Saturday, October 21, 2006

Educator quality and pay

This week saw two discussions of teacher aptitude and educational quality. The first began with a Slate article by Emily Brazelon on whether we need pre-school teachers with college degrees. The second was a new study by Andrew Leigh on whether raising pay will give you smarter teachers.

Let me begin with pre-school

So, do you need a degree to teach preschool? Study after study shows that 3- and 4-year-olds are better served by more-educated teachers in myriad ways. As you might expect, these teachers tend to offer superior curricula and formal teaching. But they’re also, on average, “more stimulating, warm, and supportive” and “provide more age-appropriate experiences.” That finding is from a 2004 overview of the relevant research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and it represents the consensus view. The experts disagree over how much college coursework preschool teachers should have—a two-year associate degree vs. a four-year baccalaureate. The more vexing question is how to take what is now an underpaid, low-skilled workforce and magically restock it with college-educated professionals.

The problem, of course, is that the pay for pre-school teachers doesn’t quite encourage higher education. Of key issue is that pre-school teaching requires other qualities — patience and stamina — that are not for everyone. So in undertaking a college education path, you would really have to be committed to obtain the education required for pre-school. The obvious solution is to run things more like apprenticeships. Get the teachers in and then educate them later. The only issue is whether the budget will handle the extra pay from that. (Here is a nice write-up of the pre-school issue).

For the rest, Andrew Leigh discusses the pre-committed pay option: that is, how well would pay now and hope for supply later work? The answer is: well, OK.

A 1 percent rise in the salary of a starting teacher boosts the average aptitude of students entering teacher education courses by 0.6 percentile ranks, with the effect being strongest for those at the median.

That means that boosting pay will encourage University-goers to think more about a teaching path; particularly, if they got high test scores coming in.

This suggests to me that boosting pay and on-going education are likely to be complementary policies. Boost average pay by a bit to get smarter people going into teaching and then educate later on so those that cut it for other reasons reach their potential.