Saturday, December 6, 2008

A different perspective on US education woes

We see a familiar education discussion beginning again. For example, see here. The conservative, free market answer: do away with public schools, pay for performance among teachers, even pay for performance (cash)for students, bust up teacher unions, and do away with the professionalization of teachers. On the other side are the liberal "reformers:" they cite the public's continued support for the concept of public schools (although the numbers heading to private or private-lite schools keep increasing, especially among the middle classes),they advocate smaller classes and teacher quality. The arguments are old, evidence is almost always self-serving, depending on the evidence provided.

I'll provide some evidence here, enough I think to make the prima facie argument. First off, my evidence comes from the BLS annual surveys on wages and salaries and the data I could obtain online is over a ten year period, 1997 to 2007 and I offer data from 97 to 07 to make the point.

Okay, here are my facts: teachers have been historically and continue to be today, mostly female. Indeed, teaching today is probably more female dominated than 20 years ago...we are beginning to show the problem already.

Second, the occupational and economic opportunities for talented women have increased astronomically over the last 35 years...that is important because the teachers from 35 years ago, faced a very different opportunity structure than do women today.

So, think of it this way: In the mid 1970s, 75% of women worked as teachers, nurses, secretaries, librarians, and in food service. hence, the most talented women were likely distributed between nursing and teaching. Now i don't have salary data for then, but I do for 1997, by then the opportunity structure had really begun to change. but I think the point will still be made:

In 1997 Registered nurses averaged $41,400 a year. In 1997 teachers averaged, depending on what kind, kindergarten, elementary, seconary, or special ed, 34,100; 37,300; 39,010; 39,200. These are comparable salaries.

But, by '97 the opportunity structure for women, especially for talented women, had changed. Among the most rapidly feminizing occupations were accountants and editors. In 1997 the average pay for those occupations was 45,500 and 36,940 respectively. These are still comparable to that of teaching, though accounting is clearly more pay.

Now for the point. If talented women once concentrated in teaching, and one thing that no one seems to disagree with is that the teacher matters, is that the talent level among today's teachers is likely less than what it was in the past. This is an unintentional downside to greater economic equality for women.

In May 2007 look at the average pay differences among these occupations. Nurses increased by 50% to 62,480. accountants increased 39% to 63,180; editors increased by 49% to 55,020. Nurses have kept up with the occupations that once were not available to women. what about teachers? for kindergarten teachers pay has increased 40% to 47,750; elementary teachers have increased 34% to 50,040, secondary teachers have increased 34% to 52450; special ed teachers have increased 33% to 52000.

In short, if you believe that talent follows the money, one traditional female occupation, nurse, has kept up economically with the new opportunities for talented women. But teaching has lagged behind, seriously behind.

Now, someone who really understands this stuff will say, now wait a minute there is much behind these statistics....they are averages, they don't show starting salaries or the effects of lenght of time in service, etc. All that is correct....but then those who disagree with the main points here, do that analysis. I'm standing pat for now on this.

Increasing economic opporunties for women have, inadvertently hurt the teaching profession, which in turn, has hurt education, especially public education. The solution is to make teaching as economically attractive as other professions requiring similar talent, like nursing, editing, and accounting. how that is done, whether through merit pay or just raising the salaries (productivity increases are not likely to increase the pay..indeed, more teachers are needed, not less), is one key to improving US public education.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I couldn't agree more.
I love to teach. I've always wanted to be a teacher, but my parents discouraged me. After a lifetime of non-teaching work, I am finally back to teaching, but at a university. I have two children in the public schools today. The quality of teachers is much lower than when I went to school. When I was a public school student, my teachers were the smartest around. Now, I'm afraid that my students are not taught by teachers who really care about teaching, but ones who weren't bright enough to go into careers that paid much more. This happened in the 70's with male teachers, but since the number of male teachers is much smaller than the number of female teachers, it doesn't matter. One of the best high school teachers I've ever had was my Physics teacher; I hated Physics, but I loved his class, because he was a great teacher. I looked him up about 10 years after graduating, and found out he had gone back to industry (engineering, of course). How sad.

Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged