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Issue #1511      27 July 2011

Gillard should follow New York and ditch bonus scheme

New York has ditched its controversial teacher bonus program citing research showing the scheme had no positive effect on learning outcomes or teachers’ attitudes towards their jobs.

The New York Times reported on Sunday July 17 that a study conducted by public policy research institution the RAND Corporation revealed that “the bonus program had no effect on students’ test scores, on grades on the city’s controversial A to F school report cards, or on the way teachers did their jobs.”

The New York bonus scheme is part of a push by authorities throughout the US to tie teacher pay to “performance”. There has been massive opposition to this regressive policy shift from teacher unions and academics who have been critical of such schemes from the outset.

“Public opinion is on the side of teacher unions with 80 percent of respondents to a Daily News online poll rejecting the notion that more money can buy better learning outcomes’.”

Not surprisingly, teachers interviewed during the study said “improving as teachers and seeing their students learn were bigger motivators than a bonus.” Dr Julie Marsh, the study’s lead researcher said that “a lot of the principals and teachers saw the bonuses as a recognition and reward, as icing on the cake. But it’s not necessarily something that motivated them to change.”

New York teachers have been subjected to a raft of ill-advised education policies in recent years and there’s no sign that won’t continue with Education Department spokeswoman Barbara Morgan telling the New York Times that the results of the study “provides us with important information as we continue to think about compensation models that differentiate among the performance of our teachers.”

According to the New York Daily News, the Education Department says the program failed because bonuses were given to schools as a whole rather than individuals. Such a statement should ring alarm bells for unions who will no doubt be campaigning against Teacher Bonus Scheme Mark II when that is inevitably rolled out in the near future.

However, it seems public opinion is on the side of teacher unions with 80 percent of respondents to a Daily News online poll rejecting the notion that more money can buy better learning outcomes:

When will Australia learn from US mistakes?

Since Julia Gillard’s election there has been an almost fanatical duplication of failed US education policy by the ALP. The recent introduction of a New York-style teacher bonus scheme is yet another example of the Prime Minister’s eagerness to take advice from the likes of Joel Klein and others with spurious education credentials while ignoring the warnings of home-grown experts.

Julia Gillard’s proposed bonus scheme announced in May has been heavily criticised with AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos labelling the scheme “misguided”.

“What’s needed is a comprehensive approach to attracting and retaining teachers.”

“Paying a small number of teachers one-off bonuses is counter-productive and divisive. It is not a long-term solution to the problems we have,” he said.

“There are clearly some within the government’s ranks who share a fascination with a corporate approach to education that has been experimented in the United States.”

According to Gavrielatos, what’s needed is a comprehensive approach to attracting and retaining teachers – one of the Gillard government’s stated aims of implementing such a scheme.

“We should further recognise and reward our experienced teachers who demonstrate high quality teaching knowledge, skills and practice. Our biggest problem is that teachers currently reach the top of the pay scale within nine to ten years and then have to leave the classroom if they want to earn a higher salary,” he added.

As in the United States, there is little support from teachers for a bonus scheme here in Australia. The question is: Will Julia Gillard do what she seems to do best and follow the US in ditching her teacher bonus scheme? Only time will tell.

Australian Education Union, SA Branch  

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