Linking instructor pay to student performance happens to be “The best way to encourage mettle, competition and meritocracy,” said former French Prime Minister Jules Ferry in an 1883 speech. Ferry was, in fact, one of the main proponents of compulsory universal non-parochial education in nineteenth-century Europe.
This dated idea is now cropping up again in many areas, particularly the United States.
The principle by which we can (at least partially) link employee compensation to performance is well rooted in numerous trades and professions. If we can find neutral, objective and reliable assessment criteria, it would be particularly appropriate to apply this rule to the educational community.
In other words, if teachers were paid according to their abilities to help their students succeed on national or provincial examinations, they would be given incentives to do their work that much better.
Of course, other issues motivate teachers, including their inherent professionalism and their personal satisfaction at seeing students succeed. However, is there any reason why we should not pay more to the most devoted and most effective of our instructors? Promoting quality in this manner would encourage the educational system as a whole to revitalize itself.
This principle has already been indirectly applied in secondary schools of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France, where funding for each educational institution is based on its national ranking in externally administered final high school exams.
Furthermore, the ministries of education of these nations release the rankings of all colleges and secondary schools to the press each year.
The publications that disseminate this information are among the year’s top sellers and let parents make intelligent choices about their children’s schools. The Fraser Institute and the Montreal Economic Institute recently published ratings of Quebec’s public and private schools. The study took into account relevant socio-economic information, and the results elicited a predictably widespread reaction.
In the United States, thanks to the influence of Douglas County(1), Colorado – which has been applying such a system for the past seven years – the states of Florida and Connecticut, and the cities of Philadelphia, New York and Denver, as well as some regions of Alaska, are currently implementing similar programs. The generally applied formula is for teachers to receive bonuses once they have met goals for success set by the principals of their schools. Otherwise, their salaries remain the same, whatever their levels of seniority.
A less draconian (and perhaps more acceptable formula for Quebec’s powerful union employees) would not confront the system of existing structural or automatic raises. Rather, it would offer additional bonuses to better instructors. In other words, it would apply more carrot than stick. For this idea to eventually take off in Quebec, we would have to find a realpolitik way of getting teachers’ unions to back it. We might expect teachers to be solidly opposed to such reform at the start. However, the New York teachers’ federation now strongly urges its members to take free and low-cost training programs to move up the pay scales more quickly. Furthermore, if the school’s principal agrees, salary levels may rise based on each teacher’s particular skill(2). For further information, check the Federation’s Web site.
1. See the the pilot project at: www.aft.org/research/models/dougco/show2000/pppslid/sld001.htm.
2. There are five such scales. The first sets the annual salary at US$26,014 with a ceiling of some US$71,382 (source: American Federation of Teachers, 1998, www.aft.org/research/salary/home.htm.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President of the MEI.