Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thinking teacher salary . . .

In this April 30 op-ed piece from the New York Times, Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari question the country’s commitment to a world class education system. I like some of the comparisons such as the one below comparing support for teachers to support for soldiers.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

This is so true. The title of the piece, "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries", aptly describes the point that if we want a world class system we need to recruit and pay teachers better. They cite a McKinsey report comparing the teaching profession here to those in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.

The question that seems to always be in the way is; how do we pay for it? As the authors suggest, when we had a vision of placing men on the moon, bailing out sinking banks, and bank rolling multiple wars on foreign soil we did it. The question for us and for the future is how to identify that compelling vision that creates enough tension to mobilize the country to action. I question whether those in position to accomplish this at the national level have that vision and if they did, could they sell it?  Absent that shared vision it will not happen.

Speaking of salary, I urge you to read Scott's comment to my recent state budget post.  He shares his thinking about the potential salary cut and the possible impact on teachers and the community response.

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