Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From today's New York Times

Imagine the high quality of teacher we could attract to our profession if  kindergarten teachers were paid salaries of $320,000 per year!

I have to say, this sort of study doesn't surprise me at all. It is nice to read in places like the New York Times that experts understand (as I do) that the work we do in kindergarten is really, really, really important. (Believe it or not, some people have looked down on me for being willing to work for so little pay—it's nice to know at least the work is appreciated by some researchers.)

It is slightly discouraging to know that—according to this sort of analysis—I've been so underpaid all these years. I'm not complaining, mind you; it's just that I know I'd be a good deal healthier if I didn't have to work two jobs for eight years to put my kids through college. Had I been paid anything like $320,000/year I could have had the time and money to go to the gym in those years!

When Good Teaching Pays Off

Earlier this year my colleague David Leonhardt wrote about a new study that found that a good kindergarten teacher could greatly improve students’ future earnings. On that basis, an especially strong kindergarten teacher is arguably worth about $320,000 a year, which is the present value of the additional earnings that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers.
Now another  working paper, by Stanford’s Eric A. Hanushek, gets similar results, arguing that a minor improvement in teacher quality could have a big effect on test scores, especially as they compare to those of other countries. From the abstract:
A teacher one standard deviation above the mean effectiveness annually generates marginal gains of over $400,000 in present value of student future earnings with a class size of 20 and proportionately higher with larger class sizes. Alternatively, replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the U.S. near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion.
So does that justify paying teachers more money? Only if pay can be directly linked to effectiveness, Mr. Hanushek writes, a task our educational system has not yet been able to master:
This paper has concentrated on the demand side of the teacher labor market. The underlying idea is that knowing the impact of teacher quality on economic outcomes provides immediate information about what kind of rational changes in teacher incentives and salaries are economically desirable.
Unfortunately, we know little about the supply function for teacher quality. Thus, it is not possible to predict what kinds of pay changes would be needed to ensure any given quality of teacher force.
The standard arguments for performance pay suggest the potential value of differential pay based on effectiveness in the classroom. We actually have little empirical evidence about how to structure any such pay systems or about what the effects might be. The evidence presented in this paper simply suggests that the economically appropriate rewards for particularly effective teachers in the context of a performance pay plan could be very large.
For more on the relationship — or lack thereof — between education spending and student outcomes, see this post on the latest PISA scores.

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