NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 19, 2006

While we know that better teachers are critical to improving educational achievement, flaws in the way that administrators select and retain them mean that schools don't always hire the best, says Marie Gryphon of the Cato Institute.

According to Vanderbilt University professor Dale Ballou:

  • High-scoring teaching applicants do not fare better than others in the job market.  Indeed, remarkably, they do somewhat worse.
  • Even more surprising, given the national shortage of highly skilled math and science teachers, school administrators are more keen to hire education majors than applicants who have math or science degrees. 

But failing to recognize the qualities that make teachers truly effective (and to construct incentives to attract and retain more of these top performers) has serious consequences:

  • For example, because schools don't always hire the best applicants, across-the-board salary increases cannot improve teacher quality much, and may even worsen it.
  • That's because higher salaries draw more weak as well as strong applicants into teaching -- applicants the current hiring system can't adequately screen.
  • Unless administrators have incentives to hire the best teachers available, it's pointless to give them a larger group to choose from.

If public school hiring processes are bad, their compensation policies are worse:

  • Most districts pay solely based on years of experience and the presence of a master's degree, a formula that makes the Federal General Schedule -- which governs pay for U.S. bureaucrats -- look flexible.
  • Study after study has shown that teachers with master's degrees are no better than those without.

To make American schools competitive, says Gryphon, we must rethink seniority pay, the value of master's degrees and the notion that a teacher can teach everything equally well -- especially math and science -- without appropriate preparation in the subject.

Source: Marie Gryphon, "Better Teachers: A Lesson Plan," BusinessWeek, October 16, 2006.


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