The Fraser Institute recently released a report advocating the implementation of merit pay in the public school system to compensate teachers based on student performance. The libertarian think tank’s findings quickly drew fire from union and left-wing commentators. The study, composed by Dr. Rodney Clifton from the University of Manitoba, also proposed abolishing teacher tenure protections so that chronically underperforming educators can be dismissed more easily.
The Fraser Institute assumes that the introduction of merit pay would be beneficial to ensure teacher quality and student achievement. However, to enact these policies nationwide, the current system would need to be federalized at great cost. Tracking student performance and linking it to over 700,000 teachers would require the creation of an extensive administrative bureaucracy the think tank neglected to take into account.
On the issue of tenure, however, the unions are dead wrong. It is not hard to detect a consistently ineffective teacher. There are few other professions in which seniority trumps ability, and labour leaders need to admit that while most teachers may be in the profession for the right reasons, there are some teachers who are generally uninterested in the general performance of their students. Education graduates with stellar student-teaching credentials and a passion to instruct should not be kept out of the profession to uphold the outdated practice of tenure productions which often keep primary and secondary students languishing in stifling environments.
The unions are correct, however, in insisting that social forces outside of the classroom can hamper teacher effectiveness. Even though Canada has lower rates of child poverty than the US, not all young Canadians have the advantages necessary for effortless academic achievement.
With a new influx of foreign competition, how Canada’s next generation performs in the classroom is crucial for maintaining our global competitiveness. Above-average rankings and adequately equipped university freshmen are not going to cut it anymore. Standards need to be raised, but a system that is too test driven, as many Asian systems are, is not the answer. Students shouldn’t fear their teachers and be forced to memorize throughout the night in cram schools. The reason western teaching methods have reached all corners of the globe is because we teach our children to think for themselves and innovate. While it’s possible to increase the frequency of standardized testing, to hold students to an arbitrary intellectual standard would be detrimental, not to mention unfeasible.
Those who tackle education from a purely corporate perspective seem to claim that by overhauling learning through their model, quality will improve at no added cost. While there is room for increased competition in the teaching profession, if we truly want to better public education, we need to increase teacher pay, better fund our schools, and focus our system on student needs. Anybody who claims that these aspirations can be achieved without significantly increased education funding needs to go back to school.