Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Teacher Quality

Just about everyone agrees that there is a crisis in education. Very few people agree on how to solve this crisis.

In reality, the answer is amazingly simple. It is so simple that when you read it you will be amazed at both the simplicity and the rightess of the answer. Are you ready? Here is the end-all and be-all cure to the problems in education:

Pay teachers more.

That's it. Simple, right? Makes sense, right?

I've been reading a dissertation on the decline of teacher quality in the America. The author is primarily looking at the decline of women in education. Here is a quote from the first page:

"I find that the more teachers were paid relative to professionals, the more likely highly able educated young women chose to teach."

Makes sense, right? I know.

One more quote, also from page one:

"Moreover, as wage opportunities in teaching became relatively less attractive, the ability of teachers and prospective teachers declined."

It ain't rocket science. You can read the dissertation here.

Now I'm sure you've heard people argue that we already spend too much on education, that all we need to do is a better job of allocating resources.

Okay, if that's true then answer this question: If money doesn't matter, why do rich people spend so much on their children's education?


Anonymous said...

The answer is: Just becuase rich people do it, doesn't mean it makes sense. Take a look at NJ as a fine example of why $ doesn't buy a good education. Under a state SC ruling, for about the last 6-8 years the 31 poorest districts in the state were allocated funds by the state sufficient to provide per pupil funding equal to the one wealthiest district in the state. The result? Miniscule improvement in academic performance. Beautiful buildings, expensive social service programs designed to address societal deficiencies, overpaid administrators, high teacher salaries, and a whole lotta nothin' to show for it. Education is a multi-dimensional endeavor. Great teachers and $ are only two components - family, neighborhood, upbringing, and most importantly, in my opinion, student motivation - all play roles in academic achievement. All this spending is wholly unnecessary. Schools produced much better results in the past with very little. You taught in Africa, therefore you should know a teacher, a room, maybe a book, and a proper level of self-motivation, are all a kid needs to learn. All the rest - just fancy extras. Rich people pay for them because they can, and they figure it might add to their kids' education. It does, but not much. (And besides, it's their dime. If they want to blow it on these things, so be it. But other parents shouldn't ask or require other kids' parents to pay for these extras for their kids.)

A. Monroe said...

"Rich people" are really just paying big bucks to have their children educated with peers of a similar background and social standing.

While I agree that teacher pay plays a factor in school quality, I do not think simply raising teacher salaries is the quick fix. You would have to raise the pay substantially to attract the best and brightest.

If you ask teachers what frustrates them the most and why they leave the profession at astounding rates, pay does not top the list. School culture, morale, and student behavior are all reported factors.

If teachers were paid as well as doctors and lawyers, then yes, schools would improve because young, intelligent, able minded MEN (maybe) and women would come and STAY. But, is this increase in pay resonable or even possible?

Also, unless more men are recruited, pay will never be what it should. In this country teaching is seen as a helping/caring profession. Men are a rare commodity in these fields. I suspect that even with an increase in pay, men would still stay away from the profession. Sadly, without a male presence, pay will never be enough to dramatically improve schools.

Ben Guest said...

I think it is important to note that the idea of declining (relative) wages and declining teacher quality is not an opinion, it is research. So, once again let me state: Research shows the more teachers are paid relative to professionals the higher the quality of teacher. As wage opportunities in teaching become relatively less attractive, the ability of teachers declines (paraphrased from the study cited in the original post). Go back and look at it, particularly the graph on page 36.

In other words, pay teachers more and you get higher quality teachers. I don't mean pay teachers more by a few thousand, I mean pay teachers $25,000 more a year.

In addition to this being research-based it is also common sense. In any field the highest quality professionals are genreally paid the most, whether the individual is a doctor, lawyer, or professional basketball player.

Ann, I agree with you that it is not realistic to think that politicians will legislate a $25,000 pay increase for teachers. I never said the solution was realistic, just simple.

As for rich people spending more on their children's education the two best secondary schools in this country are probably Deerfield Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy. The cost to attend either of these schools as a day student is about $27,000 a year. This does not include textbooks, supplies, or even meals. Factor all of those in and the average yearly cost is about $35,000 a year. So, the best secondary schools in the country spend about $35,000 per pupil. Mississippi spends about $6,000 per pupil.

Once again, if money doesn't matter why do rich people spend so much on their children's education?

Anonymous said...

Rich people paying so much to educate their children is another status symbol. Do rich people drive Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, or other super expensive cars because they are so much better than "regular" luxury cars like Mercedes-Benzes or BMWs? Is a $200,000 car really so much better than a $60,000? Of course not. There's only so much horsepower, leather, wood trim, etc. that can be put on a car. After a certain point, it's just about name recognition. Is a Deerfield education really worth twice as much as a Darlington one? Doubtful in terms of quality. There are only so many "bells and whistles" that can be put on anything, but the name recognition (aka status symbol) is another question. Is the name recognition worth twice as much? Perhaps it is to someone, and if the someone is a Harvard/Yale/Oxford admissions officer... Being rich is about having excess and access. No one needs a Deerfield education, just as no one needs a Bentley. One needs a quality education (and a means of transportation).

Research also shows that with as little as 30% of parents supporting the schools, there can be significant improvements in teacher recruitment/retention, discipline problems, student achievement, and other areas. I would do a job I love that doesn't pay well over one that I merely like that does pay well if I can be assured of having the support system necessary to do my job effectively (read: keep me happy in my job). I know many people who prize happiness over financial excess.

How many people want to do something they love? How many people will do something they love for little pay? How many people are willing to do something they love for little pay with no support? One doesn't have to be rich to be happy, being financially above water and happy is great. But being poor and miserable sucks. I've been there.

Anonymous said...

I assume, using your reasoning Ben, that tomorrow, one could switch all Deerfield's or Phillips Exeter's students with an equivalent number of students from, say, a Roxbury high school, and these new students by the end of the year at Deerfield or Exeter would perform as well as the students they replaced would have had they stayed??? Similarly, I assume also that those students kicked out of Deerfield/Exeter and sent to the Roxbury school by the end of the year would perform as poorly as the students they replaced in Roxbury would have had they stayed???? You KNOW that neither scenario would result. The Deerfield kids would perform well in Roxbury, even with lesser teachers and fewer resources, and the Roxbury kids would perform just as poorly despite the wealth of resources available t them. What makes a Deerfield good is the quality of the students granted admission (and the quality of the students granted admission is influenced by the attractiveness of the school - the quality of the teachers, resources, etc. It's desireable, so it can be very selective.) Great resources and great teachers alone, without the ability to selectively admit, would provide very little in improved performance.

Ben Guest said...

I don't know anything about Roxbury but I do know if you took a class of first-graders from a typical Delta school and switched them out with a class of first-graders from Deerfield and then waited twelve years the Delta kids at Deerfield would all be going to college.

As for the Deerfield kids who were switched to the Delta, a bunch of them would have dropped out, and the rest would have received a vastly inferior education.

The Delta kids at Deerfield would certainly test higher on any standardized test than the Deerfield kids in the Delta.

Uncle Coy said...

Tonight on PBS I watched, “Eyes on the Prize.” I know civil rights history but I forgot it, it was never real to me until tonight. It was only forty years ago that blacks were "not allowed" to vote in Mississippi. Blacks out numbered whites 4 to 1, yet did not vote out of fear. We are only forty years removed from people risking their life, livelihood and home for the right to vote. Our educational system is messed up because of the sins of our "fathers". In the face of poverty and racism, blacks have gained their freedom, but only on paper. What is free about an educational system that produces a seventh grader who cannot comprehend what is on the paper in front of him after he reads it? What is fair about an eight grader whose younger brother is in ninth grade or that three siblings separated by 4 years are all in the eighth grade together. These are great kids, who are not dumb or in SPED. I cannot look at these kids and say they are behind because of lack of motivation or effort. They are behind because of the culture within my school district. The culture created because of the sins of our "fathers." Money is not the answer, trained professionals are, but to bring in the trained professionals you better have deep pockets.