Concerning failure in education, there have been many different solutions batted around that claim to be the ultimate cure-all. A reduction in class size, voucher programs, and merit pay are all changes that have been considered. However, some scholars hold that teacher quality “is perhaps the most important contributor to educational success.” Currently, we obtain good teachers through certification from the government; often, teachers must endure numerous tests to receive certification. But, does that work? No Child Left Behind designated that teachers be highly qualified, but many states continue to circumvent that requirement. Recently, the CATO Institute held a forum to discuss the best plan to find and keep quality teachers. Marie Gryphon, Director of Educational Programs at the Institute for Humane Studies, argues that “Government imposed teacher quality measures do not provide the kind of teachers we need;” instead the market should drive teacher hiring. Arthur Wise, President of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, agrees that teacher quality is important, but suggests a grander scheme to solve the problem.
Gryphon rejects some of the more common arguments to fixing education. She counters the cry for reduction in class size by advocating, “Teachers matter more than class size when it comes to increasing student performance.” Moreover, there is no shortage of teacher applicants, the pool is flooded, but the most qualified candidates rarely get hired. In addition, merit pay or salary hikes “will have little effect on teacher quality, but that school choice could have a significant effect.” Gryphon contends, “High quality instruction throughout elementary school could close the education gap that we currently see between students with low socioeconomic status and others.”
However, there are barriers to acquiring high-quality teachers, including useless teacher attributes. In fact, studies show that “A possession of a Master’s Degree makes no difference in teacher effectiveness.” Nevertheless, school districts are more willing to hire and pay more to applicants with such degrees. Also, job experience is another attribute that is more likely to get an individual hired, but “job experience improves teacher performance, but only for about the first four years;” a statistic that Wise disputes. Of course, there are some attributes that are helpful in finding quality teachers, including academic ability on standardized tests and completing a BA in the subject the individual teaches.
At any rate, “Teacher quality is a difficult problem to solve because of three related personnel policies. First, schools systematically fail to hire the best applicants for teaching jobs. Second, they adopt compressed pay scales that drive high-ability teachers out of the profession, while enticing low-ability teachers to remain. Finally, they overcompensate experienced teachers with money that could be better spent to lure teacher applicants with in-demand math and science skills.”
In fact, it is often argued that there are too few willing teachers in America, but the United States actually has a surplus in the applicant pool. However, due to perverse hiring practices of principals and school administrators, the most capable applicants are not hired. For example, “Applicants with high test scores are actually a little less likely to be hired than their counterparts with lower scores.” Moreover, applicants who “majored in math and science are less likely to receive job offers than applicants who majored in education.”
Furthermore, public school pay scales, which are ridged, have led to high attrition rates among quality teachers. “Teacher pay is based solely on years of job experience and years of formal education.” Finally, experienced teachers are being overcompensated to a fault; as they are rewarded for up to twenty years. However, although these teachers may be more experienced, they are not improving in their craft. Gryphon believes that the solution to obtaining quality teachers lies in school choice, and suggestions for salary hikes or merit pay are simply red herrings.
Wise refuses to argue against the problems that Gryphon details, but instead presents a completely new idea to solving education problems. Wise submits, “Schools must be reorganized around principles adapted…from the 21st Century organization of work.” Indeed, “The idea of the sole practitioner is long gone.” Instead, Wise argues, we should combine students together in one room, and divvy pay among 17 adults, including a team leader, beginners, interns, student teachers, and volunteers. Wise claims this system will retain quality teachers, as it will lessen the risk of failure and add a sense of challenge to the profession.
Gryphon and Wise both agree on the problems facing education, but disagree on the important solution. Gryphon contends that tired solutions such as salary hikes will only inflate a weak applicant pool, and merit pay will lead to teacher corruption. Wise believes that the current organizational structure of education has “lost its luster.” However, while Gryphon suggests that deregulation is a serious avenue to turn, Wise is “not confident that free market left alone will solve this problem.” However, if the attrition rates for quality teachers continue to rise, and administrators continue to hire less qualified teachers, then children will continue to suffer.
Matthew Hickman is an intern at Accuracy in Media.