The island's teachers, currently agitating for salary increases and retroactive pay due to them, are pressing their demands with a planned two-day strike for tomorrow and Tuesday.
This agitation is coming against the background of an increase in their emoluments over the last three or four years to reflect 80 per cent of what obtains in the private-education market, and the insistence of the Government that it does not have the money to meet its commitments given revenue shortfall and the general state of the economy.
Several questions therefore arise: Do the teachers believe the Government has funds stashed away somewhere that it is curmudgeonly withholding from them? Or can they identify other areas of state expenditure from which funds should be diverted to meet their demands at this time?
It is also fair, we believe, to ask: Is the output of teachers in the public sector similar to that of their counterparts in the private sector? In other words, are taxpayers getting the best bang for the buck?
Leaders of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) and other education spokespersons often respond with obfuscation when the issue of performance-based pay is raised. Typically, the response has been: Why should the teacher be held responsible for the scholastic performance of students when there are so many intervening factors? What about the impact of the learning environment, for example class size, and the role of parents?
These are legitimate questions, but they point to the need to develop a properly calibrated performance-measurement instrument, rather than to be thrown up as an excuse or defence for not introducing performance-based pay.
We suggest, and we take no credit for originality here, three approaches towards introducing performance-based pay.
First, every teacher should receive a basic compensation tied to his or her level of training and years of service, and we have no problem with this amount reflecting 80 per cent of market rates.
Second, a system of merit awards should be implemented to reward teachers who have performed above the norm, as measured by student performance in exams - school-based or external - or any other standards developed by the school administration and/or the Ministry of Education. Frankly, we find little merit in the argument that an incentive-based compensation system would result in competition among teachers, which would be counterproductive to team work that is essential to the effective running of a school. On the contrary, the current system allows the indolent to be compensated on an equal level as those who take their work seriously and put in extra effort.
Third, we suggest that performance standards be developed that take into account the level of resources available to a particular school. This approach avoids the charge of unequal resources across the island's schools, as well as the danger of imposing an artificial uniformity - as discussed by a contributor in our last Tuesday's Education 20/20 publication. School-specific goal-setting makes it possible for a school administration to measure how much 'development' has taken place in a pupil over a period of time.
The knotty issue of how to treat with the contending factors that impinge on student learning, we believe, can be solved by attaching weighting to the performance standards to be applied to teachers.
In as much as we support better compensation for our teachers within the resources of the state, we also think it is time to throw the book at poor-performing teachers.
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