Research confirms that teachers are crucially important to students’ success, yet such subject areas as math, science, and foreign languages suffer severe, long-term teacher shortages. Few would dispute that the very large salary differential between teaching and private sector work in these fields—and perceptions of teaching as a low-status profession—dissuade talented and committed individuals from entering or remaining in the teaching profession.
Improving teacher quality and alleviating shortages require a comprehensive approach to educator talent management. Salary compensation is the only critical element that cannot be addressed without substantial additional funding.
In the McKinsey & Company report “How the World’s Best School Systems Come Out on Top,” high beginning teacher salaries were among the chief factors that differentiated top-performing school systems from their less effective counterparts.
We support using stimulus dollars to raise teacher salaries, particularly for beginning teachers and second-stage professionals with 4 years to 10 years of experience. Each of these groups is likely to consider turning to a different career. Higher salaries should be accompanied by stricter tenure rules, which would in turn justify higher pay for veteran teachers.
Competition in today’s global economy requires that U.S. children embrace rather than shy away from science, math, and foreign languages. By investing stimulus dollars to attract and retain teachers, we can ensure that American students emerge prepared to create innovations that further stimulate our economy for years to come.
While we can all agree that many highly qualified teachers deserve higher salaries, simply raising pay won’t fix our schools.
More money could make a difference only if carefully targeted. Higher salaries could enlarge the pool of applicants so that schools can choose teachers more carefully. They could also reduce teacher turnover, which would benefit students. But if stimulus funds simply increase salaries without changes in who is hired or how they teach, these revenues will be wasted.
Improving the quality of teaching requires more than higher salaries. Vision and leadership from administrators is crucial. Professional development of the right kind—not Friday afternoon, one-shot workshops—is always necessary. The cooperation of teachers is central, and it cannot simply be bought. More conceptual, innovative, or “balanced” instruction is also important to enhancing learning.
To improve schools, we need to invest in other resources that matter. Some are compound resources: smaller classes and the professional development that enables educators to teach them differently, with adequate facilities that include computers and support for teachers to use them well. Others are complex, such as strong leadership and new approaches to instruction. Still others are abstract and again, impossible to buy—including school climate, student motivation, trust within schools, and the coherence of the curriculum.
There’s no substitute for thinking hard about which school resources are most effective, and what money can and cannot buy. The “money myth”—that more money, including higher teacher salaries, will solve our schooling problems—is too simple.
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