NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Weak Labor Market Increases Teacher Quality

November 14, 2013

Many believe that teachers in the United States are more likely to be drawn from the lower end of the academic achievement distribution than are teachers in selected high-performing countries. However, this has changed, according to a study conducted by Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data & Research, and Joe Walch, a research consultant at Education Data & Research at the University of Washington.

  • There was an upward shift in achievement for 2008 college graduates entering the teacher workforce the following school year.
  • In fact, 2008 graduates both with and without STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors who entered the teacher workforce had higher average SAT scores than their peers who entered other occupations.

What explains the apparent rise in academic competency among new teachers? The SAT scores of those seeking and finding employment in a teaching job differ in different years. Differences in the labor market context across years may help explain the rise in SAT scores.

  • According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment rate in 2009 was about 9 percent to about 6 percent and 5 percent in 1994 and 2001, respectively.
  • The high unemployment rate in 2009 may have led more high-scoring graduates to choose to pursue comparatively stable and secure teaching jobs rather than occupations that were viewed as riskier in the economic downturn.

Also, little change is observed across years in the relative propensity of STEM and non-STEM majors to become teachers. There has been a gradual increase over the past decade in the percentage of districts offering pay incentives for shortage areas, but recent evidence shows that few districts are truly strategic in matching incentives to staffing needs, and as a consequence, school systems continue to struggle to fill teaching slots in math and science.

It appears that education policies related to both compensation and working conditions must evolve further if school systems are to address the challenge of staffing math and science classrooms with teachers of strong academic caliber.

Source: Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch, "Gains in Teacher Quality," Education Next, Winter 2014.


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