Teacher Selection and Recruitment

Should the American teaching system be changed to more closely resemble the systems of higher-performing nations? 

Although the United States (US) devotes more resources to education than almost any other nation, our students are still underperforming on globally standardized tests relative to many other countries’ students, especially wealthy nations. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s test to measure “15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges” is known as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and is generally accepted as the leading internationally standardized test. Since the test’s inception in 2000, a majority of participating countries have out-performed the US, including nations such as Finland, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea (OECD, 2019). 
Research suggests that a major factor of this achievement gap is that teachers from high-performing nations tend to have performed well academically when they were students themselves, while this is the case less often in the US. For example, in South Korea, Singapore, and Finland, 100% of teachers graduated in the top third of their academic classes, while just 23% of American teachers meet the equivalent qualifications (in this case, scoring above the 67th percentile on the SAT). Furthermore, in low-income neighborhoods, only 14% of teachers are from the top third, exacerbating the gap in educational opportunity between affluent and poor students (Auguste et al, 2010). This would imply that there is a glaring need for an alteration in the way that teachers are selected and recruited in the US. But the question is, how should the American teaching system be changed to more closely resemble the systems of higher-performing nations? 
One proposed method of enhancing our system involves redesigning it to attract more “top-third+” teachers, or ones who finished in the top third of their classes and also meet other important qualifications. According to the claims of Byron Auguste, Paul Kihn, and Matt Miller, the most effective ways to do this appear to be making admissions to teaching programs very selective, guaranteeing jobs to those who complete the training, and paying teachers at a competitive level relative to other potential jobs that similarly educated professionals could obtain (Auguste et al, 2010). With a comprehensive political reform of the system, students will perform better on standardized tests and be more adequately prepared for their careers later in life.
Many political candidates and news outlets acknowledge that there are problems with our education system in comparison to other nations, but few people realize the extent and significance of these issues. Our students as a whole are performing below average on the PISA math test and only average on the reading section, and fewer American students score in the top sixth of the distribution than students from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, Finland, and Canada (Tucker, 2011).
And despite American pride in providing equality of opportunity to our citizens, our education system actually reinforces inequality and impedes social mobility. According to PISA test scores, the US ranks just 28th in terms of the proportion of students from the bottom quarter of socioeconomic status (SES) who reach the top quarter of test scores. Furthermore, 14% of the variance in test scores is predicted by SES in an average OECD country, while in the US this number is 17% (Tucker, 2011). Thus, since educational achievement is very heavily influenced by SES in the US, those who grow up disadvantaged will have a hard time succeeding. The US is one of only four countries where schools with more affluent students receive more resources than those with poorer students (Tucker, 2011). And not surprisingly, the gap in test scores between students at the 90th percentile of the income distribution and students at the 10th percentile has widened by 40% over the last 30 years (Greenstone et al, 2013). Knowing all of this, it is clear that the difference between the quality of education for poor American children and rich American children is staggering.
The best place to focus on to improve American students’ test scores is the people who are helping them learn: teachers. Some may consider experience and training to be the most predictive measures of the effectiveness of a teacher, but this turns out not to be the case. Researchers have found that Teach For America (TFA) teachers tend to be more effective than almost all other teachers. These teachers are recruited from the pool of high-achieving graduates from top colleges, and are guaranteed a job teaching in a disadvantaged American neighborhood if they fulfill rigorous standards. TFA teachers turn out to be at least as good as average highly experienced teachers in math, and better in science, even though almost all of them have come straight from college. (Xu et al, 2011). Thus, graduates from the top third of their academic classes are ideal candidates to become teachers, but currently very few of them follow the profession. Per Auguste, Kihn, and Miller, “among the 91% of top-third college students who say they are not planning to go into teaching, the most important job attributes include prestige and peer group appeal” (Auguste et al, 2010).  In Finland, South Korea, etc., nearly everyone in the general public respects teachers, while it appears that teachers just do not command the same status in the United States. Countries that tend to perform better on internationally standardized tests have highly prestigious teaching programs, while the United States’ have high admission and low graduation rates (Auguste et al, 2010). And instead of paying teachers, we are devoting our education spending mostly to things that do not have a significant effect on student performance: capital outlays (property and buildings), constantly updating supplies, etc. Female public school teachers are making an average of 15.6% less per year than comparable, similarly educated female workers, while this gap is 26.8% for male teachers (Allegretto, Mishel, 2018). When there are tempting, well-paying offers coming from private corporations, most high-achieving college graduates will not choose to be teachers. The result of this is the statistics mentioned above: 23% of American teachers come from the top third of their academic cohorts, compared to 100% in top-performing nations.
              There are many proposed theories about how to solve this issue, but one of the most effective methods may be modeling the overall teaching system after TFA. In addition to having a very selective admissions process, TFA has also done a very good job of creating “excitement around the mission of serving disadvantaged students, and [creating] a selective ‘brand’ for a slice of the profession that is sufficiently appealing to top-third+ students to draw them to the classroom” (Auguste et al, 2010). So the solution is two-pronged: one part must be implemented by the collective education system, and the other by individual schools. If our system can incorporate the most effective aspects of TFA, namely, enforcing selective admission and graduation requirements, guaranteeing jobs to those who complete the program, and encouraging the highest quality teachers to work in low-income neighborhoods, drastic changes will be felt within just a few years in terms of American schools’ overall test scores and the inequality of said scores. Finally, individual school districts will need to compensate these new teachers at a level appropriate for their education level. Since the US is spending immense amounts on non-productive uses, such as capital outlays, administration salaries, supplies, etc., and not enough on teacher salaries, school districts should redistribute funds from other areas in order to compensate teachers. Recognizing that salaries are highly correlated to student performance, as well as districts’ ability to retain high-performing employees, should be enough to convince districts that paying teachers is the highest priority. If the US implements both of these ideas, it will go a long way towards adapting our system to look like those of the top nations and thus give our students a more robust, beneficial education to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Works Cited

Allegretto, Sylvia, and Lawrence Mishel. The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high. 5 Sept. 2018. Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/publication/teacher-pay-gap-2018/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.

Auguste, Byron, et al. "Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching." McKinsey & Company, Sept. 2010, www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/social%20sector/our%20insights/closing%20the%20teaching%20talent%20gap/closing-the-teaching-talent-gap.ashx. Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.

Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators. Paris, OECD Publishing, 2019. OECD, read.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2019_f8d7880d-en#page404. Accessed 21 Jan. 2020.

Greenstone, Michael, et al. Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education. 26 June 2013. Brookings, www.brookings.edu/research/ thirteen-economic-facts-about-social-mobility-and-the-role-of-education/. Accessed 21 Jan. 2020.

Konoske-Graf, Annette, et al. "To Attract Great Teachers, School Districts Must Improve Their Human Capital Systems." Center for American Progress, 22 Dec. 2016, www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2016/12/22/295574/to-attract-great-teachers-school-districts-must-improve-their-human-capital-systems/. Accessed 21 Jan. 2020.

Tucker, Marc S., editor. Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Built on the World's Leading Systems. 2nd ed., Cambridge (MA.), Harvard Education Press, 2011.

Xu, Zeyu, et al. "Making a Difference? The Effects of Teach For America in High School." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 30, no. 3, Summer 2011, pp. 447-69. JSTOR, www-jstor-org.ez.pausd.org/stable/23018960. Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.


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