Friday, March 7, 2008

Teacher pay and teacher quality

An article in today's New York Times profiles a new NYC charter school, The Equity Project, that plans to pay its teachers salaries of $125 k plus bonuses. TEP will fund these salaries with large class sizes (30 students), reduced support staff (only 2 social workers), and extended teacher responsibilities and work hours. To qualify, applicants need scores in the 90th percentile on the GRE, LSAT or GMAT, and in their subject area tests, and "excellent" grades in their subject area courses. 


Because TEP's salaries are so high relative to what other schools pay-- twice the average for NYC teachers and 2 1/2 times the national average--you can bet it will attract at least 28 highly qualified applicants for its 28 teaching slots.

But, like so many other worthy models, this one won't replicate on a large scale. Whether it's higher than average salaries, smaller than average class sizes, better than average students, greater than average control over the curriculum, or some combination thereof, what attracts the best teachers to model schools are the perks they offer relative to other schools.

To attract the best teachers to all schools, we must change the demographics of the entire applicant pool--a pool which currently scores on average in the bottom third on their SATs. This is where the connection between teacher pay and teacher quality gets murky.

Internationally, there is huge variation in the academic credentials of those who apply to teaching jobs, with teachers in Japan and Singapore coming from the top third of high school graduates. But a recent (October, 2007) article in the Economist shows no correlation between teacher pay and teacher quality. The determining factor instead appears to be teacher status.

But that only begs the question.  Surely how much status we assign to different professions depends largely on how impressed we are by the people who follow them. 

So what is it, besides pay, that will get the ball rolling, attracting better applicants to our schools, increasing the status of the teaching profession, attracting even better applicants, and so on?

Even now, many highly academically qualified college graduates would love to teach in public schools. What turns them off are the hoops they must pass through first. The most annoying of these--and I speak, in part, from first-hand experience--are the teacher training courses. Typically dull, intellectually disengaging, divorced from the specific subject matter (language arts, math, science, etc.), and geared more towards indoctrinating students in the dominant, jargon-infested teaching philosophy (right-brained Constructivism) than in educating them about practical teaching strategies, these courses specifically deter the smartest, most intellectually curious, most pedagogically talented, and most left-brained (essential for math and science instruction) of potential applicants.

To improve the overall applicant pool, therefore, we must begin by revamping these courses. Or, as The Equity Project appears to have done (its website mentions absolutely no teaching training coursework requirements), scrap them altogether.  Indeed, TEP's success may depend as much on allowing applicants to forego teacher training courses as on paying them high salaries.

6 comments:

Kelly - PTT said...

I read about this too. Very interesting. I stumbled you.

Here via COE - my post on Flat Stanley is included this week.

Jose said...

1/2 of me wants to believe that that salary's a complete fake. And I totally agree with your assessment about these teaching programs. Too many hoops, shoots, and ladders. Maybe the nation in general needs to refocus their attentions. Everyone loves education so much when they want to look good, but only educators and those that work on education really talk about it when it comes to national issues.

lefty said...

Thanks Jose and Kelly!

Following up on what Jose said, I believe that those directly involved in classroom teaching should have much more control over the curriculum-- but instead the country is moving in the opposite direction.

Lsquared said...

Part of it is the teacher training courses, which are of uneven quality, but a lot of it is (as with any profession) whether teachers are treated respectfully as experts, or whether other people (administrative people usually) interupt them and tell them how to do their jobs. This isn't to say that a good principal can't do a lot to help a teacher learn how to do a better job, but there principals who lead by inspiring, suggesting, coordinating and allow others to also inspire, suggest and even coordinate; on the other hand, there are administrators who nit pick, give contradictory advice, and don't listen to the teachers. Teachers who are in the former sort of school are more likely to feel that they are providing a valuable and _valued_ service, and are more likely to stay and improve (yes, some teachers start out better than others, but everyone improves and is a better teacher later than when they started).

My first suggestion, is that they should take PA systems out of all of the schools. Japanese schools don't have them. They interupt the teaching, which sends the message that the teaching going on in the classroom is less important than whatever is being announced (which is rarely true). My son's small elementary school doesn't have a PA system, and it is marvellous.

lefty said...

I agree. Respect for teachers within the system is absolutely essential for increasing their status and attracting better applicants in the future.

wordsmith said...

"Even now, many highly academically qualified college graduates would love to teach in public schools. What turns them off are the hoops they must pass through first. The most annoying of these--and I speak, in part, from first-hand experience--are the teacher training courses. Typically dull, intellectually disengaging, divorced from the specific subject matter (language arts, math, science, etc.), and geared more towards indoctrinating students in the dominant, jargon-infested teaching philosophy (right-brained Constructivism) than in educating them about practical teaching strategies, these courses specifically deter the smartest, most intellectually curious, most pedagogically talented, and most left-brained (essential for math and science instruction) of potential applicants."

Too true. You've listed most (if not all) of the reasons why I decided against attempting to get certification to teach at public schools once I had completed grad school.

Meanwhile, the powers that be keep on moaning about the lack of math and/or science teachers. Well, guess what, PTB? With your silly policies, you're doing everything you can to discourage qualified individuals from teaching in the public schools.