Merit pay?

Here’s a headline from the Globe and Mail yesterday. “Should Canada offer merit pay to teachers?” The image is from the story.

The article introduces an Alberta teacher who has won a national award as “Even after 24 years of teaching, he tries new strategies…” The article goes on to quote a Manitoba teacher releasing a book who suggests: “[The current system] has a lot to do with keeping things simple and maintaining the status quo, but not much to do with encouraging students’ performance.”

Various studies in the U.S. and other parts of the world link merit pay for teachers with improved student performance.

Of course, as one might expect, there is some controversy with this idea. And yet, almost all of us can point to examples of either good or poor teachers having significant impacts on us and those around us.

As the article asks: “The question, then, is: How can the system encourage more great teaching?”

What I have been asking myself over the last little while is:

If government departments with a responsibility to look after something (such as forests, or birds, or fish) as a legislated-legal mandate — similar to how teachers are given responsibility to educate our youth — or accountants are given responsibility for finances within a business — or a CEO is given responsibility for a company’s performance — why aren’t government “managers” subject to merit pay?

A CEO is responsible for taking information about a company — past, present, and future predictions — and turning those into accurate forecasts of future performance. For a “publicly-traded” company, missed forecasts can be disastrous – for the company, for the CEO, for the surrounding economy, and for stakeholders within the company. This is why CEOs often have huge compensation packages (albeit not always in line with reality).

So if government fisheries managers blow a forecast (for example, Fraser sockeye – missed forecasts by 90%) why are there not compensatory consequences, suspensions, firings, pension adjustments, or other consequences?

If entire branches of government departments blow forecasts, or mismanage (for years) the resources they’re legally mandated to look after – why is this not handled like a professional sports team after losing seasons? Clean out the entire front office, trade players, fire managers – and start anew.

Instead, excuses such as unforeseen environmental factors – like ocean productivity – are cited. Yet, last time I checked company executives are still held accountable for performance even in financial meltdowns (i.e. unforeseens). There’s things like rainy-day accounts, savings, precautionary approaches and the like.

If we instituted a merit-based system for natural resource managers within government departments could we potentially transform the way things are done? Could we potentially attract the best in the business through attractive merit-based programs?

This is apparently why we pay elected representatives big salaries (over $100,000 a year for BC Provincial MLAs and upwards of $160,000 for Federal MPs) and government ministers even more.

Could local communities set the criteria for the merit-based programs? Or conduct the performance reviews?

Is there a way we could reward good management of public resources and stop making excuses for bad management?

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