The New York Times just published an article about education, quoting a study that found that the current crop of teachers scored higher in high school and college than those awarded teaching licenses in the mid ‘90s. This points to a heartening trend: America’s public schools are attracting more and more qualified applicants.
It helps to keep things in perspective though. Our public teachers still come from the bottom third of the nation’s graduates, in stark contrast to the top ranked education systems in the world—like Singapore and Finland—who draw on the top third. Adding to our unlucky lot is that fact that many qualified teachers leave the profession in just a few years. What needs to be done, all candidates agree, is make teaching a more attractive profession in order to net the best and brightest possible candidates.
But Bill Richardson’s is by far the most concrete and sensible plan. The governor proved in New Mexico that by raising teacher pay, more qualified teachers are hired and they stay on the job longer and produce better results with students. On a national scale, Richardson plans to institute a minimum salary of $40,000 for K-12 teachers.
This makes intrinsic sense, just from my personal experience. In high school, one math teacher stood out as the most dedicated and hard-working teachers in the department. But due to his looming grad school debt, he was forced to tutor privately to make up the difference between his salary and his bills. With all the extra work, he was frazzled some days and you could see his performance suffer. Had his salary better reflected his responsibilities, his performance could have been even greater.
Another thing newspapers have been harping on in the past couple of years is America’s lagging math and science standing. Much has been made about the decreased flow of international students coming for college and the rise of schools in China, Japan and India with stellar graduates. With Richardson’s plan for 250 new math and science institutes in the next 5 years, each staffed by 400 teachers, we could see resurgence in America’s supreme competence in the science industry. These would be public high schools that offer intense instruction in the math and sciences that would also help train math and science teachers. To top it all off, Richardson would devote billions to art and music education to counter-act the growing phenomenon of “teaching to the test”, or only instructing our students on what will help them get a better grade on standardized tests.
At my school, I’ve met people from all across the country, and I’ve noticed something about their education. Either they “escaped” public school by going to a private institution, moved to find a better public school, or “lucked out” by finding a specialized public school, or special program within their zoned school. What this adds up to is a look of disdain on the public education system. This is the worst thing our undergraduates could think; these talented people are the ones we want eventually education our children. Bill Richardson knows all this and is doing—and will do—his best to fix the problem.