In a recent blog, the Future of Children discussed media reports of mediocre student performance in the US, especially in reading. The Future of Children’s School Readiness volume shows evidence of additional performance issues in math, science, and writing, particularly among African American and Hispanic students when compared to whites. The evidence of poor educational quality in many schools, especially urban schools, has led parents and policymakers to demand reform of the US education system. Many argue that one way to increase student performance is through improving teacher quality.
More specifically, some suggest that teacher quality may be improved by raising teacher salaries. In a recent Huffington Post news blog, US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, argues that low salaries among teachers make teaching less appealing, leading many talented and dedicated individuals to avoid teaching as a career, or to leave it upon starting a family or purchasing a home. Another Huffington Post article suggests that budget cuts in many school districts have pushed an increasing number of teachers to take on a second job.
How can we effectively improve teacher quality in the midst of current financial constraints?
Although it seems to make sense that increasing overall teacher pay could make teaching a more attractive profession for top graduates, the Future of Children’s Excellence in the Classroom volume indicates that overall increases in teacher salary would be both an expensive and ineffective solution to improving teacher quality. Instead, the volume recommends that reform focus on restructuring salaries so that teachers are rewarded for specialization and for teaching in less desirable schools. There is some evidence which also suggests that basing teacher wages on student performance may lead to increases in teacher effectiveness; however, more research is needed to better understand the effects of performance-based pay on teacher quality.
Finally, professional development programs that are linked to the curriculum, have substantive content, and can be sustained over time show promise for improving teacher quality, as do coaching and release time for directed collaboration among teachers. But again, more research on these specific programs is needed to determine their effectiveness, as neither graduation course work nor the majority of current professional development programs have been shown to be effective in boosting teacher quality.
For a compilation of past research on this topic, see the Future of Children’s Excellence in the Classroom volume. For current research on the topic, go to Teacher Policy Research, a joint program run in collaboration with Stanford University (with Future of Children Excellence in the Classroom Issue Editor Susanna Loeb), the University of Virginia, and the University at Albany.