Give more to teachers who do the hard yards

In principle, paying more to teachers who do a good job is an excellent idea. But it is hard to be unreservedly enthusiastic about Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop’s plan to pay cash bonuses to high achieving public school teachers, because her proposal is, as yet, so woolly and ill-defined.

Yes, public schools are behind the eight ball when it comes to paying the best teachers what they deserve and so preventing them from being poached by the much better resourced private schools. This situation has been made much worse by Julie Bishop’s own government, due to its extraordinary, ever-increasing, financial largesse to such schools. Because of the ‘no losers’ principle that is attached to the Federal government’s funding of private schools, many such schools are now being funded way above their SES (socio-economic status) entitlement, despite the fact these schools also charge ever-rising up front fees. No wonder they now can not only pay teachers more, but also employ business managers and marketing consultants and buy great swathes of public land.

But, according to The Australian‘s report on Bishop’s plan for public schools, these cash bonuses would come from an incentive fund sourced from existing federal public schools funding — funding which is niggardly to start with. That’s right, no more money for public schools, just Federal Government interference on how it would be allocated.

The Australian says Bishop would distribute her bonuses to “individual teachers and schools who turn out high achieving students.” One assumes ‘high achieving students” means high test scores, results that we all know are more likely to occur in middle class schools. On the face of it, then, this would mean more money to already well-resourced selective schools and public schools in well heeled, middle class areas, not more money to teachers struggling to educate our most disadvantaged kids already languishing in our most disadvantaged schools. Worse, under Bishop’s plan these really tough schools would actually get less money, because funds would be diverted from them to the richer public schools in the form of these incentive bonuses. Disadvantaged schools, bravely trying to deal with the most expensive to educate kids on average funds of $8-10,000 per student, per year, could actually lose teachers as a result of Bishop’s half baked idea, if they lost any of that funding.

What is it with the Howard government’s obsession with giving more to people who already have more? It is a policy they seem to follow blindly, even when it comes to the education of children.

Nevertheless, paying good teachers more money to encourage them to stay in public schools — particularly disadvantaged schools – remains a good idea. So, while we’re discussing Julie Bishop’s off the cuff thoughts on how to achieve it, here are mine.

How about Minister Bishop sets aside additional funds for her teacher incentive scheme and then leaves it up to individual principals to decide which teachers they should go to? Principals and the school community know who the most valuable teachers in a school are. They may not, however, always be the ones who get the highest test scores. They may be the teachers who go the extra yard with difficult kids, or put their heart and soul into extra curricular drama, debating or sport. They may be the teachers who tackle every class with enthusiasm and humour, or whose strength of character and warmth enable them to manage the toughest and most unruly class in the school.

Finally, how about allowing Principals of really tough, hard to staff schools access to more of the teacher incentive funding than their peers at cushier schools? How about, just for once, giving more to those who have less?

Now, that’s a radical idea.

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