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Teachers: Ammunition for an Educational Revolution
Randi Johnson
Little Falls Community High School
Little Falls, MN

America is failing its youth and is in need of an educational revolution. No longer can an education carry the safe assumption it once did--the time of each generation doing better than the last may become a memory of the past. However, America has the opportunity to redirect its future by focusing on the educational variable having the ability to transform both the lives and living standards of its students. This variable is our current and future teachers, “both intuition and empirical research tell us…the achievement of school children depends substantially on [the] teachers they are assigned” (Wayne and Young 89). Not only are teachers the principal resource in a child’s education, they also exhibit great economic value derived from the impact on their students’ outcomes (Hanushek 467). Eric A. Hanushek, the author of “The economic value of higher teacher quality [sic],” found a competent teacher can increase a student’s cognitive skills by one standard deviation, therefore yielding 10-20 percent higher earnings throughout the individual’s working career. A class of 20 students taught by a qualified teacher will yield
$400,000 in the students’ added earnings (471). Yet, year after year, a gap remains between the higher quality and higher producing teachers and their counterparts. (Hanushek 467). America must act now to implement reforms by improving the quality of its teachers.

New teachers need to gain experience to attain effectiveness. This can be done by minimizing grade switching early in a teacher’s career (Greenstone, Looney, and Shevlin 18). Remaining within one grade or subject for the first one to three years upon entering into a teaching profession is proven to rapidly improve teacher efficiency. Throughout this time, the inexperienced teachers will hone their crafts, learn classroom management skills, and understand how to successfully obtain student engagement (Hanushek 468). For example, Ben Ost found when educators teach the same grade assignment they will improve roughly 50 percent faster than their peers who never repeat a grade assignment (11-12). Allowing teachers to remain in the same grade for the first three years of their career will allow them to specialize and become quality advocates for their grade or subject. This change has no monetary implications, but rather, careful planning of teacher assignments until the educator has established a sturdy base of expertise. This new requirement will allow teachers to gain teaching effectiveness and cause improving student achievement.

Not only can teachers gain effectiveness through specialization, they can improve their quality through collaboration amongst peers in professional learning communities (PLC). These communities allow educators to work collectively to configure high performing teams of educators who unite to work toward improvements in student learning (“How PLC Impact Student Success” 1). Vescio, Ross, and Adams found eight out of the eleven studies they reviewed reported positive student achievement gains (86). One such study was conducted by David Strahan on three struggling elementary schools over a period of three years. Each school demonstrated significant student improvements on state achievement tests; the test scores rose from 50 to 75 percent proficiency and was directly related back to the enhancement of the teachers because of the PLC implementation (Strahan 127). This sort of reform through PLC requires time and energy with little monetary costs, but once the transformation is complete the quality of the teachers will be directly represented by the positive student outcomes (“How PLC Impact Student Success” 2).

Another strategy to improve teacher quality is to incentivize prospective teachers with financial compensation which will attract the best into the occupation. “It is contended . . . the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers,” and yet in America the career of teaching is not regarded with high esteem. Rather, it is seen as a second choice (Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2). However, South Korea and Finland, two countries leading the world’s educational systems, recruit their teachers from the top 5-10% of graduates. South Korea also values its teachers by paying them accordingly in the 80th percentile of their country’s wage distribution (Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2). Paying teachers in the top 20% provides an incentive for joining the profession. It attracts the more able graduates while creating a surplus of teachers to choose from, therefore increasing the competition and raising the average quality of the profession (Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2-3). To cost effectively restructure teacher compensation to pay teachers’ higher wages, schools can decrease pensions and increase wages. Robert M. Costrell and Josh B. McGee found teachers prefer an annual increase of $1,000 in wages compared to an increment of $10,000 at peak value for their pension (509). This reconfigured pay structure will allow for higher wages--ultimately attracting the more able teachers into the profession.

This is the year for America to reform and improve its staff of teachers to increase the achievement of its most valuable scarce resource: The students. If the “effectiveness of teachers could be raised enough to put American students at par with those from the highest performing countries it could be worth as much as $100 trillion in national productivity benefits over the next 80 years” (as qtd. by Greenstone, Looney, and Shevlin 12). The United States has the opportunity to reach the educational level of Finland by ameliorating the bottom 8% of teachers (Hanushek 475). Not only can improving the teachers be linked to a monetary value, the public good will also be a beneficiary of the revolution. An educated society will result in a population whose quality of life will be longer, happier, and healthier. The time to change is upon America now. Combating the stagnation of the American education by reforming its teachers will create the world’s best innovators, thinkers, and dreamers. This will allow America to achieve high technological advancements maintaining and regaining economic, social, and ecological superiority.

Works Cited

Costrell, Robert M., and Josh B. McGee. “Teacher Pension Incentives, Retirement Behavior, and Potential for Reform in Arkansas.” Educational Finance and Policy 5.4 (2010): 492-518. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Dolton, Peter, and Oscar D. Marcenaro-Gutierrez. “If You Pay Peanuts do You Get Monkeys? A Cross Country Analysis of Teacher Pay and Pupil Performance.” Centre for Economic Policy Research (2009): 1-52. Google Scholar. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Greenstone, Michael, Adam Looney, and Paige Shevlin. “Improving Student Outcomes: Restoring America’s Educational Potential.” The Hamilton Project (2011): 1-28. Brookings. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Hanushek, Eric A. “The economic value of higher teacher quality [sic].” Economics of Education Review 30 (2011): 466-79. Elsevier. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

“How PLC Impact Student Success.” K-12 Blueprint (2014): n. pag. Intel Education. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Ost, Ben. “How Do Teachers Improve? The Relative Importance of Specific and General Human Capital.” Cornell University ILR School (2009): 1-41. Google Scholar. Web. 29 Mar.

Strahan, Daved. “Promoting a Collaborative Professional Culture in Three Elementary Schools That Have Beaten the Odds.” The Elementary School Journal 104.2 (2003): 127-46.
University of Chicago Press. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Vescio, Vicki, Dorene Ross, and Alyson Adams. “A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning [sic].” Teacher and Teaching Education 24 (2008): 80-91. Elsevier. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Wayne, Andrew J., and Peter Youngs. “Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement Gains: A Review.” Review of Educational Research 73.1 (2003): 89-122. American Educational Research Association. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.