.

Features of the system include an initial salary based on the district's traditional salary schedule, plus raises and bonuses based on "(1) school and student academic performance and growth, (2) advanced degrees and professional-development units earned, (3) evaluation ratings, and (4) whether a teacher works in hard-to-staff schools or subjects". (Lohman, 2011)

 

The City of Baltimore

 

The performance-based evaluation system for the city of Baltimore is enshrined in a memorandum of understanding between the Baltimore Teachers' Union and the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners and covers all teachers.

Among the features of this system are that classroom teachers are held accountable for increasing student achievement, attendance, and parental engagement. Despite the cultural and social challenges in the State's public-school system, teachers are expected to devise innovative ways to realise the stated deliverables. According to the city's 2003 Performance-based Evaluation System Handbook:

"The ongoing analysis of student achievement is an integral part of the teacher evaluation system that begins when teachers and qualified observers engage in the Initial Planning Conference early in the school year. Teachers are expected to continuously analyse and use formal and informal student achievement data in their planning and instruction. Classroom teachers are expected to document and discuss their plans and practices, their efforts to increase attendance, engage parents, and increase student achievement in ongoing evaluation conferences throughout the school year."

Under the Baltimore system, if a teacher does not meet minimal accountability standards, he/she must be placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP). If the teacher fails to make the agreed-upon improvement, additional steps that could end in dismissal follow.

 

Five States

 

Shakman, et al (2012), conducted a study of performance-based teacher evaluation systems in five states (Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) and found, among other things, that, "all five states include observations and self-assessments as part of teacher assessment, but states differ in who conducts the observation, how often evaluations are conducted, and what scoring parameters are used".

Four of the five introduced performance-based evaluations within about the last decade, but Texas introduced its in 1997-98. The dominant and common features of these systems are teacher quality and preparedness, professional growth, student achievement, and planning for the future.

These performance-based contracts have, in many cases, replaced tenure contracts, or career-status contracts as they are sometimes called. According to Wagner (2013), in North Carolina, career status was intended not as a guarantee of a job for a schoolteacher, but as a protection of due-process rights, given the risk teachers faced of unjustified dismissal.

While noting that the introduction of performance-based contracts had left teachers worried, Wagner reports that the chief proponent of the bill, Senator Phil Berger, contended that the tenure system does not remove bad teachers from the classroom and, in many respects, rewarded mediocrity and punished excellence by granting unlimited job security to all.

 

THE JAMAICAN REALITY

 

The 2014 National Education Inspectorate report found that of 129 schools inspected, 61 per cent, or 79 schools were rated as ineffective. A closer look at the findings showed that in the area of leadership and management, 51, or 39 per cent, were rated as unsatisfactory. In the area of teaching in support of students' learning, 67, or 51 per cent, were rated as unsatisfactory; and in the area of students' progress, 69, or 53 per cent, were rated as unsatisfactory.

There are 954 primary, junior high, and secondary schools in Jamaica, of which 803, or 84 per cent, have been inspected by the NEI since its inception in 2010. As at 804 schools inspected, 55 per cent have been rated as ineffective.

The foregoing picture points to an education system badly in need of corrective interventions and I submit that an important, but not the only, feature of such intervention must be more rigorous monitoring and evaluation of teacher performance.

The Code of Regulations provides for systematic interventions up to and including dismissal for underperforming teachers, but the evaluation instrument appears not to be well understood and properly used in some instances.

 

TOWARDS NEW EVALUATIONS

 

There is a fairly simple mechanism that can be used to design a performance-based teacher evaluation system and the starting point of such a system is the school improvement plan (SIP).

As was shown earlier, the SIP has two important common features with performance-based contracts that are being used in several countries and in several sectors such as health, construction, road maintenance, and financial management. These two common features are:

(a) A clear definition of a series of objectives and indicators by which to measure the contractor's (principal's/teacher's) performance.

(b) Collection of date on performance indicators to assess the extent to which the contractor is successfully implementing the agreed services and attaining the planned deliverables.

Many schools in Jamaica are already using SIPs, and in most cases when a teacher is being interviewed for the job of principal, he/she goes to the interview armed with an SIP for that school which he/she would have developed based on research in the school. Thus, Jamaica is already some way up the path to performance-based evaluation with the emerging practice of SIPs. The SIP sets out the performance targets that the prospective principal is committing to achieving for the school and thus forms the basis for a contract between the principal and the school board.

Performance-based contracts have a third feature that SIPs in the Jamaican education system do not as yet practise -that is, performance consequences. This important third element needs to be included. Thus, where a principal meets the performance targets, he/she is to be rewarded, in keeping with the provisions of the SIP/contract; and where the targets are not met, if the performance review shows that the principal is culpable, appropriate sanctions, which would have been agreed in the SIP/contract, would also apply.

 

Urgent Need for Updated Policy

 

The mandate of school boards is to see to the effective operation of the school by providing the governance support and framework for this to occur. Thus, every school board of the 55 per cent of the 804 schools that are ineffective is liable for the state of affairs.

There is an urgent need for every board to take steps to ensure that schools under their charge develop an SIP and such an SIP can be used as a basis for performance management within the existing Education Regulations.

Notwithstanding the fact that the existing legislation provides for school boards to effect the development and implementation of SIPs and for these to be used as a basis for performance evaluation, there is need for a more robust and shared policy framework. I submit that the elements of such a framework should include the following:

(1) The stipulation of a requirement by the Ministry of Education that all schools must have in place a rolling three-to-five-year SIP by July 2017. These plans should be developed with the participation of key stakeholders, including all members of the academic staff, representatives from other sectors of the staff, student representatives in the case of junior high and secondary schools, the PTA and the past students' association.

(2) Those schools that already have would undertake evaluations and make updates as needed. The policy should also stipulate that the performance reviews be done at the end of every academic year.

(3) That the Ministry of Education includes in its 2017-2019 wage and conditions of service offer to the JTA a provision that the parties agree to a performance-based evaluation and compensation system to take effect no later than the second year of the two-year contract and to remain a feature of the terms and conditions of service perpetually.

The parties would work out the details of implementation in the months leading up to April 2018 starting as soon as possible. The Ministry's proposal should include, I suggest:

a. That all boards begin holding principals currently in the service to deliver on targets in SIPs

b. That all teachers and principals employed after April 2017 be placed on performance-based contracts that are informed by the SIPs, with the SIP being the embodiment of the principal's contract.

c. That compensation be a base rate and all increases be tied to meeting agreed performance targets.

d. That persistent failure to meet agreed performance targets results in sanctions that include removal from the position (demotion) or termination.

e. That full implementation of a performance-based system, having begun midpoint in the 2017-2019 contract period, is then fully implemented in 2019-2021.

- Dr Canute Thompson is a certified management consultant and lecturer in educational policy, planning and leadership at the School of Education, UWI. He is co-founder of the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and canutethompson1@gmail.com.