Hoxby, Caroline and Leigh, Andrew. 2004. Pulled Out or Pushed Away? Explaing the Decline of Teacher Aptitude in the United States
. American Economic Review
, 94(2): 236—240.
Nothing grabs a reader like a controversial headline.
The "two main hypotheses for the decline" of teacher quality since the 1960's are, as stated by Hoxby and Leigh, more job opportunities for women as a result of the feminist movement, and compressed teacher wages due to unionization. These are termed as the pull (more attractive salaries in other fields) and push (teachers forced out by stagnant wages) hypotheses.
So, who's to blame? Data on salaries and teacher aptitude (based on college transcripts) between 1963 - 2000 were analyzed for this study. The results indicated earnings for high aptitude women did not reflect significant gains compared to lower aptitude women; however, that is to say salaries of both high- and low-aptitude women rose at about the same rate over 40 years. However, high aptitude women in the teaching profession saw their earnings go down as compared with their lower aptitude counterparts. This can be attributed to a compression in pay, a practice starting (intentionally or not) with the rise of teacher unions.
Thus, the authors conclude "compression of teaching wages is responsible for about three quarters of the decline in teacher aptitude." But finding the cause doesn't necessarily guarantee an easy solution...
We often talk about teacher quality and how to improve teaching ability in our discussions at EdLab, even if we know that the problem is largely beyond improved pedagogy, etc. Clearly, reform is necessary, but with the unions as powerful as they are, it's hard to see anything changing in the foreseeable future. Where to begin? Can charter schools act as union busters? We've seen how things played out in Wisconsin last year when the governor tried to reign in teachers unions, so we can be sure this is an issue that won't go away anytime soon.