Report: Raise teachers’ status, pay

Raise U.S. teachers’ status by recruiting only high-performing college graduates, training and mentoring them well and paying them more, advises a new report (pdf) by Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA international achievement test. In top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland, teaching is a high-status occupation, Schleicher says. From the New York Times:

“Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The report was released to kick off an Education Department conference on teaching that included education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Schleicher, an official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, wrote, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president and a former West Virginia schools superintendent.

The report lists “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, including raising the status of teachers, adopting common academic standards, developing better tests to diagnose students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

The average salary of a veteran elementary teacher in the U.S. is higher than the OECD average, but U.S. teachers earn 40 percent less than other college graduates here, while teachers elsewhere are closer to the median.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

Linda Darling-Hammond expresses a similar vision — top students, excellent training, higher pay — in a piece that calls for melding Teach for America’s recruitment expertise with training for career teachers.

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  1. Interesting.

    Yes, I know some great teachers who work like demons.

    When the work is a mission rather than a profession, you won’t fill all the slots with top notch people.

    But how do we get from here to there?

    As somebody who is in the system, I see it being pushed one way and pulled another way, and all the tugging has to do with taxes, politics and unions, and not what’s good for education.

    So, Obama’s words are solid. Respect, nation-builders. I like that. Too bad he’s not king because nice words will win admiration but won’t translate into meaningful change.

    Eliminate the unions and restructure funding so it’s long term, and then maybe there’ll be an opportunity to move in that direction.

  2. You want better teachers, especially at failing schools? The answer is working conditions.

    1) Have parents and administrators back teachers up instead of undercut them, especially on discipline issues.

    2) Bring back tracking. I would gladly take a class or two of low achievers/unmotivated students if it meant the rest of my classes were free of them. So would most teachers.

    3) Bring back vocational ed and realistic expectations. The myth of college for all is causing a lot of problems. There are plenty of $30 an hour jobs out there that can be learned through apprenticeships.

  3. Gahrie- I agree. The “High Status” teachers in other countries enjoy is a cultural norm– students and parents treat the teacher with the same respect one treats a doctor, a lawyer, a bank official, or even a good accountant. They dress appropriately to meet with her and treat her with respect.

    In the US, you’re more likely to get respect and kindess as a supermarket checker than as a teacher. And that’s not because the supermarket checkers have it GOOD>

  4. Sean Mays says:

    Should the expectation be that teachers work like demons? That’s a distorted mirror to hold up to our students and I’m not sure it’s healthy. It’s not far from there to expecting it to be a “calling” – and we certainly can’t fill all our classrooms with true believers; they’re a rare breed.

    I think gahrie is spot on. We truely need a discipline policy with consequences for chronically disruptive students. We also need interventions that work for kids that don’t pass. Retention doesn’t seem to work, but social promotion is usually an unmitigated disaster. During my first year teaching, I put up a nice waterfall chart of my Algebra I classes performance and pointed out how many people were failing; and that needed to change. One student told me that they’d all been held back before, so they couldn’t be failed again. Oh no, welcome to high school; your choices are to fail until we kick you out at 21 or bring up your game to a whole new level – we’ll work hard together on making the right choice. For some the light bulb went on then and there, others took longer. Fortunately I had an administrator to back me up. Eventually, a quarter of my kids earned scholarships based on the Massachusetts MCAS, a darn high number for Boston Public Schools.

  5. Wait. I thought we were overpaid union goons with reeeeeally low SAT scores this week. I can never keep track.

  6. Ugh.

    The system doesn’t identify and reward top teachers now .. . will higher pay make the system more accountable?

    I doubt it.

    Also, I know of plenty of schools that seem to do quite well with the teachers they are able to hire at the current pay grade. Look at the Baltimore Curriculum Project, Franklin Academy in Wake Forest, Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy in Colorado Springs.

    Until the system will do whatever it takes to get better results (throw out concepts such as “drill and kill”, get rid of time-wasting group work in younger grades), higher pay, smaller classes and all of the other “wonder” cures for the system will not work.

  7. Talk about fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. Teacher quality is perfectly adequate. Who wants our best and brightest going into teaching? The countries that do this don’t have much else going for them.

  8. Along with Schleicher’s recommendations, I’d add the following:

    1. Demand more rigorous credentialing programs. It should not be “pathetically easy” (as one former student teacher said) to get into this field of work.

    2. Schedule more collaborative planning time into the teacher’s work day. Until you have consistent, programmed times for teachers to research, discuss, and design strong lessons, you will not improve test scores. Why we are pressured at staff meetings and in the media to raise test scores, and then sent to our classrooms alone to achieve the near-unattainable — well, the logic just fails me. I will say this till I’m blue in the face: ALL teachers – not just the new ones – need time to revise, edit, get called on or support for lesson design. And said planning time should not be on weekends or after school, because by then most teachers are fried. And dare I say it? We’d like to have a life outside our work.

    3. Some of the new, free online databases of teacher lessons are exciting. Kudos to those young lion(esses), tech savvy as they are, for pushing us ol’ diehards into the future. More of this, please.

  9. tim-10-ber says:

    to RMD — what is wrong with “drill and kill”? I am asking as it relates to kids knowing math basics vs knowing how to use a calculator? These types of drills, timed and all, are critical. I have to wonder how many teachers actually use them today?


  10. As someone who teaches math at the secondary level, drill and kill is incredibly necessary. Learning more complex concepts like factoring is impossible if the student has not internalized multiplication facts. Thats in addition to the general benefits someone has to their number sense from knowing those facts well.

    It is unreasonable to expect all teachers to be paid incredibly well, nor should all of them be paid more. However, it is possible to expect schools to identify the best teachers in high demand subjects, place them where they can do the most good (not only the low kids), and let them do their job.

    Instead, we have a system where every teacher is paid identically, they are told to teach using assigned methods and curriculum instead of their professional knowledge, and are burdened with paperwork that has no direct relationship with improving student achievement. If the best teachers were actually free to teach, instead of filling out Student Success Plans, documenting Response to Intervention Plans, and other such paperwork, maybe we’d see more of an improvement.

    I would actually prefer to see a system with higher class sizes, less teachers, but those teachers that remain be of a higher quality. For every 4-5 teachers assign a paraprofessional to manage paperwork demands. This would give the best teachers time to really teach and plan those classes, and free them from some of the other time intensive demands of their profession. It stands to reason that more time devoted to teaching, by those with the ability to teach, should lead to better teaching.

  11. to Tim-10-ber .. ..

    I want educators to stop saying “drill and kill” and start saying things like “drill and skill” or “drill and thrill”, recognizing the importance of practice.

    So I’m very much in favor of practice, timed and untimed …

  12. tim-10-ber says:

    to RMD — thank you for clarifying…

  13. Practicing skills is an integral component of sports and drills are repeated until the skill can be done not only proficiently but at speed (varies by sport) and without thought and I believe the same is true in music and dance. This is true for experts as well as learners; professionals in sports and the arts practice daily. Why is this such a difficult and/or unacceptable idea in education?

    Learning is, and must always be, an active process; kids can’t be given an education. They have to put in the mental work to earn it. I’m willing to bet that those countries, like Japan, South Korea, Finland etc, so beloved of some in the ed world do not allow kids who don’t put in the effort, let alone misbehave, to disrupt the opportunities for others. Until we get serious about discipline issues, student /parent effort and class composition, we’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  14. “But how do we get from here to there?”

    A good start would be to: a) abolish schools of education; b) remove the need for a teaching license from the state; c) get the state out of any curriculum decisions and the administration of state-designed tests; and d) parents’ money follows their child to the school of their choice. Teachers should be hired directly by the school at which they are going to teach. The school (or group of affiliated schools) would decide on the criteria for hiring. The criteria might be a college degree in a related field of study. The school might even administer some type of test that the prospective teacher would have to pass in order to be hired. The school would be responsible for teaching the new teachers the information and skills necessary to do the job for which they are hired. Then, let the competition begin among schools for students and the best teachers.

    Don’t like it? Perhaps not. But, it beats what we have now, which is a system that makes certain teachers have the lowest ACT/SAT scores and most of the lowest GRE scores among college majors. And, my system promotes freedom for teachers and schools as well as a free market. The only people who are hurt are the people that teachers (and everyone else) complains about anyway–ed school professors, state bureaucrats, and administrators.

  15. Money isn’t everything, but it matters.

    If someone is a top performer at a top college or university, he or she can reasonably expect to be a top performer in the workplace, and (in most professions) to be rewarded accordingly, relative to other people doing the same or similar work. Knowing that in teaching that person can expect to receive the same pay as everyone with the same seniority is a major disincentive to going into teaching. College students may be willing to sign up for two years (as they do for Teach for America or the Peace Corps) and maybe they’ll get hooked by the experience and decide the non-monetary rewards are worth it.

    On the other hand, for people who know they are below the average for the college they are attending, especially if the college is not particularly selective, a job that guarantees they will always get at least the average for the people in that job, that’s a very attractive feature. It should surprise no one that this system results in a teaching corps that is — for all the outstanding exceptions — populated with many people for whom teaching is the highest-status job they can ever hope to hold , or that the status of the teaching profession is also, in part, a result of the statistical profile of those who choose to go into it.

    That’s not even to mention that teachers often work in conditions determined by contracts (union or not) that are not consistent with professional careers. That’s another disincentive.

  16. 1) Have parents and administrators back teachers up instead of undercut them, especially on discipline issues.

    Given today’s dysfunctional subcultures I don’t see any way to do that except with legal pressure.  For instance, if a classroom disruptor is documented on video and the parents refuse to admit the child is in the wrong, prosecute them for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  Hauling them out of the teacher meeting in handcuffs will start to change attitudes, if the race-baiters aren’t allowed a heckler’s veto.

    I’m willing to bet that those countries, like Japan, South Korea, Finland etc, so beloved of some in the ed world do not allow kids who don’t put in the effort, let alone misbehave, to disrupt the opportunities for others.

    How do you get around the “disparate impact” this would inevitably produce?  We need a change in the legal system before this is remotely possible.  Many state polities are there (having outlawed racial preferences by referendum) but Washington pays no heed to public sentiment on that issue (and many, many others).

  17. Lots of food for thought here. Some pretty good posts. Good going Cal and anon and others.

    Who do we want for teachers and how do we get them? And then keep them?

    Do we want teachers who are smart? Some of my son’s best teachers were not very bright. And if we had schools where the teachers were smart, they would rebel against a system designed to treat them like children.

    Do we want teachers to be dedicated? Probably so, but there are just not enough to go around.

    Do we want to be select teachers carefully? Well, maybe. But I’ve seen quite a few really good teachers who were terrible their first few years. The only reason they weren’t let go was the administration didn’t have time to adequately observe them.

    Do education schools have any worth at all? Yes, I think they do. If a person can get through a year of that nonsense, they have the stamina to get through the nonsense inherent in a typical public school.

    How do we hold on to good teachers after treating them with disrespect year after year? I wish I knew. I have a couple of colleagues who were top-notch a few years ago but the system has beaten down their spirit with various forms of disrespect. Some are planning on leaving. Some are so dispirited that they’ve lost their drive for excellence. And some have been beaten down for so long that they actually believe they deserve it.

    Another question is, why do people go into teaching? My supe says, nobody goes into teaching for the money. I’m afraid he’s wrong. And I think people go into teacher for a multiplicity of reasons, which complicates how to recruit and retain the best ones.

    I wish all of my son’s teachers were great. They’re not. And he knows it.

    When I had a professor in college who wasn’t very good, I’d drop the class. And when a professor was exceptionally good, I’d take every class he offered.

    Perhaps high school needs to develop the flexibility of college. We need some more choice, more voting with our feet.

  18. Ted Craig says:

    You can’t pay better students more because union contracts dictate that the only basis for pay is experience. The best school districts can be selective, but if a struggling districts gets two applicants, one with a 2.3 GPA from a low-level state school and the other with a 3.8 from Harvard, they have to offer them the same starting salary.
    Even the advanced degree bonus is meaningless. You have to give the same pay increase to somebody with a master’s from the University of Phoenix as somebody with a master’s from Berkley.

  19. Some of the worst discipline problems are in inner-city schools, which tend to be heavily majority minority, so disparate impact is not in play. Removing the troublemakers would give the motivated and the willing-to-be-motivated a chance they don’t have now. Of course, in many areas, disparate impact is huge. I remember reading, withing the past 6 months or so, that Montgomery County, MD (suburban DC) is mandating proportional representation in disciplinary actions. Of course, they’ve been pushing that for decades; it’s only the admission that they’re doing it that’s new.