U.S. can afford smart teachers

High-scoring countries recruit teachers from the top half of students, which means paying them well enough to compete with other careers open to high achievers, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week. That could be affordable, if it reduces high turnover rates, he argues.

….In the United States, the typical teachers college graduate has left the teaching profession after five years.  The international evidence shows that, if you raise wages, raise standards for entry and improve working conditions, new teachers will stay a lot longer in the profession and the state will save a fortune on teacher training, because of the reduction in teacher turnover.  Maybe you could pay for a big raise for teachers with the savings from reduced turnover.

Teachers’ colleges want to keep standards low, even if it means producing more graduates than there are teaching jobs, writes Tucker. Unions prefer higher standards and higher pay.

Teacher quality is too important to keep ignoring, Tucker argues.

No one believes that high SAT scores or ACT scores, or high high school grade point averages by themselves guarantee that a candidate will be a good teacher. Everyone I know believes that a passion for teaching and an ability to relate well to young people are very important characteristics of good teachers.  But these are not mutually exclusive qualities.  The record shows that countries that recruit their teachers from a pool of people who score high on their college entrance exams, had high grade point averages and also show a passion for teaching and an ability to relate well to students produce higher student achievement across the board than countries that leave out one or more of these qualities when they are recruiting their students.

What’s stopping us? The “costs here come out of one pocket and the savings will be realized in another.”

I’d add:  Teachers won’t make substantially more unless salaries are linked to effectiveness — measured in some credible way — and their jobs’ degree of difficulty.

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  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Smart teachers realize that they don’t have to put up with incompetent administrations and parents who don’t back them up or care about anything but their child’s role on the basketball team. They can make more elsewhere, so they leave when they get burned out. BUT the key isn’t the ‘more money.’ It’s the having to put up with people actively seeking to PREVENT them from educating the kids. We need a better school culture before we can retain smarter teachers. Other countries have orderly classrooms and students and parents treat teachers as respected advisors, not servants to be abused.

    • The current culture of the US is not one that values education. We say we do, but consistently fail to reinforce that message through actions. Not just actions on the government level, but also down to community and family levels as well.

      Unless there is some beginning of a cultural shift, any discussion of higher pay or increased standards for teachers is somewhat pointless, as the communities won’t see the need to make the necessary changes to make it possible or worthwhile.

      • I’d say $550 billion a year puts a pretty clear, and large, value on education in the United States. At least among those who aren’t part of the public education system.

        It’s within the public education system that education’s not valued. That fact is most easily observable in the indifference with which teaching skill is treated. That’s why as teacher pay has risen teacher quality hasn’t. A good paycheck’s just as attractive to empty-headed clock-watcher as it is to someone who has some pride in their skills.

        So yeah, the U.S. can certainly afford smart teachers. We just need to make the changes to the public education system that’ll result in teaching skill being sought out by those who currently can’t be bothered with sort of exercise.

    • I agree – as a postdoc I made less than a first-year teacher, with no benefits and very little job stability…and there are lots of postdocs out there. When I decided to teach, I went to a CC and taught intro biology, which is a high school course with a good lab. I’d given thought to teaching high school, but have seen enough administrative headaches to know that I probably couldn’t hack it. I currently teach at a homeschool co-op, and while I interact with parents more than the average teacher, the biggest ‘discipline problem’ I have is to shush giggly or gossipy students.

  2. We just need to make the changes to the public education system that’ll result in teaching skill being sought out by those who currently can’t be bothered with sort of exercise.

    1) Get serious about school and classroom discipline again. Ignore the demographics, and bring back expellation as a viable option.

    2) Dump the demand that every student be enrolled in college prep classes in high school, and bring back vocational and general education classes.

    3) Return to the tried and tested practices that served our civilization for hundreds of years. DI, memorization and drill and kill may not be fun, but they are effective.

    4) Bring back tracking regardless of the demographics.

  3. Foobarista says:

    One irony of poor-country educational systems is that if the economy is badly managed and can’t produce large numbers of good jobs, you’ll get highly qualified math and science teachers, as teaching is the only game in town. Yet another irony is their highly-trained kids can’t get good jobs locally so the emigrate.

    The Soviet Union was an excellent example of this, and you see this currently in many countries in Latin America and places like the Philippines and Vietnam.

    In the bad old days, discrimination against women resulted in a similar situation as women couldn’t get high-paying jobs in the private sector, so they became teachers if they didn’t want to be at home.

    Frankly, I’m not opposed to high pay for teachers, particularly if it means we can get rid of a bunch of expensive bureaucrats, who likely wouldn’t be needed with a more highly-trained workforce.

  4. Top students will never survive ed school in large numbers, particularly at the ES level. Ed schools could have been designed to repel them. Private, independent schools look only at academic credentials and they insist on appropriate student behavior and effort, which makes them very attractive to strongly academic teachers – even though they are likely to have lower pay and benefits than the public schools. They also don’t have armies of admins!