A survey of high school teachers has found widespread resentment about bonuses being paid to "expert" teachers in new groups of schools.
The survey by the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) has also found that only 44 per cent of high school principals who have joined "communities of learning" - groups of usually five to 10 local schools - believe their groups have adopted realistic goals.
And only 12 per cent of high school classroom teachers "feel ownership" of those goals, which some say have been dictated to them by the Education Ministry.
The communities of learning (CoLs) are the main element in a $359 million government plan to raise student achievement through more effective teaching.
The communities are funded to appoint about one in every 50 teachers to work across all schools in a group to "strengthen teaching practice". Those teachers get an extra $16,000 a year and spend 40 per cent of their time working across schools.
The funding also pays for about one in every 10 teachers to spend 8 per cent of their time working with other teachers within their own schools. They get an extra $8000 a year.
The PPTA survey is the first major survey of ordinary classroom teachers since the first communities were approved in 2015. It was sent in April and May to 8576 teachers and principals in 180 communities and received replies from 16 per cent of teachers and 21 per cent of principals.
It has found that only 36 per cent of classroom teachers felt there was "a fair and open process" of appointing the expert teachers working within schools.
"The positions were allocated to a small group of favourites," one teacher said.
Another said: "There is a feeling that this can be used to support kingdom-building in a school, or even cronyism."
Many teachers resented what they saw as unfair pay rates.
One said: "As the appointments start happening there are immediate inequities of pay appearing, e.g. a new appointee who is now earning more than both their head of department and head of learning area."
Another said: "I am concerned as to how we will find senior curriculum leaders (heads of departments) once this model is fully in place."
Only 12 per cent of classroom teachers and 56 per cent of principals in communities that have agreed on their achievement goals said they "feel ownership" of those goals.
An Education Ministry survey last year found that most goals relate to national standards in literacy and numeracy and pass rates for level 2 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
One teacher told the PPTA survey that those goals were set by "the heavy hand of the Ministry of Education dictating achievement challenges".
Another said: "Let us choose our challenges without them necessarily being 'national' priorities."
PPTA president Jack Boyle said that since the survey was done the ministry had become more open to goals that were not about national standards and NCEA. For example, Mt Maunganui schools have set goals for their students' well-being and developing "a community-based curriculum", as well as literacy and numeracy targets.
He said next month's PPTA annual conference would consider a proposal that communities should be able to set their own goals without needing ministry approval.
The conference will also debate pay relativities between the new expert teacher roles and other school roles.
Education Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the ministry was working with the sector to create more flexibility in the communities' goals.
"There have already been recent examples of greater flexibility with achievement challenges being set in areas including science, English for Speakers of Other Languages and early learning," she said.
The Labour Party has promised to "redevelop the Communities of Learning model so that it less focused on a low-trust, managerial, audit culture and is instead genuinely collaborative, embraces the needs of local communities, and empowers educationalists".