NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Making the Grade

April 11, 2003

How can we improve education in the United States so that the new century will not end as the last did, with the United States falling consistently behind other countries in student performance? We must improve the quality of teachers, says Edward P. Lazear.

A recent study by Caroline Hoxby at Harvard University found:

  • Among public school teachers, the average SAT scores upon entering college fell in the 35th percentile in verbal and the 44th percentile in quantitative skills.
  • This means that the people who are educating our next generation come on average from the lower half of the college achievement spectrum.

This is unsurprising. Teachers are not paid very well, and many talented potential teachers have other options.

Why has teacher quality declined? Part of the reason, ironically, reflects reduced discrimination against women.

  • Fifty years ago, talented, educated women had few options other than teaching, and the schools were filled with highly qualified and able teachers.
  • Today, college-educated women have moved into other occupations, and the supply of high-quality talent available to the teaching profession has declined.

Attracting more high-quality teachers to improve our schools requires increasing compensation for the ablest teachers. That can be done by introducing competition, or marketplace accountability.

Source: Edward P. Lazear, "Teachers for the New Century," Hoover Digest, 2003 - No. 1, Hoover Institute.


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