Good teachers are valuable, writes Eric Hanushek in Education Next. A teacher at the 69th percentile in effectiveness will increase lifetime earnings by $212,000 for a class of 20 students. A very low-performing teachers at the 16th percentile will decrease earnings by $400,000. Compared to the average teacher’s salary — $52,000 in 2008 — the effects are large.
U.S achievement could reach the level of Canada and Finland, if we fired the least effective 5 to 12 percent of teachers and replaced them with average teachers, Hanushek estimates.
That would lead to a huge increase in economic output: $112 trillion over the lifetime of someone born today.
How do we do it? Hanushek has little faith that efforts to improve recruitment or teacher training will be effective. Trying to change poor teachers into average teachers also has proven difficult, he writes. “While such efforts undoubtedly help some teachers, there is no substantial evidence that certification, in-service training, master’s degrees, or mentoring programs systematically make a difference in whether teachers are in fact effective at driving student achievement,” he writes.
He proposes “a clearer evaluation and retention strategy for teachers” to “deselect” the least effective 5 to 10 percent. “At a minimum, the current dysfunctional teacher-evaluation systems would need to be overhauled so that effectiveness in the classroom is clearly identified.”
The teachers who are excellent would have to be paid much more, both to compensate for the new riskiness of the profession and to increase the chances of retaining these individuals in teaching. Those who are ineffective would have to be identified and replaced. Both steps would be politically challenging in a heavily unionized environment such as the one in place today.
With all teachers paid the same, regardless of performance, salaries now lag pay in other professions, he writes.
In the 1940s, the salaries of male teachers were slightly above the average pay for all male college graduates, and female teachers had higher salaries than 70 percent of other female college graduates. Today, despite the collective bargaining process, the salaries of male teachers are at the 30th percentile of the distribution of all college graduates, and women who teach are at the 40th percentile of their college-educated peers.
“Salaries several times higher than those paid teachers today would be economically justified if teachers were compensated according to their effectiveness,” Hanushek concludes.