Greene: We don’t need more teachers

“Hiring more teachers won’t improve student achievement,” writes Jay Greene in the Wall Street Journal. “It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.”

In 1970, public schools employed one teacher for every 22.3 students, according to federal data. In 2012, we have one teacher for every 15.2 students. Math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, writes Greene. High-school graduation rates are stuck at 75 percent.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you’re liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

There is also a trade-off between the number of teachers we have and the salary we can offer to attract better-quality people. As the teacher force has grown by almost 50% over the past four decades, average salaries for teachers (adjusted for inflation) have grown only 11%, the Department of Education reports. Imagine what kinds of teachers we might be able to recruit if those figures had been flipped and we were offering 50% more pay without having significantly changed student-teacher ratios.

Unlike every other enterprise, public schools have not invested in productivity-enhancing technology, Greene writes. Outside the monopoly, charter schools such as Rocketship Academy in California and Carpe Diem in Arizona are using computers to provide individualized instruction while “teachers are primarily tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers.”

While Gov. Romney would leave education policy to state and local governments, President Obama proposes a billion-dollar “master teacher corps” with a goal of producing 100,0000 additional math and science teachers in the next 10 years. It’s “a Solyndra-like solution,” writes Greene. The federal government would pick the “winning” reform strategy.

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