Phoenix--We hear it over and over: teaching is one of the most important professions in the country. So why is it hard to attract the top college graduates to the classroom? The answer is simple: schools treat teachers like factory workers rather than professionals.
"We simply cannot draw more people into teaching without addressing the elephant in the room," says Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute. "Teaching, as currently practiced, is an unattractive career to many people because it does not reward merit."
A report released today, "New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains," shows how the system can be improved to give rock star teachers rock star pay without requiring more money from taxpayers.
Top teachers can be identified using value-added assessments, a method of evaluating teacher effectiveness by measuring what their students learn throughout the year. Once highly-performing teachers are identified, just compensation can begin.
Dr. Ladner and his co-authors, Dr. Gregory Stone and Dr. Mark Francis, propose a system of merit bonuses for teachers based on student gains in the classroom and for meeting school-wide goals set by administrators.
The report also outlines a way to further compensate the best of the best, called "master teachers." Once identified, master teachers would be given more students to teach. That means bigger classroom sizes. Since research demonstrates that teacher quality trumps the impact of class size, a master teacher could effectively take on more students and still have better results than other teachers.
The report proposes giving master teachers a bonus for each additional student they add to their classroom. The bonus would amount to two-thirds of the per-pupil funding that the school receives. Under this formula, for example, a master teacher in Arizona who taught 32 students instead of 20 could make $102,000. With the potential to make a six-figure salary, competition for teaching positions would increase greatly.
For evidence that this approach to teacher recruitment and compensation works, we can look to South Korea. In South Korea teaching is a highly esteemed, highly compensated profession. Teachers are recruited from the top 5 percent of college graduates. Even with an average class size of almost 50, South Korean students score much better on math and science exams than American students. Some observers dismiss the disparity as the result of cultural differences. Maybe. But as one South Korean policymaker noted, "The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers."
Read "New Millennium Schools" online, or to have a copy mailed to you, call (602) 462-5000.
The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.