Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How do You Attract Better Teachers?

Uhh . . . maybe pay them more?

An article in the latest issue of the McKinsey Quarterly notes that only 23 percent of entering teachers in the United States come from the top third of their graduating class. While the following factors aren't the most highly ranked job attributes that graduates are seeking, less than 33% of top-third students agreed with the following statements about teaching:
  • I could support a family with this career

  • Offers a salary that would increase substantially over the next seven to ten years

  • Pays appropriately for the skills and effort I would bring

  • If I were to do well in this job, I would be rewarded financially

  • The job offers competitive starting salary.


  1. Is paying them more the answer?

    A wise man once told me that in order to find the answer to an organization problem you must answer 3 questions.

    1. Who is making the bad decision? There is the possibility that students who were top of the class applied for the same jobs but were rejected for some reason. The school administrators may be who is dictating the caliber of the employees. We cannot assume that they would choose the best those candidates that had the highest academic performance.

    2. Did the decision maker have enough information to make a good decision? The McKinsey article points out that academic performance may not be a useful predictor of classroom effectiveness. Maybe the school administrators know a better predictor and it happens to correlate with the entering teachers who were lower ranking students. Maybe they don’t want the “smarter teachers”.

    3. Did he or she have the incentive to do so? Let’s assume that those who performed better in school will be better teachers. What incentive does a school administrator have to hire these people? I can see many reasons why the administrators would feel threatened by "smarter" teachers. They may want to change the status quo. Offering better incentives to the teachers may not result in any change if the administrators are the ones who need the incentive to make better hiring decisions.

    Finally, studies have shown that more pay DOES NOT always equal better performance. There is a plateau where performance levels out no matter what the pay increase. In some studies, performance actually dropped after an increase in compensation.

  2. Are you sure there's really a problem here to be solved? I'm not claiming that the pay rate is too low, just that if you want to attract higher quality teachers, offering higher pay will probably help. This leaves aside the issue of whether it actually makes sense to attract higher quality teachers.

    And, yes, studies do show that more pay doesn't always equal better performance. Here's another example where bonuses decrease performance( Would you deny any relationship between pay and performance outcomes?

  3. I think there are several issues here that make the answer very complex.

    I completely agree that the average salary of a teacher is below what Dan Pink refers to as "just enough to take the issue of money off the table". I am certain we would see better performance from teachers who had a financial incentive to do better. However, my point was really that the schools systems need major improvement and teacher compensation alone will likely make no change.

    Many schools have the attitude of just passing the students through the machine. In many of the struggling schools, I think the teachers and other faculty have lost the hope necessary to make a positive change in their schools so they perpetuate the attitude. This is due to poor leadership and even worse systems. Many teachers receive students that should not have been passed which results in the next teacher having to try to play catch up.

    I live in an excellent school district and my oldest daughter goes to a great public school. However, even her school has issues that seem like ones that could easily be solved.

    In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about how the home environment makes a bigger impact on a child’s education than school. Children from poor families stagnate over the summer break while children from more wealthy families continue to progress, which widens the gap over time. The current school system is antiquated, being designed back when the children needed a break to help harvest crops. I completely oppose the concept of year grades and would like to see the progression steps more granularly defined, such as in quarterly semesters. This way, if a student does not do well, he/she does not have to repeat an entire year. I believe more teachers would hold back ill prepared students if it only affected the student’s progress by a quarter. I also support many of the ideas of the KIPP program, such as a strong culture of achievement.

  4. Higher pay only works if its easy to fire bad teachers, otherwise there is no incentive to continue working well once hired.