Today in The Week, Bill Frist poses this question: How can the U.S. find and train more great teachers?
Although he didn’t ask me, my answer is above. Pay teachers more. A lot more. If we make the teaching profession a place where people can make a respectable living, we’ll attract and keep more teachers.
This is not exactly Bill Frist’s answer, though.
Frist notes that many states are “implementing new systems to evaluate teachers, designed to give them feedback on how they are doing and a clear picture of what they can improve on.” That’s true, and in some cases, it makes sense.
However, without the attendant professional development and support, an evaluation alone won’t result in meaningful improvement in practice. States must commit to investing in teachers in order to get results. Tennessee, where Sen. Frist and I both live, has yet to make that investment.
Next, Senator Frist tosses out the idea of performance pay as a way to keep good teachers in the classroom.
This despite the results of a Vanderbilt study that indicated that, “teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores.” The study was comprehensive, controlled, and involved substantial bonuses (up to $15,000). The results suggest that adding a performance pay scheme will not improve student achievement. Whether or not Laura’s teacher gets a bonus has no impact on Laura’s success in gaining ground in reading.
However, a study by researchers at the London School of Economics tells us that raising teacher pay overall leads to an increase in student achievement. Specifically, a 10% increase in teacher pay leads to a 5-10% increase in student achievement. The authors note that raising teacher pay makes the profession more attractive, thus attracting a broader (and stronger) pool of applicants. It also increases the prestige of the profession, thus encouraging those who are teachers to remain in the profession and causing college students to choose teaching as a profession.
How many college students want to sign up to enter a profession where it takes at least 10 years to make $40,000? I bet Bill Frist would say, “not many.” And he’d be right. Unfortunately, that’s the situation in Tennessee. A new teacher today might expect to earn just over $40,000 by his tenth year in the field.
So, we can work on teacher preparation and accountability and evaluations this year and next year and the next. But until we’re willing to invest in teachers — both in terms of pay and in terms of professional development and support — we’re not going to be attracting many new, “great” people to the profession. And, it will remain difficult to keep many in our existing pool of teachers.
Bill Frist is right: There’s no silver bullet to improve our schools.
But, we do know the answer to his question. Pay teachers more. A lot more. And the sooner the better.