Volume 82 Number 4, 2007; Pages 551–573
The article reviews research on performance-based or merit pay. The contribution that individual teachers make to student achievement, while very significant, does not align closely with their level of experience, except for the first two years of service, or with their formal academic qualifications. Rather most of the ‘value added’ by teachers seems to depend on ‘idiosyncratic’ factors, which are hard to measure due to the intangible nature of education as a product, and to the team element in teaching. Rewarding whole teams of teachers for high performance overcomes the latter problem but introduces the problem of ‘free riders’ in the group of teachers. Principals’ subjective evaluations of teachers’ performances have been found to correlate closely with longitudinal data on the achievement of the teachers’ students. However, the research in this area is usually conducted in ‘low-stakes’ situations and principals’ official evaluations of teacher performance may be influenced by extraneous factors when teachers’ pay is at stake. Merit pay is usually advanced as a way to motivate teachers to perform well. However it can have a second rationale, as a ‘selection effect’, through which teachers capable of strong performance are taken to be likelier than less capable peers to commence and remain in teaching positions. In this respect performance pay might reverse the current situation in which it is precisely the high performers that are most likely to depart the profession over time. The benefits of performance pay could therefore be substantial in the long term, but there is also a long term potential for ‘gaming the system’ by some teachers, teacher teams, or schools, as they become familiar with performance evaluation criteria. Opportunistic behaviour could include ‘focusing excessively on a single test’, reclassifying struggling students as special needs cases or suspending them on test days, accepting unwarranted test waivers requested by parents, manipulation of grade retention, or misreporting data. Multiple mechanisms are needed to avert these dangers. Research to date is insufficient to prescribe reliable performance pay schemes, but is sufficient to call for further trialling of such schemes, drawing on huge and growing stores of longitudinal data on student achievement.
Subject HeadingsTeachers' employment
Teaching and learning
Performance pay: the NSW model
Volume 33 Number 1, April 2008; Pages 40–43
A model for performance pay based on professional teaching standards has been developed by the Association of Independent Schools NSW, and is described in the article by the Association’s Executive Director. The AIS faced the challenges of developing a way to recognise individual teachers’ contributions to student learning, given variations in students’ personal development, learning rates, family backgrounds, variations in teaching approaches, and the role of team teaching. The Association focused firstly on determining industrial arrangements with the relevant union. Opinions on this topic were sought from principals and members of boards. The key issues to emerge were the need for teachers to demonstrate achievement against agreed professional standards; provision of an allowance for teachers who demonstrated excellence against these standards, set at a State-wide level; an ability for teachers to transfer long service leave to superannuation; provision of professional development in non-term time; and the transfer of control of some industrial issues to local school level. The Association developed a set of professional standards based on those devised by the New South Wales Institute of Teachers, adding elements concerning values, classroom practice and leadership characteristic of the Independent sector. Some schools amended clauses to allow for their particular circumstances. A model for assessment of teachers’ performance was then adopted. Under the model, applicants seeking accreditation for having reached high professional standards are first assessed by the school principal and teaching peers. They are then evaluated by external assessors from the Independent Schools Teacher Accreditation Authority, a section of the Association overseen by experienced principals of Independent schools. The accreditation framework covers preschool and special school as well as mainstream teachers. Participating assessors have commented on the value of the role for their own professional development. The process has also taken teachers through the often unfamiliar process of demonstrating their attainment of high standards. One challenge in the process has been to apply the standards to teachers in different year levels and different types of schools. A pre-assessment task has been developed, allowing potential candidates to check their preparedness to apply for accreditation.
Subject HeadingsTeacher evaluation
New South Wales (NSW)
Volume 33 Number 1, April 2008; Pages 61–67
Heads of eight K-12 Independent schools in Australia provide comments on their early experiences in the role, from which tips for other new principals may be drawn. Principals appointed from within the school need to undertake less relationship-building than external appointees, but need to familiarise parents with protocols governing their new role, and perhaps overcome unwarranted expectations based on their earlier position. A new principal brings a ‘clean slate’ and also a sense of ‘mystery and excitement’ that can be a useful platform for change. Both internal and external appointees must familiarise themselves with their distinctive new role. The role is different to that of assistant principal or acting principal in the expectations it brings from the Board, staff and parents, and in its responsibility for decision-making, long term planning and school outcomes. Newcomers may decide to seek input from teaching and non-teaching staff, parents and students, or even hire a consultant familiar with the local context. The timing of changes is important. New principals may initially wish to tread with care, yet may also choose to capitalise on expectation of change and act while they are still fresh and able to observe as an ‘outsider’. It is useful to plan for the long term, avoid ‘quick fixes’, break changes into manageable steps, gain trust, quickly introduce some small-scale, popular changes, but also preserve what is working well. Communication with parents and staff is important. The new principal should inform them of likely changes or delays to change, and establish a profile as active and willing to learn about the school. Professional learning through courses and education literature can help the new principal decide about preferences for leadership and communication style and roles for other senior staff. Networks can be built through their religious denominations, principals’ associations, or other local schools. The previous incumbent may offer very valuable support. External support is needed given that the principal’s real situation is little known to other school staff . The intensity of the role requires the principals to understand their own individual needs for rest and recreation and to forewarn family members of their commitments. While very rewarding, the principalship should be undertaken at a suitable phase of one’s life.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
School and community
World class classrooms
13 May 2008; Page 10
A range of issues face schooling and teacher education in Australia. Matching the accomplishment of highly performing countries such as Finland or Singapore will require substantial and sustained investment. The Australian Government is channelling major investment into ICT for schools. If this funding is to enhance student achievement, it will need to be supplemented with further funding for broadband access, cabling and most importantly, substantial technical help services. It will also require substantial ICT training for teachers, particularly those less comfortable with technology, and ‘a conceptual or pedagogical framework to work in’. Indigenous students’ educational achievement needs to be brought up to mainstream levels. Some community based Indigenous programs have been outstandingly successful. They should be showcased and implemented more widely, but such implementation will require significant effort. Close collaboration is needed between universities, teaching bodies and Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups. To increase the tiny number of Indigenous teachers, Aboriginal education assistants should be helped to upgrade their qualifications. The drive to improve Indigenous education can dovetail with another pressing issue, the need to increase the number of practicum placements available to student teachers, if pre-service teachers are encouraged to undertake practicums in remote communities or through Indigenous programs such as homework centres. The Australian Government should support the creation of a national institute ‘to support collaborative approaches to practicum, research, induction and professional development’, as recommended by the House of Representatives’ Inquiry into Teacher Education.
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 19 Number 3, 2007; Pages 3–20
Mathematics performance is known to be affected by a range of factors. Background variables such as gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status tend to be correlated with performance, as are various attitudes and emotions that students have about mathematics. A study of 1,880
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Volume 51 Number 4, 2007; Pages 330–339
Many educators are hesitant to accelerate or stream students of high ability because they are concerned children’s socio-emotional development will be pressured or harmed. Extensive research has indicated that both acceleration and ability grouping are highly beneficial for students’ academic achievement; however less research has documented their social and emotional effects. School leaders need access to evidence-based guidance on both academic and emotional outcomes when making these important decisions. A review of studies on accelerated individuals finds no evidence for negative social and emotional effects. One study of 60 high-ability Australian students found that, in fact, highly gifted students who are not accelerated may experience problems with forming and maintaining relationships. Individual students, however, respond differently, and all children should be carefully screened for social maturity and motivation to accelerate. An instrument such as the Iowa Acceleration Scale is helpful for readiness screening. Peer ability grouping, the practice of placing students of similar ability levels into teaching groups, appears to have mixed socio-emotional outcomes. Some studies show an increase in self-concept, while others show no change or even a reduction, though this may be due to more realistic self-evaluation. Grouping has a positive effect on the development of career interests, and for high-ability boys in particular, peer ability grouping can provide an environment in which they feel comfortable in academic pursuits, rather than using antisocial behaviours and unconstructive social relationships to gain attention in the classroom. While one study has found alienation and disinterest from high-ability students in mixed-ability classrooms, there is no strong pattern in the findings on these classrooms. Recommendations include making acceleration routine for highly gifted students, and having acceleration options available for other capable students. Individual differences should be taken into account in all decisions. If possible, students should be accelerated as a cohort, as this provides additional benefits. There should be a range of grouping options available, and groupings should be flexible enough to allow students to move between them. Staff teaching mixed-ability classes need appropriate training so they are able to extend highly capable students.
Subject HeadingsGifted children
Ability grouping in education
Volume 46, February 2008; Pages 123–125
Classroom research indicates that students' academic achievement is greater when they are learning actively rather than passively. Engaging students in regular writing tasks is an excellent way to make learning more active, as well as helping to develop skills in discipline-specific communication. The best writing tasks are short, relatively impromptu and based around key concepts in the course material. One strategy is to ask students to write a one-paragraph summary of their reading homework. Another is to have a written prompt, such as 'Should our tax dollars be used to send astronauts to Mars?', ready for students when they come into the classroom. The first five minutes of the class are then used to write freely about the prompt. This is known as the Fast Five, and can be used for review, introduction of a new idea, or for consideration of a topic’s personal relevance. Classes can also be interrupted with a brief ‘free write task’ in response to a teacher-prepared question. These questions can address both subject content and other issues such as home study and exam preparation. Another option is a You might mistakenly think… paper, in which students imagine they are explaining subject content to a confused friend. News Trailers of 40 characters or less are useful for concisely summarising new ideas. A Muddiest-Point Paper, a few sentences written after the prompt ‘The one thing I still don’t understand after class today is…’, is very useful for pedagogical purposes. These papers can be collected anonymously at the end of class, with the teacher addressing common problems at the start of the next class. Writing tasks should not be overused, and a level of around one per week is optimal for encouraging active engagement and deepening students’ conceptual understanding of the subject content.
Key Learning AreasScience
Brains: the more we learn, the less we know
20 May 2008; Pages 66–67
During an interview, brain scientist John Medina covers the potential application of neurology to learning methods. He warns that scientists in the field as yet 'know amazingly little about how to apply our knowledge to real world settings' , but suggests that several conclusions can be drawn. Learning is severely inhibited by sustained stress, which can cause the 'webbings between brain cells' to 'become disconnected', since humans have evolved to cope with only episodic stress. This damage is particularly likely to occur in the hippocampus of the brain, which is deeply involved in activities such as learning, the processing of language, and numerical calculation, as well as short and long term memory. The nature of memory is also being gradually revealed by brain research. Scientists have found that memory is not as similar to 'recording' and 'playback' as commonly conceived. Rather the process of memorisation takes place over time during which memories still in formation are influenced by earlier recollections. Memorisation is strengthened by repetition of an experience, especially in the form known as 'elaborative rehearsal'. Recollection is also more likely when conditions operating during the original learning experience are replicated, such as the learner's emotional state at the time. Physical exercise is also important for learning, since it improves blood flow to the brain. John Medina is author of books including Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work Home and School.
Subject HeadingsLearning ability
Procrastination and perfectionism: connections, understandings, and control
Volume 23 Number 3, 2007; Pages 264–279
Procrastination is a type of avoidance behaviour and is shaped by the personality and context of each individual. There are many things that cause people to procrastinate, including fear of failure, fear of success, boredom, perfectionism, lack of information or skills, distractions and feeling overwhelmed by a task. While perfectionism can be a sign of healthy task motivation, it can also lead to procrastination and the associated emotions of worry, anxiety and depression. In children, a combination of perfectionism and procrastination can lead to low productivity and underachievement, reduced classroom participation, fear of making errors and the inability to complete tasks. There are many creative ways to rationalise procrastination. More able students, in particular, may sabotage themselves by putting off tasks because they prefer to see a less-than-perfect assignment as reflecting lack of time rather than lack of ability. More able students may also show strong avoidance of challenging tasks and of assignments or areas that might expose their weaknesses. Educators can address procrastination and perfectionism through encouraging a mastery orientation to learning that values gradual skill improvement and a strong work ethic. Students should be taught to see mistakes as a necessary part of learning, not as a personal failure and should be made to understand that love and support are not contingent on achievement. Teachers can help by conveying the belief that intelligence is modifiable rather than fixed and that effort is very important, regardless of ability. Other helpful teaching practices include teaching and modelling relaxation techniques, presenting tasks positively and giving students choice and input about assignment topics, deadlines and assessment criteria. There should be challenging but realistic expectations set for each student, and parents and teachers should regularly reassure children that it is OK not to be perfect.
Physical education and childhood obesity
Winter 2007; Pages 10–14
A seminar conducted in May 2007 brought together researchers from the fields of physiology, psychology, sociology and pedagogy to discuss childhood obesity and physical education. The physiology expert covered the definition, prevalence, health risks and determinants of obesity. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a common measure, but can be misleading in some cases. School-level interventions have had mixed success. One successful program involved moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise for 155-180 minutes per week and successfully reduced body fat in overweight children and adolescents. Recommendations included educating students about exercise recommendations and promoting a healthy diet. The psychology expert focused on energy balance and healthy attitudes, using the whole-school
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsPhysical education
Hear my voice: mainstream secondary students with learning difficulties speak out
Volume 12 Number 2, 2007; Pages 51–59
There has been little qualitative research on Australian secondary school students with learning difficulties. A
Subject HeadingsLearning problems
Einstein in Hollywood: capturing the scientific minds of young movie buffs
Volume 46, March 2008; Pages 166–167
Two researchers have compiled an online database of over 60 short film clips that illustrate principles in physics. Three examples are described in detail. In the first example, students view a clip from Gone in Sixty Seconds and use equations of projectile motion to calculate the time a car is airborne as it jumps over a roadblock. The result of 6.6 seconds for an estimated distance of 200 metres is surprisingly consistent with the film’s visuals. Less realistic is an example from Men in Black, in which the recoil on a gunshot from Secret Agent Kay sends him flying backwards approximately five metres. Calculations using the law of conservation of momentum indicate that for this to be correct, the bullet must have weighed 1.3kg, making the bullet almost 600 times the density of a normal lead bullet. Other clips on the website include scenes from Cool Runnings, Lord of the Rings and The Matrix Reloaded. Also included is a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, from which Jack Sparrow’s centripetal force can be calculated as he escapes from the British Navy. Students can work with the fluid mechanics of melted chocolate in a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or observe the light and optics of Mad-Eye Moody’s magic eye in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Some of the clips come with extra materials, including lesson plans. The films are copyrighted, but use by physics teachers is permitted under the Fair Use Act.
Key Learning AreasScience
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