Improving teacher quality requires trade-offs, writes Chester Finn on Gadfly. If we keep hiring more teachers, it won’t be possible to hire better teachers. Quoting a paper by Stanford education economist Susanna Loeb, he writes:
As for Loeb’s policy recommendations, three are noteworthy. First, the importance of targeting reforms at hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-fill teaching posts rather than laboring to make across-the-board changes in this immense enterprise. Second, differentiating among teachers on criteria that matter in the labor market (e.g. subject specialty) rather than treating everyone alike. Third (and perhaps most controversial), lowering entry barriers to teaching rather than raising them.
But one huge point shines through Loeb’s data, though she does not dwell on it: For at least half a century, America has invested in more rather than better teachers. Between 1955 and 2000, the number of K-12 teachers in the U.S. almost tripled while school enrollments rose by about fifty percent. Instead of paying more money to a relatively smaller number of people, we chose to pay lots more people a more-or-less constant wage. Surely America would have found it easier to recruit, hire, and place better educated and more generously compensated instructors in its public-school classrooms if we hadn’t set out to hire so many millions of them. Budgets (and labor pools) are finite. Choose guns or butter.
. . . The unions don’t want to hear about tradeoffs, however. Also present on my panel at the MSU conference was a senior staffer from the American Federation of Teachers who made clear that she and her organization demand cake AND ice cream AND fudge sauce AND a cherry on top. She said that America ought to (a) hire still more teachers (to reduce class size further), (b) pay them all more money across the board, (c) pay yet more in added incentives and rewards for teachers in hard-to-staff schools and scarce specialties (which differentiation she insisted can be done via collective bargaining) and, along with all that, (d) boost preparation requirements, elevate entry barriers, and strengthen training opportunities so that teaching becomes more of an honored and coveted profession.
Also on Gadfly: While 86.7 percent of would-be teachers pass Michigan’s certification test on the first try, all the teacher-training institutions in the state report their graduates have a 100 percent passing rate. Education schools have made passing the test a graduation requirement; students who complete their training but fail the test aren’t counted as graduates.