Industry of Mediocrity

by on June 19, 2013 at 10:19 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

AP: Washington: The nation’s teacher-training programs do not adequately prepare would-be educators for the classroom, even as they produce almost triple the number of graduates needed, according to a survey of more than 1,000 programs released Tuesday.

The National Council on Teacher Quality review is a scathing assessment of colleges’ education programs and their admission standards, training and value.

Not surprisingly the report is being criticized by the teacher’s unions who complain that evaluators “did not visit programs or interview students or schools that hired graduates.” Most of the teacher’s colleges, however, refused to cooperate with the evaluators with some even instructing their students not to cooperate. Do you think the non-cooperators were of better quality than the programs that did cooperate?

According to the report, “some 239,000 teachers are trained each year and 98,000 are hired” suggesting a poor return for the potential teachers. One wonders about the quality of the teachers not hired.

In any case, the report is consistent with a wide body of research that shows teacher quality is not high and has declined over time, see Launching the Innovation Renaissance for details.

Meanwhile, on the every cloud has a silver lining front, Neerav Kingsland, Chief Strategy Officer for the important non-profit New Schools for New Orleans argues that the great stagnation will increase the supply of high-quality teachers:

Unfortunately, international trade and technology will continue to eliminate middle-class jobs. Personally, I’m worried that our political system will not adequately ease the pain of this transition. However, this economic upheaval will increase the quality of human capital available to schools. The education sector will likely capture some of this talent surplus, so long as schools are well managed. Moreover, if tech progress reduces the amount of educators we need, we may be in a situation where we have both (a) higher quality applicant pools and (b) less education jobs. I do not view the hollowing out of middle-class jobs as a positive economic development, but it will positively affect education labor…

Brian June 19, 2013 at 10:28 am

Education shouldn’t be viewed as an outside option for individuals with high human capital. In my experience it is far more important to have the attributes that cause individuals to select into education in the first place. It doesn’t matter whether you took functional analysis if you don’t have the ability to motivate and communicate with 8th graders. We need to value educators for these skills, not for their content knowledge and we need to orient our training and hiring with this in mind.

Pshrnk June 19, 2013 at 10:57 am

Both are necessary. Ability to communicate is of little value if you haven’t knowledge to communicate. Perhaps Brian is making a snarky joke and I missed it?

Brian June 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

My point is that the constraint on the skills I mentioned binds far more often than the constraint on content knowledge. Nobody washes out of the teaching profession because they can’t understand the course content.

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 11:32 am

I think you have the problem exactly the other way around. I don’t think US K12 schools have a glut of people good on content.

If at all, the undue emphasis on a formal Education degree skews the selection in the other direction: We are producing hordes who know theories of pedagogy but lack the core subject mastery.

Ad Nauseum June 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Not sure about that. For example, if we look at basic, elementary, math and science; many high school graduates have adequate mastery of those subjects. Someone with a college degree should certainly have mastery at the basic level. Yet we still seem to be lagging in elementary student performance in those subject areas. Brian may have a point.

bob June 19, 2013 at 11:46 am

I don’t think we are only discussing an increase in knowledge content. I would expect someone that could make it through a STEM program to have better all around skills than someone who could not and simply got an education degree.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm

And this expectation is based upon what exactly? Certainly not the overrepresentation of borderline autistics in the population of STEM majors.

Dan Weber June 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm

If we are going to make jokes about majors, then education majors have worse English scores than the math students, and worse math scores than the English students.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I’m dead serious. Do you honestly believe that quantitative/analytical skills and general social skills are positively correlated in the population of college attendees?

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Based on the people I knew, quantitative skills are probably anti-correlated to the population that got Education Degrees though!

Brian June 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

What’s the saying about birds of a feather?

Cliff June 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Give me a break about the borderline autistic crap. Only people who are totally clueless about actual autism say stupid things like that.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I didn’t realize autism was so rigidly defined. You’d think phrases like “autistic spectrum” would imply continuity in some sense. Apparently that’s only among “autistic” people who are clearly different from the rest of us.

john perosnna June 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

“Do you honestly believe that quantitative/analytical skills and general social skills are positively correlated?”

I don’t think I need much statistics to see that as a bad question. Very bad. Given very large pools of student (and teachers) the question should be whether you are starved at the confluence of quantitative/analytical skills. Given populations in the millions, surely not. What does correlation even matter?

john personna June 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm

(I hope no one with a quantitative skills deficit is proposing a trade-off, or the idea that you much chose a false dichotomy.)

Brian June 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm

If you disagree with the premise that it’s relevant to consider the differences in expected skill levels between two populations why are you taking it up with my response as opposed to the original statement?

We’re already over-graduating teachers, I’m not sure your point is well-made anyway. If it were so easy to find these exceptionally well-rounded individuals you seem to think are so common in absolute terms I don’t think we would be having this discussion. That is, unless there’s something wrong with the pool of education majors and thus implying a difference in the expected skill levels between education students and some other group. But then we would be concerned with the exact thing you were railing against in the first place.

If you think the concept of comparative and absolute advantages imposes a false dichotomy you probably shouldn’t be reading economics blogs.

john personna June 19, 2013 at 7:13 pm

What the heck are you talking about “two populations?”

john personna June 19, 2013 at 7:16 pm

(For the especially slow, I mean that every human has a bundle of skills, some of which are imperfectly measured and reduced to numbers, but none of which are exclusive and existing only in isolated “populations.”)

NPW June 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

We allow people without a knowlegde of the subject to teach in K-12. We also allow colllege professors to teach who cannot communicate in English.

I think it’d help if educators could do both.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 11:19 am

I think you’re discounting just how difficult the aspects of teaching that are unrelated to course content are. Yes, it would be great if educators were great in every area. I hope it happens, although I’m somewhat skeptical. My point again is that people seem to think increasing content knowledge is some sort of magic bullet when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

NPW June 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Brian, I’m not saying great in every area. Just actually knowing the particular subject that they are teaching to the highschool level. Given that they have a four year degree, I don’t think this is too much to ask.

I have zero belief that a person with an education degree has any ability to teach exceeding someone who does not.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Whether or not a four year education degree has exactly zero value added in your opinion is beside the point. The point is that an ideal teacher education would place a priority on the aspects of teaching that are unrelated to course content. Mastery of those are necessary and sufficient conditions for becoming a great teacher 99% of the time. In other words, content knowledge is neither strictly necessary nor sufficient for great teaching. I don’t quite understand why this is such a contested point. You’re not exactly standing on the shoulders of giants in primary and secondary education. This is basic knowledge in general and you don’t need Terrance Tao to bring 7th graders from simple arithmetic to the general case and basic algebra.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Further, the digitization of teaching that gets so much love here is only going to make it easier for these “dumb” teachers to become even more successful. In the future teachers will become more like managers, advisors, and coaches that guide students to personalized online lectures, totally removing themselves from any sort of content creation and focusing on keeping students on track.

Dan Weber June 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm

The higher the level you are teaching to, the more important that you know the material, and the less important that you are good at teaching.

Teaching 2nd grade math doesn’t require much math skills. Teaching high-school math does. By college, the students are expected to do most of the heavy lifting themselves, so it’s more important that their guides know the math than know how to get the student to pay attention.

(As an aside, there’s some good theory that teachers with math anxiety (who are most primary school math teachers) transmit that anxiety to their students. I forget right now what the evidence is for that, so I’m leaving this as a parenthetical.)

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm

@Brian:

>>>Whether or not a four year education degree has exactly zero value added in your opinion is beside the point. <<<

But it's not just his opinion! Take the conclusion of this field study for example: The one factor most uncorrelated with classroom effectiveness was a masters degree in Education.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/what-makes-a-great-teacher/307841/3/

Brian June 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Good God, take it as a fact then if you put so much faith in an ambiguous reference to an in-house Teach For America model of teacher success. Beside. The. Point. We’re talking about ideals here.

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Yeah, National Council on Teacher Quality, Teach For America, Atlantic Mag are all biased, unreliable sources.

I rather prefer anonymous Brian’s anecdotes, thought experiments and wishful thinking about his quixotic world of “ideal” teacher’s ed. degrees.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm

As opposed to the Quixotic world of increasingly stringent content knowledge requirements for positions that are already in danger of being unfilled? We’re already talking hypotheticals here in terms of what needs to change to increase teacher quality. Don’t blame me if you’re not following the conversation.

Oh forget it. I surrender. Masters degrees in education are completely worthless. In fact, they’re probably quite harmful. You completely destroyed my argument regarding approaches to make teacher education more effective. Wait a minute…

Floccina June 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm

+1

Lawrence June 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Many people study education and have no actual passion for it. Other people have a passion for it but don’t or didn’t study it during college (myself included). Passion is something that should be gauged by strong administrative interviewers or student teaching, and content knowledge needs to be pushed to a greater degree. This is a real disaster in high schools. Kids just coming into adult critical thinking should have the very best teachers available to them but very often don’t.

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

Are US teacher-training programs 4-year full time degrees? Just curious. Or add-on diplomas after you have a basic degree in Physics, English, History or some such.

Turkey Vulture June 19, 2013 at 10:46 am

There are both undergraduate and Masters-level teacher training programs. The Masters-level programs seem to have arisen because various States eventually require a Masters, or at least pay more for one. These programs are, as I understand it, completely worthless.

Thomas Sewell June 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm

After hiring a complete set of teachers for a new charter school (about 30) and observing their performance for a couple of years, if I had to do it again I’d disqualify any application with a teaching degree, as opposed to some other degree or certification.

Teaching degrees seem to be more about easy courses in propaganda and industry vocabulary, sprinkled with a little but of education information. It’s not impossible to get better at teaching while in such a course, but it’s also certainly not the default natural path.

Taking someone with a “real” degree, or someone with say, a set of Montessori certificates, then retrofitting the minimal necessary to get them licensed (another bad idea), appears to produce a much more effective teacher.

But I’m sure all the teaching “experts” with Doctorates in education will disagree. And of course, they have decades of educational results to prove their point, right?

JWatts June 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm

After hiring a complete set of teachers for a new charter school (about 30) and observing their performance for a couple of years, if I had to do it again I’d disqualify any application with a teaching degree, as opposed to some other degree or certification.

Ouch.

Bill June 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Tom,

My experience with Charter Schools is that many are organized and sponsored by real estate developers with a building/warehouse they can’t get rid of. Given this observation, I would be leary of what kinds of “teachers” (ie, good friends and buddies of the charter family or administrator) were hired, so some credentialing, bad as it is, would prevent the likely fraud that I see all the time–kids getting sacrificed for real estate developers who label what they create “College Prep Academy” and close two years later.

I know you wouldn’t do that and am not insinuating you would, but I am saying that there are folks out there whom I wouldn’t put it past putting friends and family, and church members, into teaching positions that would otherwise be screened out with a teaching certificate.

Tarrou June 20, 2013 at 12:46 am

That’s awful! Do you mean to tell me that some selection of charter schools provide their students with teachers almost as bad as the public schools?

Bill June 20, 2013 at 7:47 am

Yes, and its not just teachers. Its facilities. My wife is now a retired public librarian. Kids attending the charter school (without a library) would visit the downtown library. They had never been in one before…usually, young kids at public schools have a library in their school, and are more familiar with books, collections and authors.

But, these kids were getting a good Somali, Hmong, Vietnamese, or other ethnic group education because that was the respective type of charter school they were in.

NPW June 19, 2013 at 10:57 am

The education degrees are four year programs, however, one can, depending on the local regs, get a job as a teacher with an unrelated bachelors while pursuing a masters in education.

IMO, better outcomes could be achieved by removing education as a major for undergrads. I think requiring actual knowledge of the subject they will be teaching, particularly in STEM subjects, rather than just a edu degree would improve the quality. Too many teachers cannot do basic algebra and can only read out of the book. I’ve seen many a math paper graded incorrectly and the teacher refusing to correct since they only knew what was on the answer key.

Roger Sweeny June 19, 2013 at 11:12 am

You don’t need to be a math major to avoid mistakes in algebra. All teachers should be competent in their subject matter but majoring in it is an unnecessarily high barrier. Most middle and high school courses simply aren’t that hard. And K-5 pretty much doesn’t have subject matter teachers.

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

How do we judge competency of subject matter, if not by major? Are high school teachers tested on core subjects they are going to teach? Ideally, one should have one higher qualification (at least) than the one he’s going to teach.

It is reasonable for say, a physicist or statistician or engineer to be teaching high-school math. But if a History or Lit major were asked to, I’d be leery.

MD June 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Why not have competency tests for each subject? If you were a political science major in college, but can demonstrate an understanding of physics, then you can teach physics. If not, you can’t.

Roger Sweeny June 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm

In Massachusetts, where I teach, all teachers are required to pass at least two MTELs (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure). One is a general reading and writing one. The other(s) is a subject matter one.

A political science major may be a better teacher of physics to high school students than a physics major. Most all high school physics students are beginners. Too much may be easy and obvious to a physics major. She may have a hard time meeting the students on their level.

JWatts June 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I tend to agree that requiring teachers, particularly at the elementary school level, to have a specialized major is overkill for the basic level of knowledge they need to impart.

This is a two part problem:
1) An education degree is a joke, even to most education majors
2) It’s very hard to fire an incompetent teacher

Requiring a specialized degree would work towards fixing the first aspect, but only in an oblique fashion. Is requiring a History degree going to significantly help at the 1st grade level, when the teacher covers every subject? That seems doubtful.

In reality, the root cause is the watered down education degree. The standards need to be increased.

Rahul June 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm

@JWatts:

I wasn’t intending Elementary Ed. But High School? I sure think majoring in the subject you are teaching, or at least an allied one helps.

Lawrence June 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Not only that, but I think that’s a really good way to judge one half of the “passion” equation: we need teachers who are not only passionate about their students but about their subjects as well. I’ve seen far too many guys who just wanted to be a football coach study “social studies education” and get jobs as history teachers, and it really pisses me off.

Dangerman June 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

“Do you think the non-cooperators were of better quality than the programs that did cooperate?”

For those of us who are a little slow (I blame my unionized teachers)… what is the correct answer to this semi-rhetorical question?

Jeff June 19, 2013 at 11:45 am

People who have something to hide are the least likely to cooperate.

KT June 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

Null hypothesis says “No”, intuition says “Of lesser quality”

Urso June 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm

The correct answer is that Prof. Tabarrok does not know, but is using a rhetorical technique to imply, without evidence, that they are worse, because that would be more convenient for his argument.

Mike June 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

It’s actually a pretty basic signaling question. Do you think financing offers that don’t require credit checks assume that their customers will have better than average credit?

JWatts June 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm

+1, it’s not just a rhetorical technique.

Urso June 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm

It is certainly plausible that they refused to participate because they had something to hide. It’s also plausible that they were standing on principle. We can guess as to which is more likely, but it is just a guess.* And it is most certainly a rhetorical technique to assume and imply nefarious motives on the part of one’s political adversaries. (without, of course, making any direct accusation)

*For many years Harvard refused to let ROTC on its campus. Do you think that’s evidence that Harvard grads are more likely to be below-average officers, and Harvard was attempting to hide this fact?

JWatts June 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm

It is certainly plausible that they refused to participate because they had something to hide.

I didn’t assume they had anything specific to hide. Complaining that the evaluators “did not visit programs or interview students or schools that hired graduates.” after refusing to participate in the study, leads mean to believe that the teacher’s unions were out to undermine the study from the start.

Mike Hess June 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm

The study never intended to interview students or parents, or to visit schools or schools of education.

Unless teacher’s unions have developed time-travel telepathy, there’s no way to pin blame on them.

Mike Hess June 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

The question is irrelevant– the researchers didn’t visit ANY education programs or interview ANY hiring schools or students. This was the data collected.

“To reach their conclusions, the investigators requested tomes of information from education programs, such as admission requirements, course syllabi, textbooks and graduate surveys.”

and

“At schools that did not cooperate, investigators asked students, book stores, and professors to share their course documents, reading lists and policies. In some cases, the council filed lawsuits to collect those documents.”

So they collected the same data from both cooperating and non cooperating schools. The non-cooperators just made it more difficult to do so. Alex is attempting to leverage a selection bias that there’s no evidence exists.

Mike Hess June 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm

The reply above is wrong. On further reading they were able to gather some data on noncooperative schools, but not enough in all cases to include them fully in the analysis.

But does the data collected show any significant difference between cooperative and noncooperative schools? It’s not an unanswerable question. I’m digging through the report now to see if there’s any obvious pattern.

Mike Hess June 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm

If anything, I’d say there’s evidence the selection effect works the opposite way.

State run Universities can be more successfully sued to release information than private ones, due to state-level freedom of information type acts. So they are more likely to be rated regardless of their cooperation level. So the sample is biased towards state-run universities. Is there any reason to suspect, without evidence, that state-run universities are better than private ones?

If I had to guess, I’d guess the opposite was true.

Mike Hess June 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Actually, the study ONLY sued public universities. If there’s sample bias here, that’s certainly the criteria it’s based on.

Mike Hess June 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Turtle’s all the way down

David Pinto June 19, 2013 at 10:56 am

If less than half of graduates are hired, at least schools are getting the cream of a bad crop. :-)

Andrew' June 19, 2013 at 11:19 am

Thankfully, not only is everything learned in an Education degree transferrable directly to the classroom, it is also equally transferrable to all the jobs that more than half the graduates and dropouts obtain not in classrooms!

Brian June 19, 2013 at 11:27 am

What point are you trying to make here? Professional programs don’t leave you with a lot of outside options? Obviously, lawyers don’t seem to be doing so well these days.

mike June 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I think he’s saying that Education degrees are equally worthless no matter what job you end up in.

Dan Weber June 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

There is a lot of turnover of teachers in the early years of their careers.

Different sides spin this different ways.

Andrew' June 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Thankfully, education degrees get teachers exposure to classrooms very early in their educations.

Frederic Mari June 19, 2013 at 11:10 am

Neerav Kingsland certainly has a point. The French experience shows that, faced with economic uncertainty, many yearn for the relative safety of a public job.

The issues remain: Who are the tax-payers? and How do you motivate people who took this job just because they were fearful of the alternatives? Especially in high contact jobs like teaching where burning out is quite a reality?

JWatts June 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Continuous proof of competency to keep your job, seems the most common approach.

DanC June 19, 2013 at 11:23 am

I was taught by nuns who would have scored very low on the measures this group used. Yet they had outstanding results. It is hard to find dedicated. motivated teachers who want to work at the worst schools. Crime, lack of family support, etc. is the real problem.

prior_approval June 19, 2013 at 11:45 am

‘Not surprisingly the report is being criticized by the teacher’s unions’

Somehow, I doubt that GMU’s College of Education and Human Development finds nothing to criticize in the report either – why not simply check with them for their reaction?

Or just use google – the link isn’t hard to find – http://cehd.gmu.edu/news/stories/nctq2013

‘Research consistently demonstrates that teachers are key to high performing schools. Public schools in the Northern Virginia region, where the university is located, are consistently viewed as among the highest performing in the United States. It is estimated that nearly one-third of the teachers and nearly one-half of administrators and other teacher leaders in the area are “Mason connected.”

Dean Ginsberg commented that the college shares NCTQ’s perspective about the importance of highly effective teachers working in the nation’s classrooms. The college declined to participate in the project as a matter of principle, however, because of significant questions and concerns about the standards and methods used in the study, which many have criticized as inadequate for assessing teacher education quality.

“Our choice to not participate was based on a strongly held belief that the evaluation of educator preparation must be based on a well-designed, systematic assessment model that has demonstrated validity and reliability,” said Ginsberg. “The decision by NCTQ to base its assessment on a review of course syllabi and other descriptive information neither provides sufficient validation of key process and outcome information nor provides evidence of sufficient breadth or depth for meaningful analyses.”’

Well, what a surprise – GMU’s CEHD didn’t participate.

‘Do you think the non-cooperators were of better quality than the programs that did cooperate?’

Dean Ginsberg certainly thinks so – but then, opinions about the quality of any program at Mason vary widely, though it is true that Mason’s PR department would never acknowledge that fact in public (as for what they say in private – well, it isn’t as if the insiders don’t know what they shouldn’t mention).

But it is always nice to see what GMU faculty in one department think of the quality of the faculty in another department – being that it is so rare to see it printed publicly for everyone to read.

Dana June 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm

I always find the tone of Alex’s posts grating. Perhaps in this case it’s his “the best social science is the sort that produces results I agree with” perspective.

prior_approval June 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

‘In any case, the report is consistent with a wide body of research that shows teacher quality is not high and has declined over time’

The amusing thing here is that Prof. Tabarrok is also a teacher, in that he teaches students in a classroom setting. However, one can be confident that he does not see himself this way. Nor would he consider the General Faculty, of which he is a member, and its representative, the Faculty Senate, to be anything resembling a union.

Jan June 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

What about the salaries?

prior_approval June 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Well, there is this, from 2011 –

‘A few months ago, the widely respected Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released Building a High Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from Around the World, which analyzes how high-performing countries have created highly professional and effective teaching forces. Included in this report is a telling chart which shows that American teachers are paid less than teachers in many other countries.

For each participating nation, OECD calculated the ratio of the average salaries of teachers with 15 years’ experience to the average earnings of full-time workers with a college degree. The U.S. ranked 22nd out of 27 countries on this measure. In the U.S., teachers earned less than 60% of the average pay for full-time college-educated workers. In many other countries, teachers earn between 80% and 100% of the college-educated average.’ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-jennings/teacher-pay-us-ranks-22nd_b_940814.html

For anybody interested in the report itself – http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/internationaled/background.pdf

Urso June 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm

This could mean that US teachers are paid less than those in other countries, or it could mean that non-teacher US workers are paid more. In other words, maybe in the other countries they looked at, college grads simply have no other options better than teacher.

It is not immediately obvious whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, on the whole.

prior_approval June 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm

‘college grads simply have no other options better than teacher’

Well, let us use Finland as a contrast, since the world leader followed a decades long plan to achieve its educational success –

‘The work of a teacher has always been popular among young women, even if less so among young men. The competition is severe, and only some 15 percent of the applicants are accepted. The recruitment situation for classroom and subject teacher applicants is different in the sense that those who want to become classroom teachers study education as their major subject and begin their studies in a teacher education programme.

Prospective subject teachers apply to be admitted to studies in the respective subject in another faculty and choose teacher education later, usually after two years.’ http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?hl=de&q=cache:UhZMP_EKp90J:http://www.helsinki.fi/~pkansane/Cepes.pdf%2Bfinland+teacher+college&gbv=1&ct=clnk

But money doesn’t quite seem to be reason that Finland’s teachers are the apparentl cream of the country’s educational crop (which just happens to create a feedback loop) –

‘Teacher pay in Finland is reasonably competitive but no more attractive than in many other European countries. In fact, the range of salaries among professionals in Finland is very small, compared to most other advanced industrial countries, which means that differences in compensation in Finland generally have less of an influence on career choice than in other countries.’ http://www.ncee.org/programs-affiliates/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/finland-overview/finland-teacher-and-principal-quality/

In other words, the very framing of the idea that teaching is not something people willingly choose is quite America-centric, as in many countries, teaching is a respected profession. Which it used to be in America, actually.

Urso June 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm

In other words, confirming what I just said – in Finland, top grads become teachers not because teachers get paid a lot, but because no one gets paid a lot, so being a teacher is no kind of financial sacrifice. It’s not like the US where a top grad can decide to be an engineer and make double what a teacher does, or a banker and make ten times that. In Finland the top grad can still become an engineer or banker, but she won’t make that much money. So teacher becomes, in relative terms, more attractive.

“the very framing of the idea that teaching is not something people willingly choose”
Who made this claim, other than you? Of course teaching is something people willingly choose. You think there’s a draft?

Roger Sweeny June 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

The idea that the same person who becomes a teacher could become an engineer and make twice as much or a banker and make ten times as much is, for most people, simply untrue. Maybe a lucky few …

Besides, teaching offers compensating differentials. It is much more secure than either engineering or banking. And for lots of people, it does feel prestigious and respected.

Urso June 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm

“The idea that the same person who becomes a teacher could become an engineer…”
Wrong direction.

Tarrou June 20, 2013 at 12:59 am

Oddly enough, teaching is most respected in countries that have very stringent requirements to be certified a teacher. Teaching is not respected in the US, because being a licensed teacher doesn’t mean shit. Finland DQs 85% of applicants. Singapore won’t even let you apply to enter a teaching program unless you are in the top 10% of your university class. Here in the US, all you need for a teaching degree is an IQ somewhere south of your inseam measurement and the ability to consistently fail to choke on your own tongue. “Teaching” is right up there as an undergrad course of study with such gems as “Communications” and “”______ studies”. If we want to raise the pay and social cachet of the teaching class, the best thing we can do is make the certification process a cast-iron bitch to pass.

Bernard Guerrero June 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm

So the relatively low pay means that, to date, we’ve been attracting relatively crappy teachers?

Tarrou June 20, 2013 at 1:04 am

The relatively low pay is a reflection of the fact that the market for teachers is glutted with poorly educated imbeciles who can’t be fired. A quarter of a million grads every year for a hundred thousand positions. And once they get a job, not felonies, not child molestation, not murder charges can dislodge them. You find me a job with low entrance requirements, 2.5 times the hiring pool as positions available, and a total lockdown on firing, and I’ll show you a low-paying job.

Bill Harshaw June 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Just out of curiosity, do the defects in training K-12 teachers say anything about the job the universities do in training professors?

Scooby June 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

All of this talk of teacher quality would be irrelevant if parents had the ability to go to any government school of their choosing. Then the sole arbiter of teacher quality would be the purchaser of the services. Those that want touchy feely can go to a touchy feely school. Those that want hard scores, can go to a school specializing in that. This one size fits all model is asinine and inefficient.

Brian June 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Sounds like a perfect solution, let’s make it like cable television. As we know, individuals collectively reward quality, thought-provoking programming regardless of format or channel.

Cliff June 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Pretty much, yes. You realize we are living in the golden age of television entertainment, right?

prognostication June 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Talk to some teachers. This attitude, that the students/parents are consumers of educational services, and the teachers and administrators should treat them like customers who are always right, is one of the major things that has driven the exodus of talent from the field over the past couple decades.

I wanted to be a teacher at one point in my life, but I talked to some senior teachers who were well-regarded by students and peers, and they all basically said they couldn’t imagine why anyone young and talented would become a teacher today. You can no longer fail students who deserve to fail; you will get extreme pressure from parents if you even give their children Cs, and the administration may not back you. Curriculum is dictated by a district central office based on a combination of state standards and whatever is trendy, and any deviation from the curriculum whatsoever is increasingly verboten. Why would a talented person subject themselves to that?

Stephen June 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm

“This attitude, that the students/parents are consumers of educational services, and the teachers and administrators should treat them like customers who are always right, is one of the major things that has driven the exodus of talent from the field over the past couple decades.”

But don’t we already kind of have that system in higher education? Students choose universities based on a number of factors including teacher quality. Has the ability of students to choose their university lead to an exodus of quality teachers from the university system?

prognostication June 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I have two responses to that. First: sort of, yes. I know plenty of very talented PhDs who are 30ish who never had any serious interest in faculty jobs, particularly in fields where the non-academia pay is equivalent or higher. Based on conversations with faculty, in some fields my sense is that this is a recent phenomenon, spurred on in part by horror stories about expectations, and trends in expectations, of tenure-track faculty at R1 institutions. This pressure in turn is driven by the commodification of education, I believe.

Also, there are key mechanisms I noted which are a problem in K-12 that are not yet as much of a problem in university education: namely, parental interference with the student-teacher relationship, and spineless administrators who cave to these parents and who encourage if not outright demand grade inflation.

Roger Sweeny June 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm

The great stagnation will certainly lead to a greater supply of teachers who were good students. However, it is illegitimate to say that it will increase the supply of “high-quality teachers.” The two simply can’t be equated.

One thing sports fans know is that the best players don’t necessarily make the best coaches. More often the opposite is true. Bill Russell was perhaps the best player ever in the National Basketball Association but was hardly a great coach. Phil Jackson, perhaps the greatest coach, was not even a starter for most of his NBA career.

KLO June 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm

While I generally agree with your argument that skill in one thing may not translate over into the ability to teach that skill well, I find your example humorous. For Phil Jackson to make it to the NBA at all, he had to be one of the top 500 or so basketball players in the country. In most professions that would be indistinguishable from the very top.

Urso June 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

According to the atlantic article cited above:

“In general, though, Teach for America’s staffers have discovered that past performance—especially the kind you can measure—is the best predictor of future performance. Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teachers. And the two best metrics of previous success tend to be grade-point average and “leadership achievement”—a record of running something and showing tangible results.”

Roger Sweeny June 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Also from the Atlantic article:

“What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance—not just an attitude, but a track record. … If you not only led a tutoring program but doubled its size, that’s promising. … The most valuable educational credentials may be the ones that circle back to squishier traits like perseverance. Last summer, an internal Teach for America analysis found that an applicant’s college GPA alone is not as good a predictor as the GPA in the final two years of college. If an applicant starts out with mediocre grades and improves, in other words, that curve appears to be more revealing than getting straight A’s all along.”

And there is a real problem extrapolating “what makes a Teach for America teacher successful” to “what makes any teacher successful.” TFA teachers are significantly different from most teachers. Most of them work longer hours than ordinary teachers. To a large extent, they are top students who really could make several times their TFA salary doing something else. And after their two-year commitment is up, most do.

Urso June 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

That is a fair point.

Dana June 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

That 239k trained vs. 98k hired seems like a bizarre mismatch to me, mostly since pretty much everyone I know with an ed degree is teaching. Is that a statistic from a particular year? Like maybe the height of the recession or something? I can’t tell from the article but maybe I overlooked it.

Urso June 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Yeah that seems way off. Maybe “trained” includes anyone who took an education course, even if they dropped out?

More troublingly, neither of those figures actually appears in the report. There is a comment about “more than 200,000 trained” but that’s it. I searched for 238 (and 237), and 98 (and 97) in the report and got no relevant hits. Makes me wonder where the #s came from.

Tom West June 19, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Funny, I was thinking the opposite, with 0 out of 4 people I know who graduated relatively recently getting teaching jobs. Most couldn’t even get interviews as the boards around them had barely hired in years. But then Ontario is apparently over-provisioned with teachers as well.

Sbard June 20, 2013 at 12:14 am

It really depends on what subspecialty you plan to enter. If you are a competent, licensed math or science teacher, you won’t hurt for a job. If you are an elementary education major or want to teach English, you will have a much tougher time.

mike June 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Since the purpose of the expansive education sector is to provide fake employment for ZMP people, forcing them to go to school and be taught by other ZMP people makes sense because it creates more jobs for ZMP people.

Roy June 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I completed a teacher training program and never taught K-12, it was part of my undergrad, I did it in case I couldn’t find a job, but I did so I guess I am part of the problem. This is not uncommon at many state schools, especially in the midwest.

john personna June 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Schools should just select people who like kids (in a good way) and are free of hobby horses. Brains of all ages, but especially kids brains, are sponges. That’s all it takes.

Roger Sweeny June 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Up until about 5th grade, kids’ brains are sponges. After that, they start to hit puberty. They develop new interests and become more focused. Unfortunately, much of what they are now interested in has nothing to do with what they are supposed to learn in school.

(And, no, it’s not just sex. It’s the whole “How do I fit in?” “What will I do when I grow up?” “Do people like me?” as well as music, sports, movies, psychoactive chemicals, etc.)

john personna June 19, 2013 at 7:19 pm

In that environment, my proposed steady and compassionate person, free of hobby horses, seems ideal. All you need is “normal.’

The Wobbly Guy June 19, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I really don’t understand what the debate is about. Rather than look at Finland, which is relatively homogenous and therefore much less similar to the US, why not look at Singapore?

At the high school and pre-university levels (age 13-18), teachers have to major in their content area, followed by a 1 year diploma course in pedagogy. The exception is maths, which accepts engineering grads as well. For the younger students (age 6-12), their teachers are usually non-graduates, or majors with no equivalent high school level (such as sociology).

Content knowledge is definitely important at the higher levels. A non-chemistry major (since that’s my bailiwick) won’t be able to teach anything on organic mechanisms or retrosynthesis with confidence. It’s crazy to expect a mere education major to teach that kind of stuff when they have not even done it themselves. How many education majors in the US can solve the problems in this maths paper? And then explain it in clear language to confused students?
https://www.box.com/s/c25cd6edb9e48aabf321

On the other hand, communication and pedagogy is important at every level, not just the lower ones. As a result, the general perception is that teachers who teach at the higher levels are more competent (not true). Everybody is on the same pay scale, which I think is fair.

I teach at the pre-university level, and while I have to crack my brain harder to deliver often hard-to-understand concepts (solubility equilibria just about killed off half the students), the payoff is that I don’t have to deal with discipline matters all that much. For the lower levels, the teachers actually have a harder job of dealing both with the kids AND finding ways to communicate concepts to them.

prior_approval June 20, 2013 at 12:49 am

‘Rather than look at Finland’

Finland is an example of a society that intentionally upgraded its educational system as a matter of policy, going from a Nordic laughingstock to head of the class.

aaron June 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I think this is pretty typical. Certifications tend to come up with ever more tedious and combersome criteria which anyone with a pulse could pass, if they’re willing to endure. This drives away the best talent and most intelligent people.

PA programs, which are a great idea, are already headed in that direction. They are adding more pre-reqs and eliminating the option to test out of pre-reqs. It becomes about who is the most willing to jump through hoops and take on debt. Things for which intelligent people have not patients. And it slows down what is supposed to be a fast track.

Josieb June 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Schoolteaching is sort of the family business, though I never taught myself. My sister, a teacher, says new teachers are much better prepared now than they were 20 years ago, when she got her graduate credential.
One thing that makes me suspicious is the lack of educational improvement based on the volume of research the Ed programs foster. Thousands of teachers earn PhDs in education each year, and I believe all of them have to do some research to complete their degrees. PhD research in other fields leads to new insights and critical evaluations of existing points of view. I would expect steady marginal improvements, at least at local levels, from all the research being done by graduate students in education.

lemmy caution June 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm

“One thing that makes me suspicious is the lack of educational improvement based on the volume of research the Ed programs foster. ”

My guess is that this is because our education system is mostly limited by the students ability to learn rather than the teachers abilities to teach. There are no magic bullets.

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