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ACT Party, David Seymour, Education, Performance Pay for Teachers

On David Seymour’s Performance Pay Master Plan…

With the regularity of the changing of Australian Prime Ministers, David Seymour periodically re-moots his master plan to introduce teacher performance pay and lays alongside it a promise to give principals a massive $20k extra per teacher if, and only if, the teacher has left their union. Well, Australia just had an election, the alarm batteries have been changed and, right on time, this appeared in The Spinoff.

There are a number of things that need addressing with David’s idea and his evidence.

First, the union-busting aspect of his plan is problematic because, well,  it’s not legal. As outlined here on MBI’s Employment New Zealand web site:

No-one (employers, managers, colleagues, union members or union officials) can threaten, or put (directly or indirectly) undue pressure on you:

  • to be or not to be a union member…

A contract, agreement or other arrangement can’t:

  • require anyone to be or not to be a union member or a member of a particular union
  • give a person, just because they are or aren’t a union member or a member of a particular union, any preference:
    • for getting or keeping employment
    • relating to terms or conditions of employment…

Most observers would say the fact that the plan isn’t legal might be the end of the matter, but it doesn’t seem to deter David and his supporters, so let’s dig deeper into the plan: Let’s take look at that promise of $20k per teacher.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Twenty thousand dollars per teacher. Tempting. Juicy, even. But all is not as it seems. David’s proposal is that the principal gets an additional $20k per non-unionised teacher that they employ – and there’s nothing to say how the principal might allocate the money. If, as David Seymour proposes, the principal decided to allocate the money to teachers via performance pay, how might it look? And if the goal is to improve student learning, would it work?

In his Spinoff piece, David cites two quotes as evidence that performance pay is the way to go. Each quote is linked to an abstract (not the full report) and in each case he has cherry picked a single quote that supports his ideological position. Let’s look at these quotes…

David writes: ‘In 2007 the Journal of Public Economics published a study which found “test scores are higher in schools that offer individual incentives for good performance”.’

However, a less selective reading of the abstract shows that it goes on to say:

The association between teacher incentives and student performance could be due to better schools adopting teacher incentives or to teacher incentives eliciting more effort from teachers; it is impossible to rule out the former explanation with our cross sectional data” (my emphasis).

In other words, the better grades may have nothing to do with performance pay at all. David didn’t mention that bit of the abstract in his article, did he?

The second abstract David links to says that it uses PISA 2003 micro data for its analysis. I cannot dig deeper into the research because again David shared only the abstract, but the May 2012 OECD report “Does performance-based pay improve teaching?” states that:

“…the overall picture reveals no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes.”

That report goes on to say that performance pay tends to work only in those countries where teachers are poorly paid. Is that David’s plan, I wonder – to keep teacher basic pay so low that it makes the prospect performance pay look attractive? It’s not much of a plan, is it? Especially when, as the report states, “empirical analyses of the effects of performance-related pay has generally been inconclusive“.  And if there’s no clear evidence it improves student outcomes, what is David’s plan for, I wonder?

Oh, gosh, I almost forgot to give you the link to the definition of union busting.

That’s me for now. Shout me when the Australian Prime Minister is rolled.


Some research on Performance Pay



About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi


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