teacher performance pay

Linking pay to performance the best way to help teachers

Repeated strikes over pay undermine teachers’ work and prove unions are tin-eared on the need to raise education standards.

Rather than demanding additional pay while shirking accountability, teachers should welcome the NSW Premier’s push for bolstering pay based on boosted performance.

Over the past two decades, Australian student achievement in the OECD-run Programme for International Student Assessment has declined more steeply and consistency than any other country, except Finland. Over the same time, school funding — including that spent on staffing — has been sharply increasing.

All Australians have a stake in turning around these declining outcomes; with teachers being the key to doing so.

High-quality teaching practice is the most important factor for how students achieve. But teachers’ pay often has little to do with the quality of their work.

While Australian teachers earn relatively high starting salaries — and generally high salaries across-the-board — pay is flat and compressed. That means that, after a few years, a teacher’s salary doesn’t grow much. And there’s little difference in pay between any two teachers who have worked for a similar number of years.

It’s this compression in pay — not necessarily the pay level itself — that’s responsible for suboptimal teacher outcomes.

Just increasing salaries overall does little to improve student results. And while more pay can attract more people to teaching, it doesn’t necessarily mean we get the effective teachers we most need.

Ultimately, the issue for policymakers, the profession, and the public is not so much whether teachers deserve a pay rise, but that future pay rises must be tilted towards those who are the best performers.

It’s the failure of education unions to constructively engage with this issue that exacerbates the problem.

The stubborn commitment to centralised wages denies top teachers from earning top dollars. In effect, the push for higher overall salaries short-changes the best performers in favour of everybody else in the field.

Educators must come to embrace performance pay as an opportunity to raise the profession’s aspirations, rather than seeing it as a threat to them. That’s because rewarding talent, rather than tenure, is a recognition of the value of teachers’ work, not an undermining of it.

While it may be uncomfortable for some in education, genuinely raising the status of teaching must include better aligning pay with performance.

If well-implemented, performance pay for teachers will pay dividends for our education system.

Glenn Fahey is program director in education policy at the Centre for Independent Studies and author of Dollars and Sense: Time for smart reform of Australian school funding.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio