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Charts: Teacher Pay, Teacher Prestige

Everyone wants to pay teachers more, but no one's agreed how -- or whether higher pay or tougher qualifications and evaluations come first: image from thelearningcurve.pearson.com
Ratio of average teacher salary at primary, lower and upper secondary levels over the average gross wage, selected countries, 2010 (Pearson)

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It is hard to justify throwing more money at the system as it is today, especially since the US spends far more than most other countries on a per student basis. Accountability must come first.

At Illinois Citizens for Better Schools, we believe that we should be putting money into creating pipelines from our selective colleges to public schools, especially our low-performing ones. School systems could modify the TFA model to meet their own needs and perhaps use bonuses to lure top college students into the profession.

In Chicago, over 20% of new teacher hires received an 18 on their ACT. Increasing the salaries of these teachers will not professionalize the field. We need to find ways to bring our top talent into play.

We're actually not in a bad place on this chart, since in general the nations on the right side of the chart have distinctly stronger education systems than those on the left (with Canada, one of the strongest here, being right in the middle). An advantage of having lower average pay is that you can then afford to hire more teachers, which lowers total student load, which has been found by Professor William G. Ouchi to be distinctly correlated with better student performance.

In general, you'll be better off raising qualifications before raising pay, and this has been more the Canadian approach, at least in the province of Ontario, and is being pursued in Switzerland, Australia, and elsewhere, in some imitation of Finland.

Bruce, suppose we wanted to find another 3 million teachers - to essentially double the number we have today. Where would we find them?

As I noted above, in Chicago we are already hiring a lot of teachers who were low-performing students themselves - hardly the role models we need. If we had to find another 30,000 teachers, one can only imagine how much teacher quality would be compromised.

I am not unsympathetic that in a perfect world, every class would be small (15 people or less). I would even prioritize lower class sizes for K-3 (and institute looping, I don't know why we don't do more of that).

But research indicates that students learn more when they have teachers who are academic high achievers themselves. As we start acquiring experience with blended learning, we might find that we can increase the student-teacher ratio and hire fewer teachers. This would allow us to increase their pay and hire new teachers with a background of high academic achievement.

Josh, your question presupposes an immediate, monumental change, hopeless on its face (although Marc Tucker, in his interesting post from the NCEE today, points out that we currently train twice as many teachers as we can employ). If we wanted to add three million over time, say a couple of decades, I think that would be doable. Greatly increasing the teacher supply would require ramping up the supply of training institutions, which we should hesitate to do before we improve the quality of teacher training, something about which the AFT has made a useful proposal this week. At the same time, we would also need to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a career so as to motivate far more talented young people to want to become teachers; but more money per teacher is not the only nor, likely, even the best way to do this.

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