Washington, DC—Education research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement. A very good teacher as opposed to a very bad one can make as much as a full year’s difference in learning growth for students. Indeed, the effect of increases in teacher quality swamps the impact of any other educational investment, such as reductions in class size.
A new report (PDF) from the Center for American Progress shows that while improving the quality of the teacher workforce presents educational policymakers with a tremendous opportunity to dramatically improve the educational achievement of America’s students, there does not appear to be any specific credential or characteristic that is a silver-bullet predictor of quality.
This casts doubt on the prospects of using state licensure policy to determine who is eligible to teach (a “gatekeeper approach”) to greatly improve the quality of the teacher workforce. Instead, the report suggests that policymakers may wish to address teacher performance through a focus on teacher workforce policies—that is, policies that are based on a teacher’s actual demonstrated classroom performance.
“Teachers are the most important factor in educational success for most youngsters, especially those from low-income families,” said Cindy Brown, Director of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Examples abound of highly effective teachers in every community, but overall we are faced with a continuing shortage of good teachers that jeopardizes progress in education improvement. State and federal policymakers need to invest in and carefully evaluate new ways to attract high quality candidates to teaching, and reward those who are most effective.”
Based on this review of what we know about teacher pay reform, this paper argues that pay reform holds promise, and offers the following recommendations for those who wish to see teacher pay reforms successfully implemented:
• Teacher pay reform is much more likely to be successful if the reform takes place at the state level.
• States must make basic investments in their education data infrastructures.
• More basic research is needed on the data and methodological requirements for using student achievement tests as a gauge of teacher effectiveness.
• States and localities need to engage in a number of pay experiments.
Pay is certainly not the only way to manage a workforce, but it is one of the primary policy tools that school systems have at their disposal. The strict adherence to the traditional single-salary schedule therefore strips school districts of a key managerial tool. Even though the research on teacher compensation reform is hardly definitive enough to recommend the use of specific pay reforms to reach specific goals, the few quantitative studies that do exist suggest that a more strategic use of teacher compensation could lead to both a more equitable allocation of teachers among students, and increased student achievement.