The teachers we want

In Getting the teachers we want in Education Next, Rick Hess laments the U.S. tendency to hire ever more teachers, dipping deeper into the talent pool, rather than paying more to the best candidates.

If policymakers had maintained the same overall teacher-to-student ratio since the 1970s, we would need 1 million fewer teachers, training could be focused on a smaller and more able population, and average teacher pay would be close to $75,000 per year.

It’s time to rethink teaching, Hess writes. We can’t hire 200,000 smart 22-year-olds every year and expect them to teach for 30 or 40 years.

There are smarter, better ways to approach the challenge at hand: expand the hiring pool beyond recent college graduates; staff schools in ways that squeeze more value out of talented teachers; and use technology to make it easier for teachers to be highly effective.

Schools fail to take advantage of teachers’ talents, he writes. The fourth-grade teacher who’s great at teaching reading should spend her time teaching reading; a math specialist should focus on math.  An aide might handle administrative tasks. Only 68 percent of classroom time is spent on instruction, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The challenge, in short, is to find ways to “squeeze more juice from the orange” by using support staff, instructional specialization, and technology to ensure that effective educators are devoting more of their time to educating students.

Specialization has worked in other professions, Hess argues. Surgeons don’t spend time negotiating with insurance companies; “not even junior attorneys are expected to file their own paperwork, compile their billing reports, or type letters to clients.”

Technology can reduce teachers’ administrative load and bring tutors and teachers to students in places where it’s hard to attract talent.

All this will require a new way of paying teachers, Hess writes.

Don’t expect to hire superstar teachers, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

. . . every time we find ourselves slipping into a “best and brightest” reverie, we should pinch ourselves. It’s folly to suppose that any occupation numbering more than four million people–and consuming one tenth of the educated workforce–is going to be staffed predominantly by superstars. Nor is it going to command superstar pay.

With “mere mortals” dominating the teaching force, “that calls for greater attention to structured curricula (including the scripted kind), to technology, to proven school designs, and to organizing the K-12 delivery system in ways that get the greatest possible bang from its relative handful of superstars.”

Recruitment incentives attract smart people to tough schools, according to a new paper on California’s $20,000 Governor’s Teaching Fellowship. The goal was to “get academically talented grads to teach in the state’s neediest schools and keep them there for four years,”  reports NCTQ’s bulletin. Quitters had to repay the state $5,000 for each unfulfilled year.

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  1. Miller T. Smith says:

    Very few superstars are gong to be willing to remain in a profession where the politicians keep lowering the standards for passing thus wasting their talents and hard work. Superstars want their efforts to count!

    Here in Prince George’s County, Maryland the Board of education just set the pass grade for a year long class to 0.75 out of 4.0. This means that a single B (3.0) and 0.0 for the rest of the year will pass you out of a class.

    Also the School Board changed the attendance rule for passing a class. The rule used to be that 10 unexcused absences would fail a student in year long class. The School Board changed that to a failure per quarter for an accumulation of 10 for the year. This means that students who earned a B in the first quarter and earns a 0.75 for the year need not step foot in class for the rest of the year. The student can be failed only for the 2 through 4th quarters but not for the year.

    The Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education also made the minimum high school graduation GPA (the full 4 year career) a 0.6. That’s right! 0.6! A student must merely earn a 0.75 in all the required 21 credits and fail everything else will graduated from PGC Public Schools.

    The Final Exams for this year can be no larger than a regular test and can count no more than a regular test for the 4th quarter.

    Students who are excused absent, receive the make-up work from the teacher, and then never turn it in to be graded receive a minimum of 50% for each missed assignment.

    Do you think a “superstar” will be chomping at the bit for that “challenge?”

    So long as the schools are under political control you will see this kind of behavior from the politicians.

  2. Again we hear the siren song of technology.

    While it can certainly help with classroom administration–grading programs/spreadsheets replacing the old grade book–there’s no firm evidence that it allows for better teaching. Yes, some specific software packages in specific instances might be of some benefit, but the ole pencil and paper will never go out of style. I hope.

  3. We too have a policy in our school district that students will receive a 50%, and will not receive anything lower for work they do not turn in.

    What does this policy say to other students? Why would they want to work so hard? Also, what does it say to teachers?

    I am interested to find out if others have similar policies. I feel that this is in effect in our urban district, to try and keep students in school, and not fail as many, or turn them away to become a part of the growing trend of drop outs in our area.

    Attracting and retaining teachers who are experts in their field is one way to combat many of the ills of education currently. I am a part of a Building Leadership Team, and one of our focuses is to find ways to help ensure that our graduation rate increases by 12% in the next 2 years. I am in an elementary building, and we are beginning in Kindergarten with strategies to make children enjoy comning to school, and foster a positive attitude in students. Teachers who are committed to employing best practices, and building a strong rapport with their students is truly one of the first steps to fixing the many problems we face, and hopfully not just putting a band-aid on the issues.

  4. As long as a significant number of “students” are there only for babysitting/warehousing, having little or no interest in academics, there will be problems with both academics and discipline. Until there is political/administration support for meaningful solutions, those problems will continue. Teachers will have to put up with the situation and the kids who behave and want to learn will pay the price.