Case Study Analysis: Should Teachers' Performance Be Assessed?

In the following blog post, Dr Tony van Rensburg outlines how legitimate and fair performance measures can be enforced.

It's rare that a job cannot be measured for performance purposes, yet there is reluctance to apply such measures to areas such as teaching. There is resistance to the use of performance measures to assess the performance and capability of public-school teachers in Victoria. One argument is that performance assessment will be divisive. Does this mean that performance assessment is likely to create a competitive and merit-based spirit and that this is unhealthy in public schools?

The likely result of this resistance to performance assessment is to deprive high performers, of which I am sure there are many, an opportunity to shine and stand out. Striving to achieve and be recognised, are basic and very powerful human needs; and the lack of opportunity to meet these needs is likely to cause deep frustration among many high performing teachers.

 In my view, the Victorian State Government's proposed performance bonus scheme for public school teachers is probably flawed, if the intention is to ‘win hearts and minds and lift performance across the board. However, I suspect that one of the underlying aims is to change a perceived longstanding culture of entitlement without accountability among some teachers.

I have yet to encounter a job that cannot be measured for performance purposes. Some are easy to measure, such as sales roles, others more complex, e.g., social workers. However, my experience is that legitimate and fair performance measures exist for most work in the public and private sectors.

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Another argument I have heard made against performance assessment is that teaching is a ‘people’ business and therefore objective measures don't exist and that using academic scores is unfair and likely to lead to problems. I accept that academic scores on their own are the least preferred measure of performance, so I offer a number of other objective alternatives:

  1. Review of teaching practice by peers or other qualified people e.g., principal, department officials, etc.
  2. Professional development courses, conferences or postgraduate studies undertaken for personal growth and ensuring professional skills are current.
  3. Review of quality of lesson plans and marking skills.
  4. Contribution to the school such as acting up, taking on extra responsibilities, dealing with difficult parents, etc.
  5. Contribution to the profession, such as articles or academic papers relating to specific disciplines, teaching practice, etc.
  6. 360-feedback evaluation of key teaching competencies and behaviours by self; principal or equivalent; peers; and where appropriate, parents.
  7. Coaching and mentoring of new graduates or teachers under training.
  8. Examples of teamwork, collaboration, and innovation.

All these factors can be expressed as measurable goals and evaluated. Good practice suggests that performance measures should be as objective as possible, be agreed with participants in advance, trialled where possible, then reviewed and refined before being used for remuneration determination purposes. The important factor is that ‘what gets measured usually gets done’.

 PMS often get bad press and are criticised for being bureaucratic, time wasting and damaging to morale; and I understand a ‘tick and flick’ system currently operates in public schools. In my experience, this need not be the case and I have encountered highly effective performance systems because they are simple, objective, transparent, and supported by regular and open two-way feedback discussions. These should be more akin to performance partnerships rather than bosssubordinate ‘telling’ sessions, fraught with defensive reactions.

 In my view, the teaching profession would be building its credibility by agreeing to performance assessment linked in some way to promotion and remuneration. The ongoing resistance to formal performance assessment within the public teaching profession is not likely to create confidence and sympathy within the community during the current round of industrial negotiations.

I believe that most people would be happy for Victorian teachers to be the highest paid in Australia, if they had some way of knowing they were getting top performance in return.

 Qualifications as a measure of performance

A Victorian Teacher has pleaded guilty to deception after faking his teaching qualifications for decades.

 Neil Lennie, 72, has pleaded guilty to four deception charges in the County Court of Victoria after investigators uncovered his scam at some of Melbourne's most prestigious schools, including Mount Scopus Memorial College, Haileybury College and Caulfield Grammar School. Between 1976 and 2000, Mr Lennie swindled the schools into thinking that he was a qualified teacher, before eventually taking the job of headmaster at Caulfield Grammar.

 Former fellow teachers and students say he was a brilliant teacher; however, all the schools now say they would not have employed Mr Lennie had they known.

Case Study Questions:

Answer the following 4 questions individually using performance management concepts covered in this Unit and evidence from the Case Study.

  1. Discuss the pros and cons for each of the 8 proposed performance measures for teachers. (20 marks)

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