Monday, March 14, 2011

Kristof argues for higher teacher pay

In a NY Times editorial, Nicholas D. Kristof says we should raise teacher salaries.
We all understand intuitively the difference a great teacher makes....
One Los Angeles study found that having a teacher from the 25 percent most effective group of teachers for four years in a row would be enough to eliminate the black-white achievement gap.
Recent scholarship suggests that good teachers, even kindergarten teachers, increase their students’ earnings many years later. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that an excellent teacher (one a standard deviation better than average, or better than 84 percent of teachers) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000....
A teacher better than 93 percent of other teachers would add $640,000 to lifetime pay of a class of 20, the study found. 
Here's a problem.
Look, I’m not a fan of teachers’ unions. They used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective
It appears to be a chicken and egg situation.  What should come first?  Should we pay all teachers more now, and then hope that reforms will help match pay with performance in the future?  Or, should we institute pay for performance standards now as the way to reach that end?  Either way is bumpy, but what can we actually afford?

And what about class size?  Increasing class sizes could free up money to pay top teachers the salaries they deserve.  Remember, the money has to come from somewhere and in this dismal economy taxpayers are just about tapped out.
Indeed, it makes sense to cut corners elsewhere to boost teacher salaries. Research suggests that students would benefit from a tradeoff of better teachers but worse teacher-student ratios. Thus there are growing calls for a Japanese model of larger classes, but with outstanding, respected, well-paid teachers.
ADDED:  Kristof is getting bashed in the blogosphere for insulting teachers with this:
These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).


  1. I suspect that if you raise class sizes, you will quickly see those "best teachers" become "worse teachers".

  2. Ha - if class size is something that makes a "best" teacher become a "worse" teacher, the teacher probably wasn't "best" to begin with.

  3. Raising class sizes is complicated, but teachers with strong class management skills (who "should" be the better teachers) could handle larger classes better than other teachers could.

    Another issue is that of mixed proficiency classes, which I see as a huge stumbling block to larger class sizes. This KTM post thread discussed this point.

    I would rather have my kid in a class of 30 homogeneously grouped students taught by a "champion teacher" than in a heterogeneous class of 20 taught by a mediocre teacher. That's a no-brainer.

  4. I teach (albeit at the college level) and I can tell you that absolutely class size matters. You can't give attention to 30 students in the same way that you can give attention to 20 students. I teach difficult subject matter, the students struggle a lot with it, and the only way to reach them is to sit down with 1 or 2 at a time, and really work with them.
    Once you get to 30 students, you have to start ditching a lot of good educational practice. You can't do scaffolded, large, writing assignments because it takes too long to grade (and before someone starts spouting off about lazy teachers - most people have no idea how long it takes to develop and grade large projects). You can't have the students do presentations because it would eat up too much class time. You spend more class time doing simple things like making sure everyone has their assignment and understands it, that everyone has the supplies, and so on.

    I have long argued that the main currency of teaching (and learning) is *time*. Time spent by the teacher developing good materials, time spent by the teacher working with the students. time spent by the students practicing what they are learning. It is all about time.

  5. You make a compelling argument, Bonnie. One thing I wonder is how using technology or other measures could improve productivity among K-12 educators. Some things still require a teacher's time, but others may not.

    I expect to have a post coming up later this week that relates to this.

    I agree with you about the value of "time", something which our schools waste so much.

  6. I have not been much impressed by the technological solutions out there. Distance education can work in some settings, but the maturity of the students matters. I taught a DL course last semester with committed student who were mainly seniors, and it went incredibly well. It was very interactive, the students did well, and I got very high ratings from the students. This semester, I am doing a DL course that is a required course - many students are there unwillingly - and they don't have good study skills. At midsemester, about half the students have simply disappeared into the ether, which I understand is about par for the course in DL courses aimed at less experienced students.