Pay Teachers More

So says Nicholas Kristof.

His article says some things in it that are hard for me to agree with, because they somewhat strike at my self-interest: he talks about reducing job security and benefits for teachers and increasing class sizes. And he says some things that are easy for me to agree with, because they advance my self-interest: he talks about, well, paying teachers more.

Overall I’d be totally willing to sacrifice job security in favor of higher wages. I do think that small class sizes are conducive to differentiated instruction; if you increase class sizes, each student will get correspondingly less individual attention. I don’t know whether it’d be worth it in order to get the trade-off of attracting many higher-caliber teachers, but it’s not an idea to dismiss out of hand.

I’d be very interested to see some number-crunching. If we were to pay starting teachers the 40% more he suggests in order to fill the positions with top-of-their-class college grads, what would that look like for state and local taxes?

And some of his claims strike me as suspect. He says, for example, that four consecutive years of the best 25% of teachers would eliminate the black-white achievement gap. Is he assuming that only the low-performing students would get those great teachers, and the high-performing students would get the crappier teachers? Is he suggesting that the best teachers focus all their attention on struggling students, leaving the good students to fend for themselves? Or is he suggesting some mysterious mechanism through which, under a great teacher, external factors such as home environment (hours of sleep each night, nutrition, support with homework, development of work habits via required chores, level of physical and emotional security in the home, etc.) stop having any impact on kids, leaving everything up to the teacher? I just don’t buy it.

Interesting read. Most conversations I’ve been in about improving education* basically conclude “Well teachers need to be paid more, and there needs to be fewer students per teacher”, which seems somewhat uninteresting (in that it seems kind of obvious). I’m fascinated that this article seems to be saying, loosely speaking, that if you have two teachers in the current system, the right thing to do is sack them both and then offer one of their jobs to a new teacher, but pay that teacher both the old teachers’ wages, and give them both the old teachers’ students. I know that’s not literally the claim but, roughly, he’s saying that scaling up wages improves teaching quality faster than scaling up class sizes decreases it. As you say, it’d be interesting to see some of the number crunching that leads to this conclusion, because if it’s true it seems to be a Good Thing.

Also, I gather from the OP that you’re a teacher, and you mention you’d be willing to sacrifice job security for higher wages. Would you guess that most teachers would say the same thing? Or does it correspond to how competent the teacher in question is (that is, I’m guessing a teacher would value job security more if they thought they were incompetent and would get sacked without it)? But if most teachers feel the same way as you on this subject, this trade off between security and wage seems like a win-win for teaching quality.

*I’m not in the US, so take my anecdotes with a grain of salt in terms of relevance to this article.

I agree that higher wages and less ‘security’ could be a good trade off, assuming school budgets could afford it.

However, it has always been as plain as the nose on my face that home environment and culture are dramatically more important than the occasional bad teacher. There is a myth in America that if you ‘buy the best,’ then that will make your problems go away. Dealing with bad or lower-quality teachers is a worthy goal, but it is far from the most important step in helping under-performing students become, well, productive members of society, or whatever vague outcome we’re striving for in our education system.

I can’t speak for other teachers, Dinaroozie. I think that, as you say, bad teachers value job security more than good teachers do, but I also suspect it has something to do with length in the system: if I’m close to retirement, getting laid off is a lot scarier than if I’m just beginning my career. Which I roughly am.

On the one hand, you’re right. On the other hand, teachers do have significant impact, and since they’re already part of a government infrastructure, it’s easier to address teacher effect on student learning than to address home environment and culture. I agree, though, that we shouldn’t treat teacher impact as a panacea.

He bloggeda bit more about this last night. Two things there that caught my eye:

Again, I’d like to see some cites. I can’t really agree or disagree until I see the data he’s basing his (rather shocking and counterintuitive) claims on.

Read this today in the NYT. The thing that struck me as suspect was this part:

My first thoughts are that SK and Singapore are very different societies than the US, while Finland is a lot closer. Yet, he just hand-waves away the fact that it’s “less true” of Finland. How much “less true” is it? Inquiring minds want to know!

I’d like to see a study, especially of countries with cultures more like that in the US, that looks at how teacher’s pay correlates with student performance.

His article just seems too anecdotal to me.

Fair enough. That’s an interesting point about proximity to retirement, too - I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose that, following that logic through, we could expect a proposal to increase pay at the cost of job security to be more upsetting to the most experienced teachers, which I’m guessing would be a bad thing. Although if the blog post WhyNot mentioned is to be believed, apparently experience isn’t as relevant as you’d think after a certain point… Still, without thinking it through all that thoroughly, doing something that disproportionately upsets the longest-serving teachers doesn’t sit particularly well with me.

Agreed. It might still be the best place to put resources, though, because the other problems you mentioned (such as homelife) are much harder problems to solve with policy changes.

This is close to what I was looking for. Interesting, teachers in Finland are paid less than teachers in the US. We’re middle to upper end as compared to the other countries.

There isn’t anything comparing pay to student performance, but just from what I can see in terms of the salary rankings, it doesn’t seem like there would be a strong correlation.

The same holds true even within the U.S. I wish I could find a chart again, but basically, the most expensive school systems tend to be the worst performing, at least on a state-by-state level. (Down to the county level or so, there are some extremely wealthy, relatviely small schools with a lot of well-to-do parents which do have impressive programs. But that’s not something you can replicate with government programs - it’s a combination of numerous social factors.)

And basically, that’s what Megan McArdle (responding to a similar point by Ed Kain) says:

I must agree with the analysis, and I think teachers will be surprised to see that Conservatives amazingly ( :rolleyes: ) have no problem paying them more money, as long as they get something out of it. The huge issue of education in this country is that it goes backwards: becoming ever more inefficient while ever-less productive, in terms of students.

NOte the very next chart: compared to GDP per capita, Finland beats out the US. Teachers here are paid below average for their country; teachers there are paid above average.

Note also that teachers here spend nearly twice as much time actually teaching as teachers in Finland. I’d like to know more about what that looks like in Finland. One of the complaints here is that the low amount of planning time means either weekend/evening work uncompensated, or crappy rote lessons. If that’s not true in Finland–if they have a ton of compensated planning time–then they’ll work significantly fewer hours, making a greater discrepancy in pay per hour worked.

I think this gets cause and effect mixed up, though. When you’re dealing with a kid in poverty, they’re likely to need free/reduced lunch, busing, and quite possibly the assistance of a social worker and one-on-one remediators or tutors. I’ve heard a stat saying it costs between 20-50% more to educate a kid in poverty than it does to educate a kid from a middle-class background, due to the extra services needed. So it seems likely that the most impoverished schools are both worst-performing and most expensive, not that more money leads to worse results.

GDP per capita is not the average wage.

Yeah, that’s a little hard to believe. Twice as much time? :dubious:

But Kristof’s thesis is that the key to getting better teachers is to get them from the top 1/3 of college grads. So, what would it cost to do that? I can’t imagine that would be practical in the US.

Thinking about this more, I wonder how we would be able to get the top 1/3 of college grads into teaching. Kristoff maintains that teachers in his prized countries are paid similarly to engineers and lawyers. Well, maybe there is just more demand for engineers and lawyers in the US. We’d have to re-order our entire society to change that.

Or, if you look at countries like Korea, my guess is that they have a similar situation to the US in the 60s-- no real opportunities for women except in teaching, nursing and administrative work. How many female lawyers and engineers are there in Korea? I’ve been to Korea on business in the engineer field, and I can’t remember seeing even one in the meetings we had. The only women I saw were the ones bringing tea into the rooms.

Interesting point–I hadn’t thought about that, although this is part of my theory of education, namely that many people go into it because it’s the most attractive career option for them. As Kristof says, this used to be true for really smart women: teaching was one of the only career options for women that was primarily intellectual. But now really smart women have much more attractive career options. The ones that go into teaching seem to fall into three categories:
-Married to guys with high-paying jobs, so they can afford to have a lower-paying job;
-Totally dedicated to the profession; or
-This really is the most attractive career option for them.

The first group may or may not be good teachers. The second group generally is good. The third group is downright pitiful.

The male teachers I know at the primary level generally don’t have a higher-earning spouse, so they fall in the latter two categories.

I’m not sure what you mean by more demand–are you just stating a tautology, that teachers are paid less here because people think they should be paid less? If so, then the re-ordering of our society would simply mean changing our attitudes about what teachers are paid.

Well, yes, but it’s related; doesn’t that chart suggest to you that Finnish teachers are paid above average for their country, while US teachers are paid below average? Or am I totally misreading it?

Then why are they paid 2X more than average?

I can’t imagine how we can succeed *without *having teachers from the top 1/3 of college grads. Hell, even the top 50% would be an improvement.

If higher pay were coupled to performance I’d be all for it. Without going off on a tangent, I’ll simply say that the teacher’s role is one of many things that should change in the educational model, and like so many other aspects of that model, the cookie cutter approach is not working. This is an over-generalization, but basically we have the most capable and valuable teachers working in the same kind of position on an assembly line as the least of the lot.

Another aspect of this should be addressed as well. When people mention that teachers only work about half the time that other salaried people do, several teachers (or others) will jump in and say that’s not true, teachers spend their own after school hours grading, preparing class work, attending school functions, giving students extra help, etc… All fine, but I am always surprised that many teachers do not realize that the extra time they put in on top of a 1200 hour a year job does not bring them close to the typical salaried employee. Very few people getting paid at the same rate as teachers work a 40 hour week. Although its common for them to work only 48 weeks out of the year, 50 or more hours per week is very common. I think it is a reflection of the numerous teachers who have no work experience outside of teaching. Among other things, one way to properly compensate teachers is to make the job conform more to other professions in terms of time and productivity factors.

How do you quantify “top 1/3rd” of college grads?

Is that based on GPA? Because actually a lot of engineering students are probably not going to be in the top 1/3rd of the entire student body when it comes to GPA. In fact, some very smart engineers will struggle to keep a B average undergrad, same with people in any of the natural science or other similar degrees.

And really, all the people who become engineers aren’t really “on the table” in terms of attracting them to teaching. How many engineers do you guys know? Most of them have a very special “personality” and one that is pretty much perfectly suited for engineering and terribly ill suited for something like educating teenagers and younger children.

The undergrad students who go on to become doctors and lawyers will often be at the top of their class in GPA, mostly because law school and medical school factor GPA in very highly when they do admissions. For that reason a lot of people who know they want to be lawyers pick a fairly “light” major to insure they maintain a GPA. Doctors tend to have a major in the life sciences which is anything but light.

However, people that know they want to be doctors are looking to make a lot more money at the end of all their training than we would ever (or should ever) pay teachers. Additionally, going that path is a calling, those people want to be doctors, and you’re not going to be able to get them to be teachers no matter the pay.

People going in to law are a bit different, because a lot of people who intend to be lawyers end up doing something else when they graduate. And I believe the average age of a law school admit is older than 22-23, last I heard it was like 25-27, meaning people that go into law tend to play around in the work force for a few years before deciding to look into law (although a lot do go straight from undergrad, obviously.) So I guess you could poach a lot of those people with high paying teaching jobs, maybe.

The author we’re discussing does it by SAT score. That is, he claims that while, due to institutionalized sexism, teaching used to attract the best and the brightest of women because it was the “best” career a woman of intellect could expect to have, now the vast majority of teachers come from the bottom third of the college class - that is, the lowest 1/3 of SAT scores. Women (and, of course, men) have other options if they’re smart, well-educated and want a good career.

It’s an unintended effect of feminism I had never considered before.

Just on my required hours at school, I put in 1600 hours a year (~200 days, counting workdays and pre- and post-year work, with a 7:30-3:30 schedule mandated). Yeah, that’s 20% less than the average working year, certainly–but my work week is usually about 48 hours a week, which brings it very close to the national average (1920 hours vs. 2000 hours, or 96% of a full-time-with-2-weeks-paid).

And if you think that teacher complaints reflect an unfamiliarity with the corporate workweek, I gotta laugh. I worked in the corporate world, the world of universities, and the world of nonprofits before becoming a public school teacher. The only job whose intensity came close to comparing to teaching was working front-line food-service–and with that job, I could leave the job at the worksite. With teaching, I’m writing lesson plans in the shower, debating how to handle discipline issues while I fall asleep, discussing problems after work at parties.

Rather than thinking that “it is a reflection of the numerous teachers who have no work experience outside of teaching,” it seems much likelier that the caviling about teachers’ easy jobs is a reflection of the numerous non-teachers who have no experience working inside of teaching.