Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Why we shouldn't raise teacher pay" published in The Federalist

I'd been meaning to write a piece on public school hiring practices, so when the editors of The Federalist offered me a chance to do something for them on education policy, I figured this was the time. Here's the thesis of the article:
Even without the tenure obstacle, putting the best teachers in the classroom is a more challenging problem than many reformers will admit. One of the most common reformist prescriptions is raising teacher pay to attract stronger applicants. The logic seems simple, even obvious. But raising teacher pay will not work. In fact, it could be counter-productive. The reason lies not just with the well-known difficulty in predicting who will be a good teacher, but also with the entrenched hiring system of public schools.
The article focuses on the latter obstacle--the teacher hiring system that often disfavors the brightest applicants--but an entire piece could be written on the difficulty in predicting who will become a good teacher. Yes, smarter teachers tend to be more effective, ceteris paribus, but the correlation is not strong. Even if public schools were eager to take in the best and brightest, doing so would be no panacea.

Here's the conclusion of the piece:
Public school systems need fundamental changes in how they operate to improve teacher quality, and abolishing tenure just scratches the surface. The creeping emphasis on credentials must be reversed. School administrators must be willing to hire promising applicants who never received the standard education-school training. Objective evaluation systems must be adopted and refined. All parties must become comfortable with a process that will increase teacher turnover. And, finally, the public must maintain sober expectations about the value of high-quality teachers, understanding that their effectiveness is naturally limited by the abilities and family situations of the students themselves. To effect all these changes, pundits and policymakers must move beyond their “pay teachers more” mantra. The idea is attractive for its simplicity, but in reality it is no solution at all.
 Read the whole thing here.


  1. That article is just....goofy from start to finish. And I don't really think teachers should be paid more, so I'm predisposed to agree with your primary point.

    At every point in your thinking (not just here) you look at the behavior, decide it doesn't jibe with what *should* happen, and go "huh. Clearly, the people making these decisions are morons."

    As we've discussed before, you'd probably do better to compare credentialed teachers by SAT scores (using Praxis data) than education majors, but even without it, surely you can figure reasons why an elementary school teacher is paid more than an administrative assistant, despite their supposed equality of academic qualifications. I have no idea if it's true that principals are less likely to hire teachers who have higher academic credentials than theirs, but many teachers are hired at the district level, and the data showing a link between teachers' academic quality and student outcomes is tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. So without data showing that the principals' behavior leads directly to poorer academic outcomes, I'm not sure what you're trying to establish. Especially since your proposed remedy still leaves hiring up to principals, who will still be using the same biases you say they are guilty of.

    Your proposal has already been made by Malcolm Gladwell. Steven Pinker pointed out the obvious logic flaws, as did Daniel Luzer.


  2. Okay, "goofy" was harsh. Lots of people think like you do. But it requires a whole lot of magical thinking, and the assumption that scads of people throughout history are morons. So much easier to figure the opposite, and look for why.