I have for some time subscribed to the free version of the US sites Education Week and Teacher Magazine. The current Education Week offers a fully free set of reports and commentaries on the state of teaching and education in the USA. It is of great interest, not least to Australians as it offers some points of comparison and context for our own education debates, which (in much of the media at least) are often rather like the crusty definition of “projects” offered us by our reactionary old English Method lecturer in Dip Ed 1965: the pooling of the shared ignorance of the class. (The Poet, who sat next to me in those lectures, used to draw wonderful cartoons — instead of taking notes — showing said lecturer as a cat emerging from a garbage can. This was after one lecture in which she informed us: “There are two types of person in this world: cat people and non-cat people, and I am a cat person.” I forget why she said that…)
One item of many: Working Conditions Trump Pay.
The issue of working conditions and the role such conditions play in recruitment and retention has gotten new attention, though, in the wake of studies in the late 1990s that quantified the dramatic impact that a single good teacher can make on students’ learning trajectories.
While no expert has yet hit on the definitive formula for identifying which teachers are “highly qualified,” researchers have determined that, when it comes to experienced teachers or those who are certified in the subjects they teach, the supply is inequitably distributed among schools. High-poverty schools in central cities or rural areas tend to have fewer such teachers—and dramatically higher rates of teacher turnover—than do more affluent, suburban schools.
With the aim of correcting those imbalances, the federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates that schools staff all core academic classes with teachers who have bachelor’s degrees and teaching licenses and who can demonstrate mastery in the subjects they teach, usually by passing a state exam or completing college coursework in those areas…
But independent research suggests that signing bonuses and pay raises, while helpful, won’t solve the problem.
In studies tracing the career paths of 50 Massachusetts teachers who entered the classroom in 1999, Johnson and her Harvard graduate students found that teachers who left the job after a year or two most often cited factors that all arguably fall under the umbrella of working conditions. They include problems with administrators, sink-or-swim courseloads, student-discipline issues, and inadequate resources.
“Pay was not foremost among their concerns,” Johnson says.
Stanford University researcher Eric A. Hanushek and his colleagues noted a similar pattern in analyzing the career moves made by 375,000 Texas primary school teachers between 1993 and 1996. They found that teachers systematically moved to schools with fewer minority students, fewer poor students, and higher test scores—for about the same pay, on average, as the teachers in the schools they left behind.
“What we take away from this is that there are many other things besides salaries that motivate teachers,” says Hanushek, an economist at the Hoover Institution, a think tank based at Stanford. “I’m reluctant to believe that teachers, on average, are really racist. I think it’s much more likely to be the general set of working conditions.”…
The media package that goes with this is very generous with its tables and degree of comment, though there is of course much more on the site. Nonetheless, I offer the package: Press Summary of Quality Counts 2008 (Education Week/PEW) [PDF].