Secondary teachers are smarter

While would-be elementary teachers have below-average SAT and GRE scores, aspiring secondary subject-matter teachers compare well to other students, writes Education Realist.

The Richwine-Biggs study (pdf), which concludes teachers have lower cognitive skills than workers with similar education levels, combines elementary and secondary teachers, Realist complains.

Secondary teachers specializing in a subject — English, history, math, science — have “much stronger academic histories” than elementary, special education and phys ed teachers, ETS reports (pdf).

 

Overpaid teachers

Teachers earn similar wages — and much higher benefits — when compared to similarly skilled private-sector workers, concludes a study released in November by Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. Including benefits, teachers make $1.52 for every dollar earned by similarly skilled workers in the private sector.

In a new paper and an Ed Week article, Richwine and Biggs respond to their many critics.

Comparing teachers to private-sector workers with similar levels of education misses the difference in cognitive skills, they argue. The study measured teachers’ reading and math skills on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and found “teachers are paid commensurately with their cognitive skills.”

Teaching requires “important organizational and interpersonal skills that formal tests may not capture,” they concede.  However, these skills should be valuable in other jobs as well.

If teachers are not fairly paid for their non-cognitive skills, one would expect teachers who shifted to private-sector jobs to receive significant raises. But they do not. Using data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, we are able to track changes in individuals’ salaries as they switch jobs. We have shown that the average public-school teacher suffers a slight wage decrease upon leaving the profession.

Paying all teachers more money won’t improve teacher quality, they argue.

What is needed is a more rational system that pays teachers according to their performance, encouraging the best teachers to stay and the least effective teachers to leave the profession.

Public school administrators rarely have the flexibility to do this, they write.

Undereducated Americans

The demand for college-educated workers has outpaced the supply, concludes The Undereducated American, a new study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The weak economy has hidden the problem, says Anthony P. Carnevale, co-author of the report. “In recession and recovery, we remain fixated on the high school jobs that are lost and not coming back. We are hurtling into a future dominated by college-level jobs unprepared.”

The U.S. economy will need an additional 20 million postsecondary-educated workers by 2025, Georgetown predicts. This includes 15 million with bachelor’s degrees, one million with associate degrees and four million with vocational certificates. Adding these new graduates will stop the rise of income inequality, according to the report, which predicts wages will rise 24 percent for high school graduates, 15 percent for those with an associate degree and 6 percent for bachelor’s degree holders.

All this jibes with President Obama’s push to make the U.S. first in the world in college graduates by 2020, points out Inside Higher Ed.

The shortage of college-educated workers has created a rising wage premium, write Carnevale and co-author Stephen Rose.

College graduates earn 74 percent more than do high school graduates today — a gap that is up from 40 percent in 1980.

. . . (Adding 20 million college-educated workers) would not only allow the wage premium to shrink to 46 percent, much closer to what it was in 1980, but increase the gross domestic product by about $500 billion over what it would be without those better-educated, higher-earning workers.

Increasing college-going and graduation rates requires spending more on higher education — unlikely, Carnevale concedes — or making higher ed more efficient.

Higher education has not historically been inclined to look for efficiency, but it is likely that “as money slims down, there will be kicking and screaming, and higher ed will move toward efficiencies,” he said.

A bachelor’s degree pays off even for secretaries, plumbers and cashiers, asserts New York Times columnist Dave Leonhardt, citing the Georgetown report. Blue-collar workers with a bachelor’s degree earn more and they’re healthier and happier than their high-school-educated colleagues.

“Sending more young Americans to college is not a panacea,” says David Autor, an M.I.T. economist who studies the labor market. “Not sending them to college would be a disaster.”

About 33 percent of young adults earn a bachelor’s degree and another 10 percent receive a two-year degree, Leonhardt writes.

Financial aid cuts the cost:  “Average net tuition and fees at public four-year colleges this past year were only about $2,000 (though Congress may soon cut federal financial aid).”

Meanwhile, the wage premium for college graduates has soared.

According to the Hamilton Project, “college tuition in recent decades has delivered an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent. For stocks, the historical return is 7 percent. For real estate, it’s less than 1 percent.”

Perhaps “college filters out people with low cognitive ability, low conscientiousness, and other adverse traits,” writes Arnold Kling.

My elitism comes from the few years I spent as an adjunct at George Mason. The typical undergrad in my course could not write a paper or solve an algebra problem. I doubt that adding more students at this margin is the way to raise people’s incomes.

College attainment will boost economic growth only if it increases cognitive skills, responds Andrew Gillen of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, citing studies by Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann. “Recent research (such as Academically Adrift) calls into question how much college boosts cognitive skills,” wrote Gillen in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.

I don’t see much point in sending more high school graduates to college to take eighth-grade reading, writing and math.

Brain training fizzles in Britain

Computer-based brain training doesn’t improve cognitive skills, concludes a large study published in Nature. The study involved healthy adult viewers of a BBC science program. From the Wall Street Journal:

One group took part in online games aimed at improving skills linked to general intelligence, such as reasoning, problem-solving and planning. A second test group did exercises to boost short-term memory, attention and mathematical and visual-spatial skills—functions typically targeted by commercial brain-training programs. A third “control group” was asked to browse the Internet and seek out answers to general knowledge questions.

The conclusion: Those who did the brain-training exercises improved in the specific tasks that they practiced. However, their improvement was generally no greater than the gains made by the control group surfing the Internet. And none of the groups showed evidence of improvement in cognitive skills that weren’t specifically used in their tasks.

Critics say the brain workouts were too brief –  10 minutes a day, three times a day, for six weeks — to make a difference.

Modest benefits to cognitive abilities have been reported in studies of older people, preschool children and videogame players, the study’s authors say.