Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Study: Pay teachers more, student performance goes up

Here we go again: It's a scientific study, it's sponsored by a faraway university and it says that spending more money wisely to increase teacher salaries will deliver precisely the results that lawmakers say they want. That, however, means spending more money on teachers. Ergo, it will be ignored.

In this case, the faraway university is the London School of Economics. On its face, this should excite the fiscal conservatives among us, as they love economics and the London School of Economics has the word "economics" in its title. And London is in England, which is home to the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, like Oxford and Cambridge, the very places that South Carolina's elite families sent their sons back in the day.

And what, exactly, does this study say? Well, the headline reads, "Paying teachers 10 per cent more results in 5-10 per cent higher pupil performance." And that's just the headline. Not a lot of room for misinterpretation there.

Why do teachers in Switzerland earn four times what teachers in Israel earn? Why are teachers in South Korea paid at the 78th percentile of their country’s income distribution whereas those in the United States are paid at only the 49th percentile? And do these massive variations in the way different countries treat their teachers matter for the outcomes of their pupils? Answers to these questions are at the heart of the educational policy debate and we can learn a lot about the relationship between teacher quality and pupil outcomes from cross-national comparisons.

The issue is especially relevant in the context of pressures to reduce public spending. Most countries devote a sizeable proportion of their budgets to education – and around 70 per cent of that money goes on teacher salaries. Our research considers the determinants of teacher salaries across OECD countries and examines the relationship between the real and relative levels of teacher remuneration and the measured performance of secondary school pupils over the last fifteen years.

There are two potential explanations as to why teachers’ pay may be causally linked to pupil outcomes. The first is that higher pay will attract more able graduates into the profession. As the potential supply of teachers rises because of the higher pay on offer, entry into teaching as a profession will become more competitive. This in turn will mean that the average ability of those entering the job will rise. Once recruited, higher relative pay and/or more performance-related pay may provide teachers with stronger incentives to improve their pupils’ educational outcomes.

The second mechanism is more subtle– namely that improving teachers’ pay improves their standing in a country’s income distribution and hence the national status of teaching as a profession. As a result of this higher status, more young people will want to become teachers. This in turn makes teaching a more selective profession and hence facilitates the recruitment of more able individuals. Higher status and higher pay are invariably linked but the two can provide separate driving forces to engineer better recruits to the profession. The key hypothesis is that better pay for teachers will attract higher quality graduates into the profession and that this will improve pupil performance.

In both of these conclusions, the fundamental principle is that when people in a community or state see education as a noble, respectable and financially stable profession, more of them want to enter the education profession. More interest leads to better professional preparation and competition for available teaching positions. Hence, those positions are filled by the best prepared and most qualified, those most likely to keep up their professional development and their competitive edge, and remain in the profession for a full career. As a result, students get the best from start to finish, and achievement levels rise.

Conversely, so long as the education professions are seen as thankless jobs, those professions will only draw missionaries and martyrs, willing to take little or no pay to satisfy their own intrinsic motivations. But little or no pay sponsors little or no professional development over the course of a career, and even requires a body to take on second and third jobs to make ends meet. Who suffers? Students.

The study's authors have the research to prove this.

Our research with aggregate country data supports the hypothesis that higher pay leads to improved pupil performance. As an indication of the relative size of this effect, we find that a 10 per cent increase in teachers’ pay would give rise to a 5-10 per cent increase in pupil performance. Likewise, a 5 per cent increase in the relative position of teachers in the income distribution would increase pupil performance by around 5-10 per cent.


The whole study can be found here while this issue of Centrepoint is still current.

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