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Canute S. Thompson | Whither performance-based contracts for Jamaican teachers – Part 1

Published:Wednesday | September 21, 2016 | 9:06 AMCanute S. Thompson

The issue of performance-based contracts for teachers is again a point of public discussion. Frankly, it is time to move from talk to action. The Gleaner raised this matter in its Fourth Floor consultations as a means of stimulating public discussion and former Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites, who sought to push the issue as one of accountability while he was minister, has continued that discussion.

In this two-part series, I will seek to explore in Part 1, the issue of performance-based evaluations and the implications for the contracting process, as a principle and look at some instances of practice and in Part 2, I will suggest ways in which performance-based evaluation and compensation may be implemented in the Jamaican education system.

 

MISUNDERSTANDING

 

 

OF ACCOUNTABILITY

 

One of the reasons performance-based evaluation and compensation is so strongly resisted is due to a misunderstanding of the principles of accountability and the nature of service.

Listening to some persons speaking on this issue could give the impression that there are more dangers and risks to holding teachers accountable under performance-based contracts, than there are likely positives for students, the society and the country. It is my contention that any person who is a candidate for principal of a school MUST, as a matter of common sense and the basic principles of service, be saying that he or she is offering something that the school needs and inevitably is prepared to take the school from where it is to a higher level of performance. What other reason could there be to be offering oneself to lead?

Part of the reason performance-based contracting has been so resisted by teachers is that we have created an ethos in which accountability is seen as a negative thing. But being held accountable, means being answerable for positive and negative outcomes, not just the negative ones. Every CEO is held accountable for the overall performance of the organisation and at each evaluation period, the CEO is expected to report on both positive and negative results.

I note with interest that the contract that superintendents of schools sign with the Cook County Board in Illinois, USA, makes explicit that an unplanned evaluation may be held when the superintendent believes that a deliverable under the contract has been accomplished. This evaluation is in addition to others that are planned for during the life of the contract. The provisions for performance evaluation in this contract are instructive and read in part:

"The contract year under this Contract is July 1 through the succeeding June 30 of each year. As part of the superintendent's annual evaluation of the superintendent and the board will review progress toward achievement of the goals and make appropriate modifications to the goals and/or the programme to achieve the goals. The board and the superintendent will also strive to conduct interim reviews several times each contract year at the request of the superintendent and/or board and as the business of the board permits. A comprehensive final review of achievement of a goal will take place at the time the earliest if the following occurs as applicable to the particular goal:

1) But no later than January 31 of the last year of this contract.

2) At the expiration of the period of time identified in the programme approved by the board.

3) Whenever either party deems that a goal has been accomplished.

The Illinois Principals' Association has developed a guide to assist its members in crafting performance plans to meet the state's requirements. This guide provides examples of goals and objectives that plans may contain and methods by which they may be evaluated.

 

UNDERSTANDING PERFORMANCE-BASED CONTRACTING

 

Performance-based contracts, as a method by which governments procure services has become an increasingly popular method of procurement and is being used in several sectors as Loevinsohn (2008) notes. The key feature and fundamental purpose of performance-based contracting, as Loevinsohn explains is that it "lets government agencies acquire services using contracts that define what is to be achieved, not necessarily how the work is done". Performance-based contracting by emphasising results, rather than processes, creates the space for innovation on the part of the contractor and while providing the government with the benefit of receiving best-value products and services.

Given this basic characterisation of performance-based contracting, it is easy to see how it can be applied to the performance of teachers. The teacher is engaged not because the Government wishes to create jobs, but because the Government needs to educate children and produce responsible citizens. While the Government creates a framework for the execution of the task, namely the curriculum, the teacher's value to the process is measured by the extent to which he or she fulfils the task of educating children and promoting citizenship.

Under the leadership of a functionary identified as the instructional leader, the school will have its unique and innovatively designed framework called a school improvement plan (SIP) in which the deliverables that the school intends to pursue in a given period and by which the school's leadership will be held accountable is captured. This SIP is the performance-based contract that the principal signs to the instrument through which he or she is held accountable by the school board, the community, and the ministry of education.

Loevinsohn identifies three critical elements of performance-based contracts, two of which are features of School Improvement Planning in Jamaica, namely:

(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.

The third element of performance-based contracting, as practiced globally, but which is missing from SIP in the Jamaican education system and which is what is urgently needed, is performance consequences such as the provision of rewards (when targets are met or exceeded) or imposition of sanctions when targets are not met.

 

key factors determining school performance

 

The factors that determine the performance of schools are many and varied and relate not only to teachers and the quality of leadership, but include factors such as resources, the support and influence of the community, and past students, etc.

In considering the mechanics of implementing a performance-based evaluation and compensation system, some teachers are understandably sceptical and, indeed, fearful as they are of the view that an unfair board could create the means to dismiss them without justification and place on them the burden of having to fight for their rights. These concerns cannot be dismissed as being without foundation, but the probability of that happening cannot be used to allow the status quo to remain.

What is beyond dispute, however, concerning the performance of schools is that the top two factors that determine the outcomes of schools are (a) the quality of teaching and learning, and (b) the quality of leadership (Leithwood, 2004).

Against that background, there is an urgent call for there to be reforms to the system of teacher evaluation in Jamaica to place the ball of accountability where it truly belongs - teacher quality and teaching and leadership.

- 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. Send comments to canutethompson1@gmail.com .