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Pearls before Swine

By October 29, 2013December 30th, 2021No Comments
The current government lockdown has caused all Americans to again reflect on the value that government services play in our lives. Those in public education chose their careers knowing that it is often a thankless job, but are content with the intrinsic satisfaction that their work is their passion – in the hopes that what they do improves the lives of children and youth and that the tradition of free access to knowledge and skills will be available for generations to come. As much as parents and businesses in our country value the services provided by public schools, it is clear they do not place as much value on the profession of teaching. Some teachers enter the teaching profession by chance, not by choice. Those that choose to remain do so knowing that other professions pay significantly more and that the social status of being a teacher is not as respected as other careers for which they may be equally qualified. It is often speculated that the best and brightest in our nation do not go into teaching in order to pursue careers in high status occupations which also command more compensation implying “those that can’t do – teach”. The best and the brightest of teachers are often tapped to be school administrators, positions accepted because it elevates status and compensation.

In her October 4, 2013 blog Study: Where Are Teachers Most Respected? for Education Week, Liana Heitin calls our attention to a new survey by the nonprofit Varkey GEMS Foundation, based in the United Arab Emirates, regarding the status of teachers across 21 countries. The survey asked 1,000 people questions about how teachers are respected compared to other professions, whether parents would encourage their children to become teachers, and how much (and how) teachers should be paid. From this information, the Foundation created a Global Teacher Status Index with rankings of countries based on public respect and value of teachers. China is reported as having the highest social status for teachers of those countries measured. The United States ranks 9th out of 21 countries.

Well into my career in public education and as a supervisor of instruction, I participated in several international opportunities to visit public schools. My first travel was to Japan. A memorable experience reminds me of the difference in the status of teachers around the world. Upon entering a small shop in order to purchase a pearl necklace as a souvenir from the trip, there was the immediate communication problem with the clerk. She spoke little English; my Japanese was weak. The broken conversation led to her curiosity as to what had brought me to her country. I was pressed to explain my current position, but responded “I am a teacher of teachers.” With that the clerk scurried behind a curtain and summoned the owner of the shop to meet me. After a flurry of excited Japanese, I was greeted with several bows, verbal appreciation, and a generous discount on my purchase.

Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez in their 2011 cross country analysis of teacher pay: If You Pay Peanuts do You Get Monkeys? Asked the question, “Why are teachers paid up to four times as much in some countries compared to others and does it matter?” The focus of the study asks “Is the quality of teachers likely to be higher if they are paid higher up the income distribution in their own country, and are pupil outcomes influenced by how well their teachers are paid?” The authors propose:

If the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’ then teacher quality and its relationship to pupil performance is at the very heart of the debate about educational policy. In this sense each country will get the teachers is deserves by choosing to pay teachers at a given point in the income distribution of the country they will get the requisite quality of teachers. Our standpoint is that the role of teacher quality in the determination of pupil outcomes can be deduced by using relative pay and comparing teachers’ remuneration across countries. The results confirm the importance of market supply forces in the determination of teacher pay and suggest that relative (and absolute levels) of teacher salaries exert a powerful influence on pupil performance.

Heitin shares in her blog comments written by Sunny Varkey, the founder of the Varkey GEMS Foundation in the introduction to the survey report “In many countries teachers no longer retain the elevated status that they used to enjoy…Over time, this declining respect for teachers will weaken teaching, weaken learning, damage the learning opportunities for millions and ultimately weaken societies around the world.”

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