Video Performance Reviews Of Teachers An Excellent Initiative

AN IDEA from business identity, former Sydney councillor and Gonski panel member Kathryn Greiner offers the missing link to reconcile the salary expectations of teachers with the educational outcomes the incomes they aspire to demand; the use of video to review teacher performance is a brilliant concept that should be introduced and developed as an integral plank of education policy. If teacher unions object, then frankly, to hell with them.

It’s so simple — and so obvious — it begs the question of why it hasn’t been raised before and/or debated in the context of the perennial argument over how much teachers should be reasonably paid; certainly, the matter has arisen several times in this column over the years, and I am happy to take the idea on board and champion it with vigour.

The call by Gonski education review panel member Kathryn Greiner for teachers to be filmed so their performance can be reviewed and improved has enormous merit; properly implemented, it would see all of the key stakeholders in the education process — government, teachers, students, parents, and the community at large — emerge as winners.

The one group almost certain to be hit hard by the measure — and equally certain to lash out with a viciously obstructive campaign against it — is the unions, who in my view can take a long walk off the proverbial short pier. More on them a bit later.

I find it something of an irony that the only major media outlet reporting on this is Fairfax; to be sure, dear old Uncle Fairfax has dutifully noted the warning shots fired across the bows by teacher unions and other self-interested figures about not using video for “punitive” purposes, but it’s refreshing to see it at least record news that threatens the left-wing cabal on which what remains of its influence rests.

It’s also ironic that my remarks today will reference a truly useful, meaningful role for more bureaucrats; as readers know, my view on civil service roles is that they should be created and filled strictly as required and otherwise not at all, so today there’s something for the public service here in the blue corner, too.

But first things first: Greiner hits the nail squarely on the head when she says that “it is about time teachers understood that they must be assessed, they must be a part of professional development;” in what seems an unmistakable allusion to the perception that teachers — through the might of their unions — expect rocketing levels of remuneration that are in no way accompanied by commensurate improvements in educational outcomes, she suggests that every teacher in Australia should be reviewed using video.

I’ll leave readers to peruse the article from The Age, but here are my thoughts on the matter after some reflection.

I have long advocated that the best teachers in our classrooms should indeed be paid more, and perhaps significantly so, depending on the outcomes they deliver — namely, the results those students in their charge achieve on a range of educational indicators including the basics, but also their ability to gain critical insights into the material they study and a solid practical grounding on which to build in later years beyond the classroom.

The entire concept of collective bargaining on which unions are predicated is utter anathema to me, best evidenced of late in the educational arena in the protracted standoff over teacher pay in Victoria, in which an attempt to introduce so-called performance pay was brutally and savagely faced down by teacher unions which refused to accept differential remunerative arrangements for individual teachers.

I find it ridiculous and contemptible that a 22-year-old “teacher” — fresh from school to university to school again, with little or no adult life experience to speak of except a couple of paper qualifications — should automatically be entitled to be paid well in excess of $1,000 per week from the minute they set foot at the front of a classroom. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, an obscenity of the union bargaining process.

And by the same token (and this is an old story when it comes to awards, union enterprise agreements and similarly offensive collective bargaining instruments), I simply don’t agree that the “best of the best” of teachers should be limited in what they may be paid by the number at the top of the highest band of teacher rankings.

As an aside, what are those bands based on? Qualifications? Seniority? It seems implausible that they are based on outcomes; if they were, Australia wouldn’t be sliding down the international rankings when it comes to the top performing nations on educational indicators weighed against other developed countries.

I think Greiner’s idea is one that can and should be introduced as part of a suite of reforms to monitor teacher performance; an obvious first step is for governments and independent school boards to have cameras installed in all classrooms, along with adequate data storage infrastructure to file the footage for, say, each calendar year on a rolling basis — a measure that could be funded at a relatively small cost, given the colossal and burgeoning amounts of money expended on education with no apparent benefit in terms of outcomes.

I agree fully with some of the privacy concerns raised in The Age‘s article: obviously, the footage would be strictly for internal use only, with teachers able to review their own classes at will, or for formal review purposes (and of course, for performance appraisal purposes and any appeals that might arise from those), but certainly not to be made public in any way.

The application of the idea in terms of measuring teacher performance is relatively straightforward: a random selection of each teacher’s classroom time (say, one hour per month or term) may be extracted and reviewed by a panel comprising — for instance — the head of subject in a high school, along with a member of a School’s Inspectorate (I said there would be something for the public service) and perhaps an independent member of the school board. The exact composition of such a panel may be argued, but I think the principle is clear.

Such a process — benchmarked against the progress of the teacher’s students, their educational achievements and weighted against results across a given state — would provide an effective means by which to more accurately determine individual teacher performance; it would also offer a tool with which to better identify those teachers who are the best performers, and to pay them accordingly.

I think the reinstitution of an inspectorate-style regime for schools would restore (and better utilise) an important link in education regimes that has been mostly abolished by state governments, or effectively neutered; such a division within state education departments (and their equivalents in independent school authorities) would need to be well resourced, and come with the happy additional consequence of providing yet another potential career avenue for the very top teachers it would be charged with identifying, rewarding, and indeed promoting.

And such a wholistic shift in performance management and benchmarking of teachers from the collective to the individual would also restore to some extent to role of the school principal, which — by virtue of the collective agreements struck between teacher unions and governments over pay and conditions — has been rendered almost redundant when it comes to having meaningful input into the management of the workforce within his or her school.

I have little time for the almost complete aversion to anything that may carry negative repercussions for poor teachers when it comes to their performance: teacher unions have gone to great lengths in recent decades to engineer a public environment in which their members are treated as sacrosanct on questions of security of employment and entitlement to guaranteed pay rises at or above the cost of living.

If this country is to live up to the “clever country” moniker demanded of it in the 1980s (by a Labor government, no less), this is the sort of outdated thinking that must be abandoned.

Teachers are no different to any other body of professionals or employees in that there will be outstanding teachers, acceptable teachers, and poor teachers.

In my view, the outstanding ones should be rewarded; the acceptable ones coached, encouraged, and provided additional training and support; and the poor ones — just like poor employees in other walks of life — should, to put it kindly, be involuntarily motivated toward alternative employment opportunities.

It goes without saying that the powerful education unions will react with outrage to suggestions of the kind I am making here: bully for them if they do.

Over the past 20 years (and it neatly correlates with a time in the early 1990s, when most of the states were electing new Liberal governments), teacher unions have enhanced their muscle by campaigning on blatant fearmongering about the intentions of conservative governments and the impact of those purported intentions on the schooling of children.

Consequently, the education unions are now among the most powerful — if not the most powerful — of all the unions in Australia.

I don’t think they serve their members well — after all, there’s a limit to how well you can do for yourself under the EBA regime if you’re a brilliant teacher — and I don’t think they serve their students well either, given anyone able to complete teacher qualifications but who is otherwise an idiot can find their way into a classroom full of kids.

Frankly, the unions should embrace the use of video technology for performance management of their members: the only genuine reason to object is to protect the pitiful among their ranks; education is not a charity pursuit, but in fact the vocation every bit as critical to nurturing new generations of Australians as the leaders of teacher unions loudly proclaim — with an outstretched collective hand.

This is an idea that certainly merits further discussion, and I am very pleased Mrs Greiner has raised it.

At the end of the day, however, the teacher unions have two choices: embrace such a measure in a constructively critical spirit, or do what they always do when standards of increased accountability are put on the table, and cause as much trouble and disruption as possible (including to the education of their students) to ensure it never sees the light of day.

To be entirely candid, if the unions take the latter path, they can go to hell. And every parent, school principal or decent teacher with a real stake in improving the standard of the education each student receives should tell them precisely which way that is.


AND ANOTHER THING: For those who might like to accuse me of being doctrinaire, advocating the smashing of teacher unions (not that it’s a bad idea) or simply regurgitating conservative dogma on education, I’ll point out I’ve got a daughter due to start school in 12 months’ time and a son a few years behind her: this is an issue of great personal relevance, and I shudder to think of some of the excesses of teacher union conduct that have been played out publicly in recent years being applied to the education of my own children.