Smart women now have lots of career opportunities, which has lowered the quality of the teaching force. That’s the conventional wisdom, but is it true? Writing in the New York Times, Virginia Postrel analyzes a study of teachers’ aptitude scores (used as a measure of teacher quality). From 1964 to 2000, there was little change in teachers’ scores.
But averages hide the real story. The best female students — those whose test scores put them in the top 10 percent of their high school classes — are much less likely to become teachers today.
“Whereas close to 20 percent of females in the top decile in 1964 chose teaching as a profession,” making it their top choice, the economists write, “only 3.7 percent of top decile females were teaching in 1992,” making teachers about as common as lawyers in this group.
So the chances of getting a really smart teacher have gone down substantially. In 1964, more than one out of five young female teachers came from the top 10 percent of their high school classes. By 2000, that number had dropped to just over one in 10.
The average has stayed about the same because schools aren’t hiring as many teachers whose scores ranked at the very bottom of their high school classes. Teachers aren’t exactly getting worse. They’re getting more consistently mediocre.
Another study looks at the effect of unionization on compressing the range of teacher pay: All teachers earn about the same, regardless of their abilities.
Are women from top colleges leaving teaching because of the “pull” of better pay elsewhere or the “push” of reduced earnings at the top of teaching?
To their surprise, they find that wage compression explains a huge 80 percent of the change. If women from top colleges still earned a premium as teachers, a lot more would go into teaching.
“Women who went to a top 5 percent college earned about a 50 percent pay premium in the 1960’s and earn about the same as other teachers today,” Mr. Leigh said. “By comparison, somebody who went to a bottom 25 percent college earned about 28 percent below the average teacher in the 1960’s, and they have the earnings of about the average teacher today.”
In hiring teachers, we get what we pay for: average quality at average wages.