Saturday, February 15, 2014

Is Jeff Johnson bringing merit pay to Alberta?

Let's examine a couple signals that are coming out of Alberta:
1. In January 2013, Alberta's Education Minister Jeff Johnson says there should be a discussion about introducing merit pay into Alberta's education system. 
2. Ron Young, who is a member of Jeff Johnson's Excellence in Teaching Task Force says, "We need to recognize excellence. Whether it is merit pay or enhanced PD opportunities, we must reward the efforts of extraordinary teachers."
3. On February 19, 2014, John Manley from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives will give a presentation at an Inspiring Education Symposium. Keep in mind, John Manley and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives just last month released a report that says, "Teachers’ pay should be based on performance, not years worked." 
4. At the same Inspiring Education Symposium, Andreas Schleicher from the OECD and director of PISA will give a presentation. In the past, Schleicher has spoken about how, "Shanghai awards pay increases to 'master teachers,' who are identified by administrators in schools with high scores on exit exams."
5. Jeff Johnson has said that he would like to see provincial testing of students every year via digital Student Learner Assessments. Such a data system could create the statistical foundation for merit pay schemes and other value added measurements
On October 19, 2009, Education Minister Dave Hancock kicked off Alberta's Inspiring Education with keynote speaker Dan Pink. Pink inspired and informed Albertans about how education systems could be about collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Pink has written about how and why merit pay for teachers is a profoundly bad idea.

On February 19, 2014, Education Minister Jeff Johnson has scheduled John Manley to speak at an Inspiring Education Symposium where the findings from Jeff Johnson's Teacher Task Force for Excellence will be presented.

I don't know what John Manley or Andreas Schleicher will talk about.

I don't know what the findings from the Teacher Task Force in Excellence will be.

I don't know what Jeff Johnson's call to action will be.

I don't have any proof that this is going to happen. This is pure speculation, and I'm prepared to be wrong.

But I do know this -- these are some very strong signals in Alberta that we should not ignore. And they lead me to ask the question: Will Jeff Johnson bring teacher merit pay to Alberta?

If these signals do in fact lead to merit pay for Alberta teachers, it will be important to watch for the spin. It is very unlikely that Jeff Johnson will actually call this merit pay. He may not even call it performance pay. The term merit pay has a lot of baggage; after all, there is a lot of research that shows merit pay has no merit.

It's important to keep in mind that Alberta has been here before. In 1999, the Alberta Government tried to implement merit pay but back then it was called School Performance Incentive Program (SPIP). And even though SPIP was announced in the 1999 provincial budget, Education Minister Lyle Oberg killed it before it got off the ground, because the Government needed to "rethink the program" and "work with the various stakeholders to review the program to make sure it meets the intent." If fifteen years later, Johnson implements something disguised as merit pay, it will be without the consultation that Oberg mentioned. There's good reason why merit pay is considered a mainstay in the Zombie Education Policy Manual.

If Jeff Johnson wants merit pay, there's a good chance he will need his Teacher Task Force to disguise merit pay or performance pay in vague statements such as "recognizing excellence in teaching" or "rewarding teachers who go above and beyond". Or he may look to New Zealand where merit pay is disguised as "career pathways". It will be important to see this for what it is: a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Merit pay with lipstick is still merit pay.

Uninspiring Education

Overall, I was a whole lot more inspired by Dave Hancock's version of Inspiring Education. Hancock's Inspiring Education was about innovation and improvement via trust and collaboration. Hancock understood that the real work of transforming Alberta schools would be done by teachers and administrators at the school level and so he worked with teachers. Hancock made labour peace a priority by developing a process that listened to parents, students, teachers, administrators and school boards. Hancock used Inspiring Education to nurture the right conditions for collaborative transformation that cared deeply about class size, time and resources for professional development, engagement in curriculum change, and inclusion for special needs students.

Jeff Johnson's Inspiring Education is about control and compliance via mistrust, manipulation and competition. Johnson sees himself as the change agent that will disrupt the system. Rather than work with teachers, he merely does things to them. Johnson uses Inspiring Education and his Excellence in Teaching Task Force to create the impression that he is collaborating while he pursues his political agenda. Rather than address the growing inequities students are experiencing as a result of his government's broken promises (poverty reduction, full day kindergarten) he trots out the Task Force for Teaching Excellence and continues to distract public attention away from classrooms that are growing in size and complexity by cherry-picking data from international studies, claiming that class size does not matter and chasing American-style market based reforms such as merit pay. Stephen Murgatroyd writes:
It is widely understood that this Government wishes to split the Alberta Teachers Association by separating its negotiation/union function from its professional support and development function. It is also rumoured that the Minister wants to remove those with managerial roles (Principals and Superintendents) from the union. Also under attack are public sector pensions, as can be seen from recent announcement from the Minister of Finance, Hon Doug Horner (see here).
It's hard to look carefully at these signals and not see merit pay and other market-based reforms on the horizon. It's plausible that Jeff Johnson is looking to implement something disguised as merit pay, and if he does, he will drive the final nail in Inspiring Education's coffin.

Either way, I used to speak enthusiastically about Alberta's Inspiring Education -- but under Jeff Johnson's leadership, I now seriously question whether I can support it at all.


For more on why merit pay, performance pay and other schemes that "reward excellence in teaching", check out these:
The failure of merit pay

The continuing folly of merit pay

Merit Pay and Privatization

Alberta Teachers Association Opposes Merit Pay

Canadian Teachers' Federation speaks out against merit pay

The ignorance of merit pay

The Folly of Merit Pay

Merit Pay video

Dan Pink on merit pay

Merit Pay: a 123 year old bad idea

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