An Army of High Quality Teachers Would Revolutionize Our Education System

Courtney Williams's picture
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Social scientists have reached consensus around the finding that time spent in a highly qualified teacher’s classroom can accelerate a student’s learning significantly and, conversely, that time spent in the classroom of a low-performing teacher can seriously hinder student progress.

The most serious issue facing U.S. public schools is the shortage of highly qualified teachers. To address this problem we need to intervene at each stage of a teacher’s career and at every level of government—local, state and federal.

First, and perhaps most important, we need to be able to recruit the highest performing college students into the teaching profession. The top-performing countries on international examinations all recruit their teachers from the top third of college students. In the United States, fewer than a quarter of prospective teachers place in the top third of their graduating classes. Low starting salaries and lifetime earnings are significant deterrents to attracting high quality graduates into the classroom.

Increasing starting salaries to $65,000 and top salaries to $150,000 for all teachers (as was recently recommended by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) would cost an estimated $180 billion—a 30% increase in K-12 public education spending that is clearly out of the question in the current economic climate. A more modest program that raised salaries to that level for teachers in hard-to-recruit fields such as math and science and for teachers who accept positions in low-performing schools could be accomplished for a much smaller investment of under $35 billion. And the upward adjustment of the teacher salary scale could be accompanied by an expansion of the school year, thereby addressing the issue of summer learning loss for low-performing students.

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