NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lack of Pay Premium for Best Teachers Has Reduced the Attractiveness of Teaching

March 25, 2004

Research has demonstrated that teachers' aptitude test scores are the best predictors of their students' achievement. As more opportunities have opened for women, has teacher quality fallen?

Researchers analyzed the test results and career choices of individuals in five high school classes, from 1964 to 2000. They found that average teacher scores are about the same today as a generation ago. However, the best female students -- those in the top 10 percent of their high school classes by test score -- are much less likely to become teachers today.

  • Whereas close to 20 percent of females in the top decile in 1964 chose teaching, only 3.7 percent of top decile females were teaching in 1992.
  • In 1964, more than one out of five young female teachers came from the top 10 percent of their high school classes, but by 2000 that had dropped to just over one in 10.
  • Thus the average score is about the same because schools aren't hiring as many teachers at the very bottom -- while fewer of the best students are entering teaching.

Is the decline of quality teachers due to poor pay? Using the teacher's college's mean SAT score, Caroline Hoxby found that wage compression among teachers explains 80 percent of the change:

  • Women who went to a college in the top 5 percent by average SAT score earned about a 50 percent pay premium in the 1960s -- but earn about the same as other teachers today.
  • Somebody who went to a bottom 25 percent of colleges earned about 28 percent below the average teacher in the 1960s, but now earn about as much as the average teacher today.

They conclude that if women from top colleges still earned a premium, a lot more would teach.

Source: Virginia Postrel, "Getting the Most Out of the Nation's Teachers," Economic Scene, New York Times, March 25, 2004; based on Sean P. Corcoran, William N. Evans and Robert M. Schwab, "Changing Labor Market Opportunities for Women and the Quality of Teachers, 1957 - 2000," American Economic Review, forthcoming summer 2004, and "Women, the Labor Market, and the Declining Relative Quality of Teachers," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming; Caroline M. Hoxby and Andrew Leigh, "Pulled Away or Pushed Out? Explaining the Decline of Teacher Aptitude in the United States," American Economic Review, forthcoming summer 2004


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