NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Improving Education Would Improve Upward Mobility

July 29, 2014

Education is critical to future economic success, write Lindsey Burke and Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation, yet too many American students are placed in schools with low-quality teachers. The authors explain that teacher quality is especially important to a child's future:

  • Research from Eric Hanushek of Stanford University indicates that, compared to an average teacher, an above average teacher (84th percentile) will increase a classroom's earnings by more than $400,000.
  • A very poor teacher (16th percentile), however, will reduce a classroom's earnings by $400,000.
  • If the United States replaced just the worst-performing 5 to 7 percent of teachers with average teachers, American students would be able to rise to the education level of students in the nations that currently outrank the United States.

According to Burke and Butler, to improve students' access to good teachers, incentives must change. Tenure and pay based on time served must be replaced with pay based on quality of instruction, and instructors should be evaluated based on student performance.

Another educational factor critical to a child's future success is literacy, yet the United States is performing poorly on that front: only 35 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading. However, the authors use Florida as an example of a state that has successfully tackled this issue. When Florida quit promoting third graders who could not read to the next grade level, Florida fourth graders made reading gains that were three times the national average.

Burke and Butler write that parental choice is the best way to customize education for students, allowing parents to choose the academic options that best fit their children. But not only do choice policies give students an array of options, but they create competition between educational providers. When schools are at risk of losing students and funding, they are more likely to work to improve their performance.

Source: Lindsey M. Burke and Stuart M. Butler, "Climbing the Ladder of Upward Mobility Through Education," 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity, Heritage Foundation, 2014. 


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