The U.S.S. Teacher Recruitment is Sinking Fast

March 29, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So college students have lost interest in Education Majors:

ed majors (1)

Several states face very large increases in their youth populations projected by the Census Bureau:


Some states are already experiencing growing teacher shortages, and some traditionally minded folks dream of spending our way out of this,  but absent some awesome spurt of sustained economic growth this seems implausible given things like this that come with an aging population:

Medicaid vs K-12

So student populations project to grow even while the traditional pipeline for teachers shows increasing spare capacity and Baby Boomer teachers retire and states face increasing fiscal strains. Did I miss anything? No? Good- that’s already gratuitous.

So rather than worry about this, perhaps it is best to view it as an opportunity. It’s not like the old-fashioned way of training teachers had much good to say for itself after all:

super chart

College students losing interest in ed majors hints at a broader need to re-imagine the teaching profession more broadly. The status quo is sinking, but a future of a smaller number of higher paid teachers leveraging technology to teach a greater number of students to higher average levels may be possible.

Keeping things the way they are now is neither desirable or possible.

WSJ Op-Ed — We Don’t Need More Teachers

October 9, 2012


I have a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how the solution to our education problems can’t be found by hiring more teachers.  We need quality over quantity, for which we will have to pay the teachers we do have more.  And more importantly, we need to substitute technology for labor in education like we have in almost every other industry to improve productivity.  But in public education we have been doing the reverse, hiring more, lower quality teachers and failing to develop and implement cost-effective technology.

I know all of this is well-worn territory, but given that both presidential candidates endorsed the idea of hiring more teachers the editors at the WSJ thought it was important to emphasize the point.

Have I Lost My Counter Culture Street Cred?

March 2, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Teacher Beat Blog over at Ed Week has written on the Bill Gates endorsement of the Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers concept. Teacher Beat notes that the Goldwater Institute published a study promoting this concept a couple of years ago, noting:

But the endorsement by Gates, reinforced by his NGA presentation, will presumably push the class-size proposal into mainstream thought, given the level of support shown him by his primary audience.

Wait, I thought I was mainstream. Does this make me a crossover?

Or someone who sold out?

Maudlin existential crisis alert!

I need to let Mr. Gates know about Carpe Diem. I still think this idea has merit, but practioners have already advanced beyond this concept.

The Way of the Future: Carpe Diem

May 27, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last week I visited the Carpe Diem charter school in Yuma Arizona. Yuma is off the beaten path, in far western Arizona near the borders of California and Mexico.
Carpe Diem is a 6-12 school with 240 students. A value added analysis of test scores found that they have the biggest gains in the state of Arizona. Their math results are really off the chart, with some grades averaging at the 98th percentile on Terra Nova.
Carpe Diem is a hybrid model school, rotating kids between self-paced instruction on the computer and classroom instruction. Their building is laid out with one large computer lab, with classroom space in the back. They had 240 students working on computers when I walked in, and you could have heard a pin drop.
Carpe Diem has successfully substituted technology for labor. With seven grade levels and 240 students they have only 1 math teacher and one aide who focuses on math. Covering 6-12 and 240 students and getting the best results with a demographically challenging student body = no problem for Carpe Diem. Their founder, Rick Ogston, told me they use less staff than a typical model, and have cash reserves in the bank despite relatively low per pupil funding in AZ. They have never received support from philanthropic foundations, making due with state funding, but their model seems like it could be brought to scale with the right investment. 
They have a classic innovation story in that they tried this radically different approach because they lost their space they were renting some years ago, and the only one available did not lend itself to a traditional approach. The only space they could find was at a University of Phoenix campus. The available space did not lend itself to the traditional 22 kids in multiple classroom model, so they innovated.

Mr. Ogston and his team have created a much more sophisticated version of the Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers model I have written about over the last two years. One math teacher, seven grade levels, 240 students, best value added gains in the state, 90th plus percentile ranking, diverse student body. Check, check, check, check and check!

When I first bounced the idea of the Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers model off of Gisele Huff some years ago, she told me in her delightful French accent “Matthew, you must incorporate TECHNOLOGY into this model. Then the teachers would be SOCRATES!” I knew she was right, and Rick Ogston has proved it.

You are the value-added champion of the year dude!

I want to congratulate the Carpe Diem team for creating a truly innovative school, and encourage others to make the trek from San Diego or Phoenix to see the school for themselves.

…but hold the class size amendment.

May 17, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Paul Peterson details research showing that the class size amendment was ineffectual in improving student achievement in Florida . These findings are entirely consistent with the substantial empirical literature on class size reduction as an education reform strategy.

The Return of the Bogus “Excellence” Complaint

August 20, 2009

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Fordham’s Fun Fact Friday feature, now in its sixth week, is a weekly one-minute video production that takes some fact about the education system and presents it using an interesting or unusual visual. The creators have been pretty consistently clever in coming up with ways to make obscure facts visually intuitive.

Unfortunately, the facts chosen to be presented are not always so cleverly chosen. When Fordham picks an important fact to visualize, such as the gap between spending and achievement growth or international comparisons of student-teacher ratios, the results are, well, superawesome. But when it chooses, say, a comparison of the US education budget with the GDP of some smaller countries, the visual presentation is still clever, but the result is kind of pointless. Is anyone really impressed by the point that a huge country like the US spends more on education than the GDP of, say, Indonesia? What does that prove? Some kind of argument or point was needed.

Last week they missed again. They decided to resurrect Fordham’s complaint from last year (dissected here and here) claiming that accountability systems make our schools more “equal” but less “excellent” because they create incentives for schools to increase the amount of attention they pay to low achievers, reducing the amount of attention they pay to high achievers. Never mind the fact that – according to Fordham in the very same report – the low achievers are benefiting from this diversion and the high achievers don’t seem to be losing any ground.

That would seem to me to be pretty clear evidence that schools were devoting too much attention to high achievers – perhaps because their parents are more likely to be influential – and that the incentives created by accountability were educationally healthy because they forced schools to focus their attention where they could create more improvement.

It’s obviously possible that in the long run accountability could push this too far and become counterproductive by focusing too much attention on low achievers at the expense of high achievers. That’s an argument for improving the design of accountability systems to preclude that result. But so far, on Fordham’s own evidence, we don’t seem to be having that problem.

Bailouts are Bad — For Teachers as Well as Bankers

July 31, 2009

The Wall Street Journal has a front-page piece today on bonuses paid to employees at banks that had received federal bailout money:

Nine banks that received government aid money paid out bonuses of nearly $33 billion last year — including more than $1 million apiece to nearly 5,000 employees — despite huge losses that plunged the U.S. into economic turmoil…. The $32.6 billion in bonuses is one-third larger than California’s budget deficit. Six of the nine banks paid out more in bonuses than they received in profit. One in every 270 employees at the banks received more than $1 million.

Now, I’ve got nothing against banks (or any other organization) paying large bonuses to their employees — if they do it with their own damn money!  Whatever compensation and hiring system they adopt should yield improved results.  If it doesn’t, the shareholders should experience the consequence of having a foolish compensation and hiring system.  But it makes absolutely no sense to insulate shareholders from the consequences of a foolish compensation and hiring system by giving them federal funds to perpetuate their mistakes.

If this is true for banks, then it must also be true of schools.  Local school districts and states around the country have been on a teacher hiring binge over the last few decades, particularly picking up steam in the last decade.  This is a compensation and hiring scheme just like the banks have.  But instead of paying a small number of executives a huge amount of money, schools are paying a huge number of teachers a moderate amount of money. 

At some schools, as at some banks, their compensation and hiring policies have become unsustainable.  They hired more teachers than they can currently afford to pay.  Rather than making those local districts and states correct their mistakes, either by laying off teachers or raising local funds if they are truly convinced that additional teachers are educationally beneficial, we are making taxpayers nationwide enable and perpetuate those mistakes.  Similarly, providing federal money to banks enabled them to perpetuate mistakes rather than reduce compensation, lay off people, or raise additional capital from shareholders. 

We have no reason to believe that the world would have come to an end if some of those financial institutions had their shareholders wiped-out and were forced to reorganize under bankruptcy.  Similarly, we have no reason to believe that reversing some class-size reductions would have a significant negative effect on student achievement.  Class-size reductions have produced no gains in aggregate achievement and have only shown (questionable) gains in small-scale experiments where hiring additional teachers wouldn’t require hiring lower quality teachers to offset whatever benefits are derived from having fewer students per class.

If people want to be consistent, they should oppose both uses of bailout funds, for teachers as well as for bankers.

Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers Part Deux

April 29, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last year I was reading the comments section of a newstory online, and came across a comment from a public elementary school teacher. She was complaining that she had 34 students in her classroom.

So let’s do the math. The statewide average spending per pupil in the state: $11,000. Total revenue generated by this classroom = $374,000. Let’s assume the teacher gets a total compensation package of $60,000 including benefits. The question becomes- what did they do with the other $314,000?

Ah, that was what the teacher was really angry about. Her elementary school had 8 teachers in “non-classroom assignments.”

I don’t have a problem with 30 some odd kids in a classroom. It’s been done, and is being done. Remember?


Many insist that the period depicted by this photo constituted the “good ole days” of education. Jay and Greg have felt compelled to dispel the myth of the lost golden age of public education, back in the good ole days, when public schools were far more effective than they are today. The truth, of course, is that NAEP scores for 17 year olds are flat as far back as you can take them.

What has not been flat- public school spending- adjusted for inflation per pupil has steadily increased even while test scores have stagnated, even while Americans have become wealthier and poverty has declined.

Of course, there is no single explanation for this trend, but certainly the national obsession with lowering average class sizes must be viewed to have been an enormously expensive academic failure. Consider the international evidence:




Really big classes in Asia, really small in the United States. However, when it comes to achievement:


The average South Korean seventh-grader scores 21 percent higher than the average American on seventh-grade mathematics, despite having much larger average class sizes. While a variety of factors contribute to the relative deficiency of American public schools, many scholars are beginning to suspect the main factor is the relatively inferior average quality of American teachers.

In How the World’s Best Performing Schools Come Out on Top, the international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company point squarely at teacher quality as a key variable in explaining variation in international academic achievement. In its findings, McKinsey quoted a South Korean policymaker who noted, “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”


McKinsey found that the top-performing school systems around the world recruit their teachers from the top third of each graduating cohort. Moreover, South Korean schools draw from the top 5 percent of college graduates. Larger class sizes create the resources to pay South Korean instructors much higher salaries.


The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development measures relative teacher pay by comparing the average salaries of teachers with 15 years of experience with a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. A high salary compared with per capita GDP suggests that a country invests more of its financial resources in teachers and suggests a relative prestige of the profession. By definition, the average person in each of these countries will earn a ratio of 1. Figure 3 compares teacher-salary-to-per-capita GDP for the United States and South Korea.


An experienced South Korean schoolteacher makes a relatively impressive wage compared with teachers in the rest of the world. In South Korea, teaching is an honored profession—not just rhetorically but in compensation as well. In the United States, meanwhile, a teacher with a college degree and 15 years of experience makes a salary relatively close to the average GDP per person. Not surprisingly, there are many qualified applicants for each open teaching position in South Korea.


McKinsey quotes the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce to contrast the United States with those countries having more successful education systems: “We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high-school students going to college…. [I]t is simply not possible for students to graduate [with the skills they will need] unless their teachers have the knowledge and skills we want our children to have.”

Jay Mathews: Better Teachers, Not Tinier Classes, Should Be Goal

March 2, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Today may be the greatest day ever for education editorials and columns by the Washington Post, and yes there is plenty of competition, Mr. Snarky comments section guy. In addition to the editorial below, Jay Mathews weighs in on the tension between class size and teacher quality.

Mathews is not all the way to Indiana Jones and the Teacher Quality Crusade yet, but I think the evidence will lead in that direction.

Where do you even start?

February 26, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Hat tip to Mike Antonucci for this gem in his never ending collection of dumb quotes. “The nice thing about reducing class size is that it makes teachers happy in their own right and it’s the one thing that we know how to do.” – Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, education policy professor at the University of Chicago. (February 22 New York Times)

This quote is revealing on many levels about what is wrong with Colleges of Education, and with public education more broadly. But maybe that’s just me and my silly idea that we ought to be focused on the learning of students rather than the preferences of adults working in the system.

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