Performance-Based Pay Systems in Education

Much emphasis has been placed and research done on what are commonly called ‘performance based’ pay systems within industry. Around for decades, it is hardly a new idea or practice. The most common example found in many businesses today is the ‘pay by piece’ manufacturing operation in which workers are paid by the quantity of goods they produce.

A closer look at this practice suggests there are more advantages for the business owner’s profits than either the quality of the product or the income and well-being of the employee. In fact, the general effect has been a lowering of quality of product and an increase in employee turnover due to competition, not to mention the tendency to inspire corruption in the reporting of production.

Though some might argue the contrary, the progress of modern industry in today’s world is hardly exemplary as far as the benefit of this practice is to those doing the work. Indeed, thus far, as the global economy has rapidly expanded and barriers to protection, trade and free-market expansion have fallen, exploitation of the labour force has steadily increased as wages have remained far lower than what is possible, practical, or in some cases, even humane.

Sadly, today’s current focus on performance-based pay systems in public education comes from the same exploitative emphasis and the same, owner-management-dominated line of thinking. It is not an idea that teachers, who do the vast majority of the real work in education, by any means, generally support.

Stepping back, one must ask what single goal has always been foremost in the hearts of loving parents and good teachers everywhere, if it is not the best education possible for their children and students. And with that in mind, one must also ask just what sort of approach should always be used to accomplish that goal? Is it the one suggested by such a system of usury?

Indeed, should teachers be considered merely a part of some dead, lifeless, production process, rather than part of a living, creative experience? Should children be considered “products and services” offered up to the greater world around the school- offered up for its use and eventual discard? Finally, should the life-changing and inspiring dynamics of the school environment itself ever be compared to the stultifying, suffocating, and often enslaved world we so often make of business and industry?  

The use of “performance-based” pay systems proclaims to address itself the problem of poor quality in public education and yet it also addresses the administrative problem of rising and costly levels of teacher pay. The two constructs however, are simply incompatible.

In other words, it is easy to keep all teacher pay low if one can divide and separate levels of pay by competition when, indeed, in the real world, just because you’re good doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be well paid, and just because you’re well paid doesn’t mean you’re really any good. In fact, by creating what are supposedly ‘objective’ assessments of what is an almost impossible thing to assess – the quality of an education – administrators can control far more than the performance of teachers. It can control anything about them it wants to control.

That said, we can all agree there is a proper place for competition, but should teachers have to spend their lives teaching students to perform on tests just so that they, the teachers themselves, can find an increase in their pay envelopes or is this a gross perversion of the whole concept of education itself?

My personal experience suggests that what makes a school successful is when its administrators and faculty works together to reach the goal of teaching and reaching every student willing to learn. I thank God I had the chance to be a contributing part of such a school environment.

I have seen first hand that what makes teachers good teachers is not is not the amount of money they are paid or the winning of some sort of prize or reward, but instead, their genuine love and respect for, and their lifelong dedication to, learning itself. Educational bureaucrats need to once and for all realise that what makes businesses successful is not at all what makes education successful.

Indeed, isn’t it about time we all stopped trying to migrate the principles of successful business into our educational systems, when time and again they have proven they do not work there, do not belong there, and in fact, serve only to make ourselves feel a little less guilty for having failed to commit the truly necessary resources toward, and a place significant emphasis, upon our educational systems in the first place?

Maurice McCoy is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaiaca’s Cockpit Country

     

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