Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lord save us from dabblers


In the IT field, everyone hates dabblers - people who know a little about computers and therefore feel free to make changes they heard  would improve performance, only to have to log a job when the changes actually make things a lot worse.  It's a handy metaphor for Ministers of Education in National-led govts, except that in this case the dabbler is actually in charge of all the metaphorical computers.

Latest dabbling from a Nat Min of Ed is performance pay for teachers.  She's heard (from noted education expert David Farrar, for example) that this would bring about improvements in the education system.  The admonishment from actual experts "That's working OK right now, don't fuck with it" is of course water off the dabbler's back.

Parata knows that the experts are actually wrong:

"Typically, you get a response that it's not possible to design something like that, because this is so difficult. Well, I don't agree," Ms Parata said.

Here we have the major problem with dabbling - you know so little about the subject that you can easily dismiss the experts' concerns simply because you have no fucking idea what they're talking about.

For the record, it's not difficult to design a performance pay system for teachers, and many have done so - that isn't the basis for the experts' response at all.  What is difficult is to design a performance pay system for teachers that can't be gamed by the teachers to the detriment of the students, and won't destroy the benefits of our current system (which, also for the record, is not broken but is actually one of the best-performing education systems in the world).

The first problem is obvious:  measure teachers' performance according to students' achievement in standardised tests, and what you get is students trained to pass a particular test, and teachers at high-decile schools apparently the best-performing by an astonishing amount.  Mess around with it all you like, your system can be gamed.  That doesn't matter so much when your business is selling fridges and washing machines, but if your business is running the country's education system?  Yeah, it matters.

The second one is what Parata simply lacks the knowledge to understand. Ian Leckie attempts to explain it to a Fairfax journo:

Rewarding teachers differently creates too much high stakes stuff that actually stops collaboration, stops people working together and that is counter-productive to trying to make a better education system doing more for more kids.

That's the education dabbler's downfall - they're convinced the system performance will be improved by increasing competition between teachers, unaware that it's the current system's promotion of co-operation between teachers that's delivering the high performance we have now. Fuck with that, and before long you'll be calling the help desk.

As usual, there are probably some gains that could be made out of a few tweaks:

Teachers Council director Peter Lind said there was a "tension" between building a collegial team and recognising success.

But there's a big difference between addressing that and mistaking teachers in the public education system for sales staff in the private sector, which is what Parata seems to be doing.

12 comments:

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

They don't like it up'm, do these lefties.

Psycho Milt said...

See? Even National Party stalwart Adolf recognises what it's trying to do to the education system...

Kimble said...

So people who get paid different amounts cant work together?

Someone should tell every professional sports team on the planet.

If the education system didnt already exist, would we create it to look like this?

Psycho Milt said...

People doing the same job competing for a limited pot of performance bonuses tend not to want to help everyone else do as good a job as they are. It's a bit different from which thicko scores the most goals.

And if the education system didn't already exist, we'd build one according to currently-fashionable ideas. Same with every other system. Whether that's a reason for scrapping every system we have and starting again from scratch is open to question.

Kimble said...

Do you think that bonuses are what performance based pay is about?

I think this is the first time I have heard someone refer to bonuses in this debate. No surprise it has come from someone who opposes paying teachers differing BASE salaries depending on their value rather than tenure.

When you cant win the argument you are having, win the argument you wish you were having.

Given your last statement, the only logical inference from which is that there is never any reason to change anything ever*, The Standard is right to label you a conservative.

*what's good for the goose... , you goose.

Psycho Milt said...

Bonuses, pay increases, call it what you like - they're proposing having teachers compete for a limited pool of it. If you find this likely to bolster the existing cooperative approach, feel free to explain how.

I've made no case against change, just pointed out the foolishness of your point. You might as well ask whether, if the legal system didn't exist, we'd create it to look like this - probably not, but that isn't in itself a good reason to scrap the legal system and start again from scratch.

Kimble said...

There is a fundamental difference between people competing for bonuses, and people having different, independently-negotiated salaries from the same employer who has their own budgetary constraints. You seem to be assuming that there is a pool of money that must get spent, and that all we are talking about is changing each individual teachers share. Under that system, sure, a teacher could sabotage their colleagues and earn more, but you're the only one claiming that system is being advocated.

If teachers are competing for a single pool of money, then so is every other worker in the economy (including professional sportsmen) and according to your position, none of them should be cooperating. They are, so you are wrong.

And if you are going to take what I said as an argument for changing everything all the time, then I am free to take your position as an argument for never changing anything ever.

The actual point is that the system we have is not the one we would create. It is something that someone else created based on what you acknowledge are stale, previously-fashionable ideas.

If we had performance-based pay (which means good teachers get paid more, just like good accountants get paid more and good chefs get paid more), would you be able to successfully argue for a change to paying all teachers with the same tenure the same amount?

Go ahead and try and explain why paying chefs the same amount based on how long they have been in the kitchen is a good idea. Or try and explain what the fundamental difference is between teaching and every other profession that means teachers must be paid the same.

Psycho Milt said...

Well, I suppose I might have missed the bit where Parata claimed that schools would be provided with whatever they felt was justified for a salaries budget, but I don't believe so. Or are you anticipating the schools will be able to fund performance pay out of the additional profit the better teachers will bring in?

Just to refresh your memory of the post, our current success is based on the level of co-operation our teachers manage - their professional duty is for the better teachers to make sure they share techniques, best practices etc with the less successful ones, because students will benefit. Your position seems to be that we can improve on the current level of success by undermining the professional approach that created that current success. You, Parata, Farrar and Makhlouf need to provide some evidence that the gains of offering performance-based pay outweigh the losses of wrecking that current system. So far, zilch.

Kimble said...

Huh? Spending on education has been static? Oh wait, no, it actually increases almost every year. Given that employees get paid out of REVENUE not profit, and revenue has been increasing every year, your latest strawman argument goes the way of your last.

And maybe you havent noticed it, but even DPF advocates an increase in spending to coincide with the introduction of performance based pay.

How much has education spending increased in the last two decades? Has it doubled, tripled, quadrupled? How much better have education outcomes become?

Offer $100k for a new teaching position and choose the teacher you think is worth more than $100k. Once you are done, you have a teacher you think is worth $100k. Give a teacher you have already hired a top up to $100k, and what do you have? The same teacher you had before.

Maybe they are good, maybe they are bad, but the top up to $100k hasnt helped at all.

Wouldnt it be great if extra money spent on education actually attracted a better quality teacher?

Nah, much better to instead merely enrich the current teaching stock proportional to their tenure.

Your argument seems to be:
- due to budgetary constraints, employers of education workers should pay everyone the same salary regardless of skill
- people on differing salaries are incapable of working towards a common goal
- paying everyone the same makes the good teachers help the bad ones
- the presence of more good ones and fewer bad ones would obviously produce a worse outcome than the status quo.

Psycho Milt said...

If you weren't devoting yourself to coming up with clever misinterpretations of what I write, you might have noticed what my arguments actually are:

1. Coming up with a performance pay system is simple enough, but coming up with one that won't be gamed by schools and teachers to the detriment of the pupils isn't, and Parata gives no hint of having the slightest awareness of that.

2. If your current success is based on fostering a co-operative environment between teachers, replacing that environment with a competitive one is a high-risk strategy that really should have some compelling arguments for how it will not only match the success of the current system but better it to such a significant extent that the risk is justified. Feel free to get on with that bit whenever you're ready.

Kimble said...

1. The current system is being gamed. Every system is gamed. Complaining that a new system will be gamed is pointless. Especially when you dont know what that system will look like.

And the trick isnt to prevent people gaming the system. It is to make their "gaming" result in positive outcomes.

2. You seem to think that competition will turn people who voluntarily take a job working with children into evil, commission-hungry salesmen who will sabotage the education of other children, even their own students, to gain a fewer extra dollars. Outside of sales (where the system is deliberately designed to result in such behaviour) the rest of the world copes quite well with competition, and can work together to improve outcomes.

Quite frankly, if simply paying better teachers more to attract them to the job somehow leads to worse outcomes for kids, then there is something else fundamentally wrong with the profession.

Again, there is a huge difference between paying differently based on value, and the "bonus" structure you seem to think is being advocated. How about you address that?

Psycho Milt said...

Review your comment for the bit where you explain exactly what trick prevents the obvious outcome of a performance pay system being gamed to the detriment of the pupils, and the bit where you explain why we should risk the success of the current system to indulge your personal opinion of what would be a better pay system. Take as much time as you like...