A New York Times editorial last week came very close to getting it right on teachers, teacher hiring, teacher retention, and teacher pay.
To maintain its standing as an economic power, the United States must encourage programs that help students achieve the highest levels in math and science, especially in poor communities where the teacher corps is typically weak.
The National Academies, the country’s leading science advisory group, has called for an ambitious program to retrain current teachers in these disciplines and attract 10,000 new ones each year for the foreseeable future. These are worthy goals. But a new study from a federal research center based at the Urban Institute in Washington suggests that the country might raise student performance through programs like Teach for America, a nonprofit group that places high-achieving college graduates in schools that are hard to staff.
Recruiting high-achievers, across the board and not just with the help of a flagship do-gooder program, will require that starting salaries be competitive with those jobs where people of high caliber flock. Education competes with accounting, law, medicine and other high-paying professions for the best people.
If Milton Friedman and Adam Smith were right, that most people act rather rationally in their own interests, economically, which jobs will get the best people?
Teaching is the only profession I can think of where the administrators and other leaders threaten to fire the current teachers, work to keep working conditions low and unsatisfactory, and say that more money will come only after championship performance.
There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t cursed George Steinbrenner and said that he or she could run the Yankees better. Whenever he opens his checkbook, the nation howls. And yet, year in an year out, the Yankees win.
Is there any fool alive who thinks Steinbrenner could do what he does by cutting pay, not cleaning the locker room, and drafting the cheapest players he could find? Were we to assume Steinbrenner the world’s most famous lousy boss, there are a million education administrators who would need to step it up to get to Steinbrenner’s level.
As Utah Phillips famously said, graduates are about to be told they are the nation’s greatest natural resource — but have you seen how this nation treats its natural resources?
Oh, I miss Molly Ivins.