FADING LIGHTS

April 20, 2005

Elementary and high schools across the nation are losing smart, talented teachers to other professions thanks in large part to union-scale pay that rewards seniority over performance, according to a new report by the Hoover Institution.

Conventional wisdom has long held that fewer women (teachers are still overwhelmingly female) are going into teaching than in the past because of higher-paying opportunities in other professions such as law, banking and management consulting. While that's part of it, Hoover found that collective bargaining has had a far greater impact:

  • In fact, union-driven "pay compression" -- the narrowing of salary ranges between high- and low-aptitude teachers -- accounts for fully three-fourths of the brain drain.
  • Since teachers won collective-bargaining rights in the 1960s, the salary distribution has increasingly narrowed so that today "those with the highest aptitude earn no more than those with the lowest," the study says.
  • As a result, more bright women -- those from the most selective colleges with top SAT scores -- are discouraged from becoming elementary and high school teachers.
  • The profession instead is attracting more dim-bulbs, such as the 60 percent of aspiring teachers in Massachusetts who flunked a high-school-level literacy test.

The trend is disturbing, says Hoover:

  • The share of high-aptitude women becoming teachers dropped to 11 percent in 2000 from 21 percent in 1964.
  • During that period, union contracts placed a premium on factors such as seniority and credentials rather than performance, thereby making teaching less attractive for bright women.

To lure bright and talented women back to teaching, school districts need to reward teachers in the same way that college graduates are paid in other professions -- for performance.

Source: Editorial, "Fading Lights," Investor's Business Daily, April 13, 2005; based upon: Caroline M. Hoxby and Andrew Leigh, "Wage Distortion," Hoover Institution, Spring 2005.

 

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