A new report commissioned by the CEOs of Canada’s largest employers is studded with innovative ideas on how to improve Canada’s education system. Predictably, school boards and teachers’ unions have dismissed it as unwelcome advice from big business pushing a private-sector agenda. That’s too bad.
The report from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives makes zero mention of privatization, but does lay out a compelling case for why it’s time for Canada to consider, in some small way, linking teacher pay and promotion to teacher performance.
This is hardly a radical concept. It’s the norm in most jobs. But teachers have come to embody a peculiar paradox in this country. On one hand, their role is increasingly understood as perhaps the most important factor in a child’s educational success – more than social class or innate intelligence, according to several studies. On the other, teachers continue to be evaluated and compensated according to a system created at the time of the Boer War.
In most public schools, only two variables matter to a teacher’s pay and advancement: academic credentials and years of experience. Most Canadian teachers are only evaluated sporadically by school principals, if at all. A teacher either scores a pass or a fail. Failure – unless it is truly spectacular – has no consequence. Nor is there any incentive for teachers to become more effective as their careers progress.
None of this is to say that Canada is plagued by terrible teachers. It is not. The national high school graduation rate is 78 per cent, and Canadian students scored above average (though less so than a few years ago) on the international PISA test of 15-year-olds. And that’s with a compensation structure that rewards great educators and asleep-at-the-wheel colleagues with exactly the same pay packet. What would be the result if we paid more for excellence than mediocrity?
Unfortunately, teachers aren’t exactly agitating for change. Their average starting salary is $45,000 and tops out at around $80,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on the province. The underlying assumption is that linking pay to performance would erode teacher salaries. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Why couldn’t the best teachers make more than the current ceiling, or accelerate through the salary grid?
The existing teacher-compensation model is simple and easy to administer. It guarantees labour peace. It also cuts down the tall poppies, discouraging the best and the hardest-working teachers. It’s time to question its value in the 21st-century classroom.