Pay for Paperwork?

The Business Council of Australia’s new report on teacher quality has hit the papers yesterday and today, with its recommendations for top teachers to get six-figure salaries. Oddly, this drew a hostile response from John Della Bosca, the NSW Education Minister. One might have expected him to agree with the aspiration of better-paid teachers, but quibble on the details. Instead, his spokesman told the SMH’s Mark Davis that it was “unfunded, unworkable and is not an actual scheme”.

I think it’s terrific that the BCA are focusing on improving teacher quality, but my read of the evidence is that teacher certification programs are heavy on paperwork, and light on results. The problem with such schemes is that they not only set a floor; they also discourage skilled applicants from entering the profession, by creating a time-consuming disincentive. As Joshua Angrist and Jonathan Guryan conclude in a new paper on US teacher certification:

Does teacher testing raise teacher quality? Evidence from state certification requirements
Abstract: The education reform movement includes efforts to raise teacher quality through stricter certification and licensing provisions. Most US states now require public school teachers to pass a standardized test such as the Praxis. Although any barrier to entry is likely to raise wages in the affected occupation, the theoretical effects of such requirements on teacher quality are ambiguous. Teacher testing places a floor on whatever skills are measured by the required test, but testing is also costly for applicants. These costs shift teacher supply to the left and may be especially likely to deter high-quality applicants from teaching in public schools. Moreover, test requirements may disqualify some applicants that schools would otherwise want to hire. We use the Schools and Staffing Survey to estimate the effect of state teacher testing requirements on teacher wages and teacher quality as measured by educational background. The results suggest that state-mandated teacher testing is associated with increases in teacher wages, though we find no evidence of a corresponding increase in quality. Consistent with the fact that Hispanics have marked lower licensure scores than non-Hispanic Whites or Blacks, testing appears to reduce the fraction of new teachers who are Hispanic.

The natural alternative is some form of merit pay, which also has its potential drawbacks, but seems at least worthy of a randomised trial.

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2 Responses to Pay for Paperwork?

  1. Invig says:

    Not only heavy on paperwork, the certification process (whether merit pay or certification programs) need to be assessed by someone, within some body.

    Just as with all organisations – especially those not exposed to market pressures (unions, religions, sports, public service) – those best at the actual job remain on the coalface while the political aspirants scheme and strive for powerful positions. As such, these kiind of schemes will become a mechanism for abuse of power as favoured people are given these highly-paid, unaccountable positions – and the coalface teachers become terrorised by same.

    The alternative?

    Link any kind of performance bonus to actual performance, and make those best able to make the assessment given the power to make that assessment, and the responsibility for implications of their decisions.

    Who are these people?

    The principal, the parents, and the children themselves.

    How can the government devolve power to these individuals? Through information availability to parents, and through making funding to the school dependant upon its performance (which the principal becomes responsible for delivering upon). The children can be assessed through testing (not through their opinions).

    No need for any trial, which no government can really justify given the cost of failure; it just makes sense.

  2. Invig says:

    sorry, “will need to be assessed”

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