Archives for category: Merit pay

This is a newsletter from Australia, written by Phil Cullen in a blog called The Treehorn Express.

Treehorn Express

Facts About Australian Schooling

Schooling in Australia is a state responsibility. Each state, however, relies on the distribution of money collected from its citizens by the commonwealth government, which then places conditions on the way the money must be spent by the states. It is a strange relationship. Because this arrangement locates exceptional power in the centre, the federal minister for education assumes full responsibility for all levels of schooling; and this allows the incumbent political party to determine aspects of schooling, some of which might be at odds with a state’s notions. :”There has been concern at the political level over the intrusion of the Commonwealth government and Commonwealth agencies into the field of education, traditionally and constitutionally a State responsibility. Some of these enterprises appeared to have a philosophical basis different from that underlying State activities in education” [M.J.Ahern Q, Hansard 04-04-78] . Such differences depend a great deal on the federal minister’s view of schooling. Few state ministers ever disagree and things runs smoothest when both governments share the same political ideology. The federal minister possesses enormous personal power and is allowed to indulge his or her will – from the sublime to the ridiculous – without reference. No state has reclaimed its right to supervise the curriculum requirements of schooling since the drastic changes to schooling in Australia in 2008, for instance; so the federal minster can do as he or she likes e.g introduce a high stakes testing regime or call for a curriculum review or whatever is part of a personal fancy. The state ministers have yet to test the limits of their own power over schooling in their own state.

SCHOOLS Children can attend a public state school for twelve years, free of charge. If they have rich or frugal parents, they can attend a private school at high cost. There is little difference, if any, in quality.
School years operate according to the calendar year, and promotion is year by year from Year 1 to Year 12.
Most children sit still in classrooms for twelve years or more. In some schools, the children must all face the same way for most of each school day. This benefits the sermonising teaching tactics required to practise for the annual testing program.

AGE Children can start school at age five, even though they need not do so. Many prefer to wait for sound reasons. In some states they may attend when as young as four and a half. Laws of compulsory education differ in each state, so the age of admission differs and causes disruption to people who change states, but there is little interest in stabilizing national ages of schooling,

TESTING & CURRICULUM The present-day written curriculum is over-burdensome. It’s huge. Any additions would be insane. Despite its extent, only certain aspects of literacy and numeracy need be taught. These are tested each year – Years 3,5,,7,9 – using a cold heatless format – in May. Results are available some months later, but there are moves to provide the tests quicker, more often, electronically. This testucating ideology is aimed at bringing each child up to the exact same standard on the exact same day….nothing more, nothing less. The tests have little relevance to the intellectual development of children, but they are handy for descriptive purposes by those who know only a little bit about classroom practices and nothing about the effects of testing on child development.

Since most schools are not trusted to describe a pupil’s suitability for his or her career opportunities or have its own evaluation and reporting program, intense testing is also undertaken towards the end of Year 12. A certificate is issued to school graduates, purporting to describe the level of competency in school subjects undertaken; and employers interpret them as best they can. If employers wish to know about the more essential qualities required, they have to make their own arrangements.

SYLLABUS LEVELS A curriculum usually refers to the learning entitlements of children when they attend school. A syllabus details requirements for pupils to reach curriculum goals. Australia has three levels of syllabus requirements according to the prevailing schooling ideology. The tri-level system introduced to Australia in 2008 distinguishes the requirements: 1. Testable aspects of literacy and numeracy are high level. Schools need only teach these, to be regarded as a ‘good’ school. Nothing else needs to be taught. 2. Mid-level interest can be taken in science, history, geography, social studies according to the level of pressure by people in authority. 3. Music and Art and similar airy-fairy subjects don’t count very much. They take time from test preparation. They command some attention on special occasions; and the results are usually spectacular.

‘STUDENTS’ Children at school are described as ‘students’, because the term has no relationship to schooling per se. It’s a safe description. It infers that children at school don’t have to be taught. They study. More serious authorities [e.g. Britain] describe all school attenders as ‘pupils’, using the O.E.D. meaning that suggests learning at a school involves the use of teachers. Although pupilling involves a teaching/learning contract between two people, Australia prefers the United States descriptor of ‘student’ because it follows the U.S. in all things as blindly as possible; especially schooling arrangements. The word doesn’t mean anything special.

PRIVATE or PUBLIC There are differing opinions as to quality of offerings. Australia has joined the U.S. in the press for the privatisation of schooling despite the high quality education by public schools. A private school can be a very profitable business and Australia’s ruling governments in recent times have been controlled by the neoliberalist philosophy of privatisation. People tend to believe that private and systemic schools are better, despite the results from various scrutinies. Many see NAPLAN tests as an admission ticket to the ‘best’ private or select school. Indeed some such schools, whose notions of pupilling is limited, ‘brand’ their intakes for streaming purposes using test scores. The brands last forever. But………

Nice people go to private schools. Some public schools contain a lot of foreigners, some of whom are Muslims.

HOME SCHOOLING is permitted, albeit grudgingly. A worthy alternative to institutionalised forms of instruction, it is becoming very popular with parents who are able to do so and who enjoy sharing their children’s educational development within a family setting. Such parents disapprove of test-driven forms of schooling, threatening their children’s welfare. Some use reliable diagnostic tests as required when required. While little state assistance is offered to these home-based forms of pupilling in a pure form, local coteries of home schoolers in various localities share teaching experiences, learning enterprises and shared evaluation techniques.


1.The printing and sale of Practice Tests and associated texts is now in the multi-million dollar range. Schools prescribe them even though their popularity is a reflection on the profession; and parents use them extensively at home or on holidays. 2. The rise in the number of ‘back-yard mechanics’ aka tutoring shops that concentrate on NAPLAN tests, has been quite staggering. A quick google will indicate the extent. Costs range from $20 to $50 per hour. 3. The use of pharmaceutical supplements to enhance performance is not disallowed nor discouraged by education authorities. While the rugby league and Australian football authorities have taken this matter seriously, no warnings or cautions have ever been provided to the public by educational jurisdictions. Neither has the extent of the use nor the side effects of such usage been researched extensively. Medical assistance for those children who are in distress, vomit and become emotionally ill or cannot sleep during the preparation period is, of course on the increase as part and parcel of the testing industry. Sadly, it would appear that child health and social welfare is at a low level of interest to the various state authorities while testing resides within..

MAJOR CONTEMPORARY ISSUES The dramatic changes to schooling in 2008, when these testing devices were introduced to control the curriculum, have caused wide rifts in professional conversations. The gulf between what is now called the ‘testucation’ community and the ‘education’ one is wide. As with most macabre political issues, the gap will slowly close. and this repulsive use of Standardised Blanket Testing to mould children according to a one-size-fits-all pattern. using tactics that run counter to all the sacred beliefs of caring for kids, should disappear. Its disappearance needs encouragement.

The belittlement of teachers has never been been so high. The blame for the muck-up in the 2014 NAPLAN writing test was said to be theirs. Their over-zealous practising disposed the testucating hierarchy to try to ‘catch’ them by requiring a most peculiar response to a weird question…..and their attempts rebounded.
Small wonder there is a heavy resignation rate. Those who continue to teach in the face of extreme unethical behaviour are surely amongst the greatest of all times; producing such quality all-round products in the face of the requirements of test tyrants and muddled, muffled political deviants.

That’s Australian schooling…… girt by political unscrupulousness in a sea of arrested intellectual development. It’s been so for six years now. Time to stop the rot. The damage has been too costly for our future.

OUR FUTURE Our present schooling system is clearly a product of our obsession with all things American. Australia seems to be compelled to copy quasi-educational. unsubstantiated Yank gimmickry that usually ends up in disaster. High-stakes testing, charter schools, performance pay, core curriculum, common core syllabuses and serious judgements made on unreliable testing procedures are features of this American/Australian system. Australian classroom-experienced teachers have the capacity to design a system, uninfluenced and unsupervised by the testing fraternity, that will establish a high-level learning culture based on love of learning, instead of on a fear of it. Encouragement to learn can easily replace the fear-of-failure syndrome now dominating our classrooms. Our future depends of the freedom to learn. It needs to be released from bondage before any progress can be made.
Phil Cullen [….in support of a fair-dinkum, no-nonsense,kid-oriented Australia] 41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point Australia 2486 07 554 6443


The Guardian of London has an excellent article that explains why payment by results always fails. The article is based on a study that the article links to.

Two examples of payment by results in the current “education reform” strategy that is promoted by the Obama administration: basing teacher evaluation on test scores and merit pay.

The article calls payment by results in “dangerous idiocy” and explains why:

“Payment by results is a simple idea: people and organisations should only get paid for what they deliver. Who could argue with that? If your job is to get people back to work, then find them a job dammit.

“Plenty of people working in local government and public services are already starting to realise this is nonsense, and a pernicious, damaging nonsense at that. The evidence is very clear: if you pay (or otherwise manage performance) based on a set of pre-defined results, it creates poorer services for those most in need. It is the vulnerable, the marginalised, the disadvantaged who suffer most from payment by results.

“Here’s why: payment by results does not reward organisations for supporting people to achieve what they need; it rewards organisations for producing data about targets; it rewards organisations for the fictions their staff are able to invent about what they have achieved; it pays people for porkies.

“We know that common things happen when people use payment by results, and other outcomes-based performance management systems. There have been numerous studies that show that such systems distort organisational priorities and make organisations focus on doing the wrong things – and they make people lie.

“This lying takes all sorts of different forms. Some of them are subtle forms of deception: teachers who teach to the test or who only enter pupils for exams they know they are going to pass; employment support that helps only those likely to get a job and ignores those most in need; or hospitals that reclassify trolleys as beds, and keep people waiting in ambulances on the hospital doorstep until they know they can be seen within a target time. In the literature, this is known as gaming the system…..

“Sadly, the distortion of practice by payment by results doesn’t just stop with managers. The evidence shows that it also undermines the practice of frontline workers. It turns the relationship between support worker and client upside down. When payment-by-results practices are introduced, workers who used to ask their clients “How can I help you to achieve what you need?” instead think “How can you help me to produce the data I need?”

The article was written by Toby Lowe, a visiting fellow at Newcastle University business school and chief executive of Helix Arts, a charity that transforms lives through art. He is collecting stories from people who have been forced to lie by payment for results. you can reach him at Twitter: @tobyjlowe

EduShyster’s guest blogger Patrick Hayes, a fifth-grade teacher from Charleston, South Carolina, asks a simple question: “If you could ask Arne Duncan just one question what would it be?”

Try this one: “what would you get Bill gates for Boss’s Day? The man has everything.”

But he actually has a bunch more questions, which Duncan can answer with pre-packaged non-responsive answers.

Like: why do you push states to adopt value-added measurement, when your own department shows it has a failure rate of 36%?

Or, why do you promote merit pay, when it has failed everywhere?

Or, why do you keep bragging about Tennessee and D.C. when the other 11 states “using the same playbook… had below-average, flat, or negative growth?”

Lots more good questions to ask Arne, but Patrick does give us the answer to his first question:

“So Arne…whaddya’ get Bill Gates for Boss’s Day? Maybe you could ask your chief of staff and deputy secretary.

They used to work for him.”

Patrick, by the way, is the Director of EdFirstSC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group working to empower people who care about public schools. If you live in South Carolina or care about it, join EdFirstSC.

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

One of our Marion’s leading experts on teacher evaluation, Audrey Amrein Beardsley, here evaluates Michelle Rhee’s efforts to promote her failed ideas in South Carolina.

Rhee trots out her familiar rhetoric about bad teachers and failing schools in one of the nation’s poorest states, urging them to buy her snake oil. Will they buy? Or will they do some research?

Errol Louis is one sharp journalist. He is a newscaster for NY1, the city’s local all-news TV station. I have benn interviewed by him a few times and have always been impressed by his insight.

In this article, he explains how dumb merit pay is.

He notes that Governor Cuomo has proposed a $20,000 bonus for the state’s “highly effective” teachers. He didn’t say how he would pay for it. Maybe he would increase class size, lay off teachers, eliminate the arts.

Maybe no one told him that 50% of the state’s teachers were rated “highly effective.” That’s millions and millions of dollars.

Louis quotes Roland Fryer of Harvard, an economist who reviewed New York City’s failed merit pay plan.

Fryer says:

“I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior,” Fryer wrote. “If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.”

Read more:

Watch this great video.

It explains in graphic language why merit pay always fails.

If you won’t documentation, read Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive.”

Where cognitive tasks are required, the larger the reward, the poorer the performance.

What works to motivate people?




Not profit.

The teachers in Lee, Massachusetts, received merit pay for higher scores, funded by the Gates Foundation.

In a letter to the Berkshire Eagle, they explained why they rejected the money.

Letter: No merit pay for Lee A.P. teachers

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

While we appreciate the article “Investing in students’ futures” (Eagle, Dec. 3), we would like to make some clarifications.

The $8,700 that the Lee Middle and High School A.P. teachers gave to the school is not from “grant pay,” but rather “merit pay,” earned as a result of high student scores on last spring’s A.P. exams. Unfortunately, the acceptance of “merit pay” was a non-negotiable requirement imposed by MMSI as part of the grant. We accepted these terms only for the additional benefit that a strong and varied A.P. program would provide for our students — “merit pay” was not an incentive to us. By refusing to accept this money and instead returning it to the school, we found a way to make it more palatable.

As a union, we strongly oppose “merit pay” on both philosophical and ethical grounds. First, the notion of “merit pay” suggests that high achieving students are more worthy of a teacher’s time and effort than average achieving students or those who struggle. Refusing to accept the “merit pay” has allowed us to put the money back into our departments to enhance the learning of all our students. We will buy much-needed items, such as supplies, textbooks, and technology, and also fund field trips and SAT preparation classes for students lacking the means to pay for them themselves.

Second, “merit pay” for certain teachers of certain students in certain classes is inequitable to professional educators. In our view, it is a way to undermine union efforts to ensure fair and equal pay for equal work, education, and experience. Before students arrive in an A.P. class in 11th or 12th grade, they have already been in school for at least 10 years. It is faulty logic to assume that the efforts of one A.P. teacher were the only cause of high scores. Earlier teachers, parents, and community members all help contribute to the success of our students.

Merit pay is an insult to our professionalism and a divisive tool designed to incite dissension among us in hopes of weakening our union, which is not only a political organization, but also a professional one, intended to protect the interests of both educators and students.

The LEA was pleased to find a way to bring high-quality, college-level curriculum to our students while holding on to non-negotiables of our own.



Jane McEvoy is A.P. Language and Composition, English Department Chair and LEA Vice President.

The letter was also signed by Robert Hungate, A.P. Biology, Science Department Chair, Mary Verdi, A.P. Literature and Composition, Thomas McCormack, A.P. Statistics, and Pamela Briggs, A.P. Calculus.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York put himself squarely in the camp of corporate reform with a proposal for merit pay based on value-added metrics.

He proposes to pay a bonus of $20,000 to teachers who are rated “highly effective” on the state’s controversial and unproven value-added evaluation program.

The fact that merit pay failed in New York City, where schools were offered a bonus for raising test scores, is of no consequence to Governor Cuomo. But, to be fair, maybe he doesn’t know that.

The fact that merit pay failed in Nashville, where teachers were offered individual bonuses of $15,000 to raise test scores is of no consequence to Governor Cuomo. But, to be fair, maybe he doesn’t know that.

The fact that merit pay has been tried for a century and has never worked anywhere is of no consequence to Governor Cuomo. But to be fair, maybe he doesn’t know that (I suggest that he read Reign of Error, chapter 12).

The good news is that Mayor Bill de Blasio disagreed with Governor Cuomo, even though he needs the Governor’s support to pass his millionaire’s tax to fund his pre-K program.

De Blasio said that he favored paying extra to teachers in work in struggling schools and to teachers in math and science, but that he doesn’t believe in merit pay.

The Murdoch-owned New York Post says that de Blasio is echoing the teachers’ union line, but in fact he is reflecting what research has proven again and again: Paying teachers to produce higher test scores does not work. And even if it did produce higher test scores, it would fail because it would mean that the scores were produced by test prep, rote learning, and incentives, while sacrificing the qualities that constitute a sound education.

Bottom line: Merit pay doesn’t work. If only there were some relationship between research and experience on one hand, and what policymakers believe on the other.

Patrick Hayes is a teacher in Charleston, South Carolina, who is leading the fight to block test-based, value-added evaluations of teachers in that district. As many posts on this blog have iterated and reiterated, most researchers think that VAM is flawed and error-ridden. (Check out Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog VAMboozled and Edward Haertel’s ETS lecture.)

Hayes read about the errors in the Mathematica study of VAM in D.C., and left the following comment:

“This is awful news for DC teachers. Down here in Charleston, it’s the greatest Christmas gift imaginable.

“We’re fighting VAM-based merit pay tooth and nail. Guess who our district hired to do the work?

“Here’s the only question I have: was this what Mathematica had in mind in 2010 when they said that VAM has a 36% error rate?

“Is that before or after they foul up the data?

“Tell you what, don’t ask Mathematica. I can tell you from personal experience: they REALLY don’t like talking about that study.

“I know it was before Arne Duncan handed out nearly a billion dollars in grant funding for value-added systems.

“When Mathematica published this, TIF grants were still comparatively small potatoes.

“Funny thing is, Arne’s the one who picked up the tab for that study. His name appears on page 3. Go figure.”


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