Teacher Recruitment, Hype And Challenges

Revealing article in The New York Times today about diversity and teacher training.  Several of education’s pathologies on full display.

First, there is this:

It is particularly difficult to recruit qualified mathematicians and scientists as teachers because they can earn much higher salaries in other professions.

“In their first year as an engineer, they’ll earn more than a teacher will ever earn over a 30-year career,” said Rick Ginsberg, the dean of the School of Education at the University of Kansas.  

The irony of complaining about recruiting problems while saying things like this….Anyway that “statistic” is not even in the ballpark of being true *(see note below about wording of this).  To see how ridiculous it is just, for example, assume that a teacher only makes $25K a year (far below national averages and most starting salaries) for 30 years.  They’d earn $750K.  You have to be quite a special engineer to land a starting salary like that.  Here in the real world the median starting salary for an engineer is about $59K.  For teachers it’s about $30K.  And, of course, there are other issues to consider including salary growth over time, days worked annually, or benefits and job security, that further cloud comparisons like this.

A more straightforward point is that we have a shortage of teachers in some subjects – especially some STEM disciplines – and it’s pretty plausible that how and how much teachers are paid are part of the problem. You don’t need bogus assertions to make that point.

Then there is this:

Ms. Robinson said she feared that recent changes in public education policy as well as statements about failing schools could deter candidates. “We’ve been through a phase where all the target for fixing everything is to change out the teachers,” Ms. Robinson said. “So we are finding recruitment is down in educator preparation programs.”

Well, perhaps, but there is no evidence of this.  In fact, among actual teachers those saying they’re dissatisfied with the job is actually declining.  And overall the nation produces more teachers than it needs so a decline is only a problem to the extent that it’s coming in subjects or geographies where there are shortages.  And it’s equally plausible that some of the changes would make teaching more attractive to new candidates.

In practice, the diversity problem is driven by a few issues.  First, as the article notes college completion rates for minority students are a national scandal.  Second, students who do complete thankfully have a variety of options open to them.  This is the same challenge education faced (and continues to face) as women have more opportunities in the workforce.  As Sharon Robinson notes in the article, education needs to step up its game on recruiting.  Obvious, but true and important.

How to do that?  Well, the villainous Teach For America offers a set of ideas about how to aggressively recruit students into teaching but you won’t hear many ed school deans talking about that.  TFA’s minority recruitment (34% of their teaching corps last year and 27 percent in 2005) outpaces what traditional education schools are doing, 18 percent according to the analysis The Times is writing up.  A bunch of other ventures from Math For America to UTeach offer other ideas. You can add turning an ideological blind eye to useful examples to the pathology list, alongside talking down the profession.

*A few readers note that the statement might have just been poorly constructed (something we all do at times) and the word “ever” meant to convey that a first-year engineer makes more than a teacher ever will make in a single year.  That’s a more plausible assertion, and a plausible explanation, but also not a correct one substantively. Even discounting all the issues around comparing pay, many teachers make more than $59K annually. As I’ve noted here before, the averages are also not where the analytic action is on teacher pay, the issue is the variance — especially on the low-end in some communities.

14 Replies to “Teacher Recruitment, Hype And Challenges”

  1. You misunderstood the University of Kansas professor’s quote. The quote did not mean that a first year engineer would earn more in one year than a teacher would in summation of their entire 30 year career. The quote meant that a first year engineer would earn a higher yearly salary than would a 30 year teaching veteran (e.g. a first year engineer may make $70,000 but a thirty year teaching veteran would only be making $55,000 or so).

    You read the article in hast, and ironically, got your math wrong.

  2. A few people have suggested that, and unclear wording might be a more charitable explanation. But it’s also wrong. Many teachers make more than 59K. I added a note though. In general discussing average salaries in a field as diverse as this one clouds more than it reveals anyway. The issue is the variance.

  3. Variance in teacher salary certainly exists. After all, three years of teaching in Texas resulted in earnings only slightly lower than those of my mother, whom had been teaching in Maine for 25 years. This fact works against your argument though, because only 10 out of 50 states (20%) have an average teacher salary at or above $60,000. The other 40 states pay considerably less. 27 (54%) of the states have an average teacher salary that is less than $50,000.
    Thus, the variance you speak of works against aspiring teachers in most parts of this country. Math/science graduates in 54% of the US are faced with a decision to either leave their state to find higher paying teacher jobs, or to take a math/science job in their state that pays more than teaching. If these graduates value time spent with their families and friends, their choice is a no-brainer.

    What is more, the original point is still well taken: a 21 year-old engineer can earn just as much, if not more, than a 55 year old teacher. When considering their job prospects the 21 year-old may ask themselves, “It is true that if I move to Michigan, New York, Connecticut, or one of the other seven states in which average teacher salary is $60,000 or greater, I could earn the average teacher salary after a few years of teaching. However I can make that same amount next year by becoming an engineer. It makes a lot more sense for me to become an engineer.”
    This seems plausible, doesn’t it?

  4. You’re making more of this than there is.

    Interpretation A: Engineers make more in their first year than teachers make in a career.

    Obviously false.

    Interpretation B: Engineers make more their first year than teachers make in any year.

    Also false as any sort of general statement, too much variance.

    I think we probably agree that salaries are a problem, I make that point in the post above. But it’s a more nuanced problem than any reading of the dean’s statement would lead one to.

  5. Variance is a fact of most forms of policy analysis, not an impediment to analysis. If one refuses discussion because of the existence of variance in data, we as a society will never tackle any public issue of import: climate change data contains variance, teacher/student performance data contains variance, health insurance access data contains variance, teacher salary data contains variance, etcetera.

    Almost nothing in this world is concrete. To run away from something because it lacks concreteness, and say that doings so is “obvious,” is simply a cop out of serious discussion.

    My statement was specific, accounted for the variance in state data, explained why that variance is actually important to our discussion (not a wall to stop discussion), and explained why your argument for ignoring anything that has variance misses the hearts and minds of aspiring teachers in 27 U.S. states, who DO think about the variance of teacher salary when they are weighing their employment options.

    The reason I am pushing so hard on this point is because I am a case in point against your argument: I was a science teacher for 3 years, and have left the profession because I was not earning enough to pay off my student loans and car payments. May it be noted that I was working in Texas, which is a state that pays new teachers considerably more than most other states.

    Excluding variance, the private sector pays better than teaching does. Including variance, I could have been making less money teaching in 45 states and marginally more in only 5 states, none of which are states in which my family lives.

    This is the sort of human calculus that goes into the decision outlined in the original NYTimes article, of which you cannot wish away by saying that

    Variance in potential salaries is what drives people out of teaching. Embrace variance. It is essential to your understanding of behavior economics.

  6. Let me be clear, you are arguing with yourself. I agree and that should be clear from the OP (it’s in the 6th graf if this is really hard). But none of that makes either interpretation of the statement in question true. They both leave out important context that even a, “in some/many cases…” would have clarified.

  7. Did someone say TFA? “We expected to find that a large proportion of TFA teachers in our sample would have left teaching after completing their two-year obligation to TFA. But, we found that 60.5% of teachers taught in K-12 schools longer than two years and more than one third (35.5%) taught for more than four years. After five years, 27.8% were still in teaching. This retention rate is markedly lower than the 50% estimated for new teachers across all types of schools (Smith & Ingersoll, 2003).”


  8. Did someone say selective quotation? Here’s the *very* next sentence – not even next graf, the next sentence! – in the article you cite:

    “Good data are not currently available that would allow us to compare TFA teachers’ turnover to teachers’ turnover in similar high-poverty schools, although reports from Philadelphia suggest that the rates may be roughly comparable (Neild, Useem, Travers, & Lesnick, 2003).”

    The study you cite is a few years old, more recent research confirms it’s roughly comparable when you account for school type. And the same researcher (Donaldson) found some evidence of progress on the diversity issue with regard to retention.


    TFA hasn’t solved this problem and is not without its own issues, but thanks for illustrating what I was getting at.

  9. Ironically, Chase is also not appreciating the variance in pay found in STEM careers, the availability of jobs (which is dependent on geographic location due to industry hubs and academic openings) in a weak economy that is currently saturated with science degree holders, and the costs of additional years of training and education to stay competitive for said jobs. The original quotation is flawed on many different levels.

  10. OK, fair enough. Both studies followed early 2000s cohorts. I did see the next sentence and I fail to see how comparability supports the TFA offensive on teacher preparation. Andrew, from your citation, “In teaching, where pay continues to fall below other fields with comparable requirements, Black/African American corps members were more than twice as likely than their non-Black/African American counterparts (7.30 percent vs. 2.63 percent) to cite “better salary or benefits outside teaching” as the main reason they left.” TFA may be aggressive in wooing minorities but their long-term success is comparable. Certainly we agree on better teacher recruitment and preparation; yet, the relative lack of definitive success for TFA over traditional programs suggests deeper realities within the profession itself which conspire to keep retention low.

    I think we give salary too large a role to play in the game here. Certainly, compensation is important, however there are intangibles that will affect retention. Let us assume most adults create some degree of their self-worth through their work. Some of that derives from monetary compensation versus self-perceived value. Some of that also derives from personal satisfaction and success at work versus the effort expended and the perception of how much effort is to be expected. Complexity of the job may be poorly perceived by pre-service teachers and that too, may be considered a factor in retention.

    Having said all of that, I tend to favor teacher preparation programs that model the medical/nursing internship in both length and rigor. Sadly, those programs are expensive for all concerned. It is my observation that Americans are not willing to grant the teaching profession that kind of status and concomitant financial support. TFA and various and sundry other experiments with teacher prep have attempted, consciously or not, to perform an end-run around this institutional roadblock. With TFA, they go after high-status college grads who will, by dint of their superior academic performance in a competitive school, be more successful as teachers. Instead, they have been found to be as subject to pressures to pursue alternative futures as anyone else.

    Finally, much of this debate is situated within the world of urban education with underprivileged populations. Suburban/privileged populations are not subjected either to wholesale institutional interventions or large amounts of educational research. But they are still treated as if they were. Isn’t that interesting? And yet, large-scale, societal remedies like NCLB and teacher assessments and high-stakes testing are applied to all–as if. Get it? As teachers we are charged with providing every child their own path to success yet, the system conspires against this approach when it comes to policy, procedures, and accountability.

    Most American kids in most places are doing relatively well by most measures of academic and life achievement. For some reason, we tend to overlook this inconvenient fact. Compared to most Western industrialized nations, we have a large population of immigrants and poverty-stricken peoples. No amount of tinkering with teacher prep or accountability or testing of children will remedy that essential reality that brings down our overall low achievement scores.

    Education is a system. It is embedded within a larger system of interconnections and feedback effects. It is foolish to assume we can fix education without fixing other systemic inputs at the same time.

  11. Jeffery, thanks for surfacing a few important angles on this question:

    The study also found this:

    “The survey also examined trends based on the race of TFA corps members, which revealed that Black/African American and Latino corps members were at a lower risk of voluntarily resigning from the teaching profession than Asian or White corps members. For example, after their second year of teaching, 24.4 percent of Black/African American corps members and 32.0 percent of Latino corps members voluntarily resigned, compared to 37.5 percent of Asian and White corps members. Black/African American corps members who were themselves related to a teacher had a particularly low risk of voluntarily leaving teaching. After their second year of teaching, 21.2 percent of Black/African American corps members with a teacher relative resigned, compared with 29.1 percent of those without such a relative.”

    Again, it’s hardly game-over but there are some things to think about/work with there.

    You may be right about the residency/medical model, but right now the data are pretty clear that candidate characteristics matter more than preparation route characteristics and there is more variance between candidates within these different routes than between the routes themselves. On this one the Ed Schools are lucky that ed research is so widely ignored by politicians because our current regulatory systems don’t make a lot of sense and a lot of innovation does.

    On salary, doesn’t it matter a lot to a point, and then less? I’ve written about this on the blog elsewhere. Professionals look for a variety of monetary and non-monetary benefits from their work but the non-monetary only come into play above some level of sufficiency. In other words, the best PD system around doesn’t hold a lot of appeal if you can’t pay the bills. Lost in our debate about teacher pay is the fundamental point that in some places it’s adequate and in others it’s not, we talk instead in averages.

    Finally on our schools, this is a fundamental disagreement that pops up on the blog and in our educational debates from time to time. I disagree with the idea that we’re doing OK (except for those kids…) for two reasons. First, those kids are American kids, too. I don’t know a state in the country where when you get sworn in for an educational role the oath says you’re only responsible for some kids. We don’t have the population of Finland or whatever western European country people want to compare us to this year. We have the population we have and ought to be more serious about doing right by them. Poverty matters, but a lot of what we do/don’t do in schools matters, too. I can’t figure out why people who are so motivated about inequality are so quick to let schools off the hook.

    Second, while we certainly have plenty of excellence to celebrate, we’re not doing as well as everyone likes to think in a lot of places.

  12. I think the issue of how to attract talent to the teaching profession is highly complicated and nuanced. There is so much regional variation in pay, cost of living, and how salary scales are structured (e.g., front-loaded vs back-loaded, experience bump vs education credits bump), that generalizations are not all that useful. The salaries in suburban New Jersey where teachers with a masters and 8 years of experience can make close to 100K are not at all comparable to the salaries in the rural West or even, sadly, California where the salary/cost of living equation is out of whack. I think it’s absolutely vital to consider the whole package of incentives that face teachers: extrinsic ones such as pay, benefits, job security, social status (too often ignored), and intrinsic or psychic ones such as meaningful work, control over factors that influence your sense of success, working conditions…. That said, net net, I tend to share Ms. Robinson’s fear that policy changes might be deterring candidates or exacerbating turnover even when candidates do try out teaching. In the past there was a certain “bargain” that many teachers signed up for (albeit the reality didn’t always correspond with the image of the bargain): I’ll earn a modest salary for the amount of education I have, but in return I will get to do meaningful work without much real scrutiny or accountability (I can teach how I want after I close the door and realize my own vision of teaching, good benefits, and some job security if I make it pass the provisional years. Many of the elements of this bargain (a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic reward) are ungoing radical change. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se, but it upsets the delicate mix that traditionally attracted many to teaching. Teachers definitely feel more under scrutiny—some feel under attack—a loss of professional autonomy. Instability in education funding and the shift toward teacher accountability have made holding a teaching job more risky without any increase in salary. And there definitely have been talk about how defined benefit pensions for teachers is no longer sustainable…. So now teachers are expected to bear more risk in numerous ways, and lose some of the desirable aspects of the job (e.g.) without receiving a corresponding risk premium or for putting up with more demanding, stressful working conditions. I am very ambivalent about TFA’s role in the profession. On the one hand it has definitely been a recruiting juggernaut and made it sexy for graduates of elite colleges to teach (at least for a couple years), and their rhetoric about teaching as leadership emphasize the transferrable skills that teachers gain. I know so many smart and terrific people who entered teaching through TFA. On the other hand, TFA still perpetuates the belief that all you need to be a good teacher is subject expertise, drive, and smarts—discounting that a knowledge base exists in the teaching profession. So, TFA has essentially become the McKinsey of the education field—some boutique program that is a high status credential for those who do a short stint at the firm—but that doesn’t really do much for elevating the status of the profession as a whole (and in some parts of the sector disparaged as being out of touch whiz kids who presume to know more than veterans).

  13. It is great that they are thinking of training students to be recruited in their final year of school.Great thought, they are in the school system already and have a great understanding of what happens in the school system on a daily basis. Teachers also know the students who have the capacity and capability and so we can used our own people training and recruiting for future teachers rather than to have a shortage. Here we will be harnessing our own resources.

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