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Performance-based pay for teachers
published: Sunday | September 16, 2007

Hyacinth Evans, Contributor


The Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) recently called for a 'pay-for-performance scheme' to improve the quality of teaching in Jamaica and, ultimately, the quality of employees entering the workforce. As reported in The Sunday Gleaner of August 5, this scheme would be part of a larger strategy that would also include the recruitment of foreign teachers to replace those who are not performing to standard. The measure of a teacher's performance would be based on students' academic performance. And while the specific performance was not outlined, it can be assumed that this would be performance in national examinations such as the CXC.

The call for performance-based pay for teachers is a result of the very poor performance of Jamaican students in national examinations such as the CXC, and the JEF's concern about the quality of the students who enter the workforce. There are indeed some severe problems facing the education system and the academic performance of students at all levels is only one of them.

call made before

This call for performance-based pay for teachers has been made before in Jamaica, as well as in other countries such as the U.S.A. and Australia, by businesspersons, politicians and educators. Such schemes have also been implemented and are now being watched very carefully.

Performance-based pay has the ring of conventional wisdom. It is based on a managerial approach to evaluation and compensation, assumes that the teacher is the sole influence on the academic performance of students, that teaching is a solo act, and that academic achievement and test scores are the only outcomes of education. It assumes that there is a one-to-one relationship between the task to be rewarded (teaching) and the outcome to be measured (student exam scores). Those who are familiar with teaching know that this is rarely the case. It also assumes that teachers need financial incentives in order to teach well and will magically improve their teaching and their subject matter knowledge once they know that they will be rewarded with a bonus at the end of the year. This assumption does not reflect what we know about why teachers teach, and the factors that help teachers become good quality teachers.

teacher quality

Teacher quality is what boosts student achievement. Research shows that teacher quality is the single most important factor that influences learning outcomes even when student socio-economic status is taken into account. So as we struggle to find solutions to the problems of student achievement, we need to think clearly about what contributes to teaching quality and how to develop the quality teacher.

So, how do we create good quality teachers who can help all or most of our children to learn? A good teacher education programme is a good start but it is only a start, and much more is needed after college to create quality teachers. Newly qualified teachers' introduction to teaching at the school site is an important aspect of socialisation into the teaching profession and has a significant effect on how teachers develop. Without a well-planned induction programme, the newly qualified teacher can actually decline in competence, picking up qualities that are not conducive to good teaching and student learning. No matter how good the initial teacher education programme is, its effects will not be very lasting unless there is this induction at the school. Without monitoring and guidance from an experienced and competent teacher, and without standards of teaching that act as a framework for teaching, the newly qualified teacher can easily become overwhelmed with the task, and revert to patterns of teaching picked up from his/her own grade school teachers. It is at this point of the teacher's development that we see the genesis of traditional teaching.

continue to learn

Teachers continue to learn to teach after initial qualification during their first teaching assignment, and what is learned can be good or bad. The lack of provisions for the newly qualified teacher to continue to learn to teach at the school is a serious gap in our system of teacher education and in our teacher education policy. We often make the mistake of thinking that the new teacher has learned all there is to know. So there is little provision for the required follow up after college and the induction into teaching that research has shown to be significant to the development of quality teaching and to teacher satisfaction. This professional development in the form of induction and the mentoring and guidance that accompany it are important aspects of workplace conditions that contribute to the development of quality teaching.

The availability of teaching materials and resources is another aspect of workplace conditions which has an impact on the quality of teaching. Teachers cannot teach effectively with just the chalk and the chalkboard; they have to represent ideas to diverse students and this requires instructional materials. Instructional materials are particularly needed when there are more than 40, 50 or 60 students in a class. The teacher student ratio is another workplace condition that affects student learning outcomes! Opportunities for teachers to continue learning through shared talk, joint work with other teachers and to conduct research on subject matter are also critical aspects of workplace conditions. Many Jamaican teachers will tell you that these opportunities are often non-existent at their school.

workplace conditions

We cannot talk about developing quality teaching without considering these critical workplace conditions. These conditions have been shown to be related not only to teacher quality and teacher effectiveness but also to teacher satisfaction and teacher retention in countries such as the U.S.A., the U.K. and Australia. Teachers' salaries are also an important part of workplace conditions. If we are going to talk about additional expenditures to boost student performance through teacher performance, we should take a look at salaries.

The development of teacher quality and teacher expertise after initial preparation, and the school-based working conditions that are required for the development of teaching quality are not mentioned by the JEF in their statement on performance-based pay. Nor are they mentioned by the Task Force Report on Educational Reform. This is a serious omission. Unless the conditions for developing the quality teacher are in place, it is premature to call for performance-based pay. Furthermore, if we work at developing teacher quality after initial graduation, we may not need to recruit teachers from the developed or the developing world. In this way, we will provide our own teachers with the conditions for effective teaching and for experiencing increased satisfaction with their work.

mixed results

How has performance-based pay worked in other settings? There have been mixed results because the philosophy underlying the scheme differs from district to district. Some school districts in the U.S.A. have run into difficulties with performance-based pay schemes for a variety of reasons, including differences of opinion or uncertainty about: the outcomes to be evaluated (test scores only, other aspects of student development?), the aspect of teacher performance to be evaluated (teaching only, co-curricular activities? additional leadership roles?), the period of time during which the student scores are monitored, the unit of analysis (class averages or student's individual scores?), and teachers' say in the decision to use performance-based pay schemes. Where teachers tend to work collaboratively, they find it difficult to accept an incentive that is individualised.

When performance-based pay is made part of a plan for the professional development of teachers, the scheme appears to work best. One such scheme is the Q Comp Plan (Quality Compensation for Teachers) in the U.S.A. The Q Comp programme has five components: career ladders for teachers, job-embedded professional development, instructional observations and standards-based assessments, measures to determine student growth, an teacher compensation or performance pay. In this plan, individual teachers work with mentors to evaluate pedagogy and best practices, and set goals for improving student performance. They also undergo three evaluations each year. School districts in Minnesota and other states have seen increases in student scores with the introduction of Q Comp.

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching of the U.S.A. in association with 10 other teacher quality organisations has recently published guidelines for 'Creating a Successful Performance Compensation System for Educators', a compilation of key design elements and implementation tips to help schools create effective performance-pay systems. In their view: "compensation reform is critical to the recruitment and retention of effective teachers, especially for those districts and schools that serve our most disadvantaged students". The design elements and implementation tips are:

Ongoing, job-embedded professional development

Teacher-led collaborative time based on areas of student need and best practice.

Performance-based compensation

Salaries and bonuses tied to multiple, objective measures of teacher effectiveness and student achievement growth.

Evaluation based on professional standards

Multiple evaluations based on credible standards with feedback from several evaluators.

Career advancement opportunities

Teachers can assume more responsibilities with commensurate pay.

Implementation recommendations include:

Sufficient and stable funding

Performance pay should be budgeted, continual and approved in advance.

Communication and teacher buy-in

Model should be straightforward, clear and streamlined; teacher input is critical.

Skilled leadership

Strong principals, master and mentor teachers are critical to success.

Target high-need schools and subjects

Rewarding teachers in high-need schools and hard-to-staff subjects helps recruit effective teachers to these critical areas of need.

Include a programme evaluation and monitoring system

Data collection, as well as internal and external evaluations, are essential.

Integrate an other systems to compensation system

Performance pay needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy to improve teaching and learning.

More details can be found at:

It is clear that the introduction of performance-based pay for teachers in Jamaica requires a great deal of thought, changes in the way teachers work, collaborative relationships at the school, a valid performance and evaluation system, and a career path for teachers. There is a great deal of work to be done before we are ready for a performance-based pay scheme.

Hyacinth Evans is professor of teacher education at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

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