Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pay Teachers More

Today, I ran across a column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times that surprised me. Mr. Kristof usually writes about things happening around the world. I think that the situation in Wisconsin motivated him to devote a column to this important topic. You can find it here:

What I found fascinating about his column is how well he makes his point, marshaling evidence from many sources. He points out that one excellent teacher can raise the lifetime earnings of each student, on average, by $20,000. For class sizes of 20 (small these days) and a lifetime career of 30 years, the impact on our economy of a single excellent teacher over that teacher's career is an amazing $12 million. For the superb master teachers, it's even more: nearly $20 million.

Each year such a teacher works adds future value to our economy at a rate that's eight times greater than a teacher salary of $50,000 for the excellent teacher, and that ratio assumes only 20 students in a class. In New York City, typical classes exceed 30 students and so increase the ratio by 1/2 to 12 times greater.

Doubling teachers' salaries would still provide us with a great deal if we only had great teachers. But, we don't. Mr. Kristof then turns to teachers' unions and nails it. He says that they have misused their clout to ensure job security for teachers instead of better pay. The former rewards poor teachers. The latter attracts good teachers.

He goes on to explain more about our underpaid teachers. Starting teacher pay today averages $39,000 according to Kristof. Increasing it to $65,000 would allow us to fill our teacher vacancies from the top third of college graduates instead of getting nearly half from the bottom third. He suggests that it would be enough to turn our education system around as long as politicians and others stop using our teachers as verbal punching bags.

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