Our local paper has been full of interesting stuff the past week — as it should be.
On August 30 the Dallas Morning News editorialized in favor of more men in teaching — citing a study that found men in the classroom improve the academic performance of male students. (The newspaper said it is a study by economist Thomas Dee at Swarthmore, but it provides a link to a Hoover Institution magazine that does not mention the study . . . [grumble].)
For anyone looking for new arguments to get more men into the classroom, it’s tempting to hold up the new study as a manifesto. Could more men teachers help stem the hemorrhaging dropout numbers for boys? Or reverse the dwindling percentage of boys headed to college? Are more single-sex schools the answer?
The study is certainly not the last word on the matter; the author hopes it could be a jumping-off point for fine-tuning how schools entice youngsters into absorbing information. We hope so.
We also hope the study could be an enticement for the next young man to hear that calling to the classroom. And the next. And the next …
There should be no mystery about how to attract qualified male teachers. How about we start by paying a competitive wage? Teaching is a profession where one can take time out, spend seven or ten years getting a Ph.D., and then get a job that pays roughly what a garbage collector would make had he started collecting garbage at the time the teacher starting the march to the graduate degrees. A recent graduate of our local high school spent a few months’ training with the Army Reserve, and upon return has an administrative job with a local police department — at a salary equal to a degreed teacher with a few years’ experience. Cops on the beat don’t make enough, either — but someone who spends a decade getting ready to teach should do better than a rookie cop not on the beat.
In contrast, MBAs at accounting firms start out around six figures. They often have less education and less experience than the teachers — and they are expendable (look at how many are weeded out by the firm in the first three years). But with that kind of salary offered, a kid might make a well-reasoned calculation that two years of graduate business school and a life in accounting would be better than a Ph.D. and a life teaching in public schools. I think it patently unfair to say that teaching then gets the leftovers — but it makes one wonder, doesn’t it?
Public schools are the only enterprises where we demand higher standards for the employees, and then hold salaries down until the employees reach the standards. In every other line of work, the market raises wages. We might learn a lot by observing (was that Stengel or Berra?)
For those conservatives who ask that education be treated more like a free market — do they really anticipate what would happen were that to occur? A good teacher is easily worth as much as a starting accountant. Why not use market devices to improve education? Raise the wages.
More men, and more highly-qualified women, will pursue teaching when we let the salaries float to levels comparable to other industries with similar demands and education requirements. I read Milton Friedman — vouchers or no vouchers, he makes the case that education will be mired in mediocrity until we spend the money to attract the best people possible to teaching, and to keep them there.