Nicholas Kristof isn't breaking new ground here, but it's worth repeating as the Tea Party and the school reform crowd promote the story line that teachers are overpaid, underworked and in need of mass firings.
The facts are that equal employment opportunity for women (or something more nearly approaching it) has decimated what used to be a built-in advantage for school kids — mass numbers of smart women with fewer job opportunities outside the classroom.
These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores). The figure is from a study by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Talent Gap.”
Changes in relative pay have reinforced the problem. In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher, the McKinsey study found.
It's very simple. We need to pay teachers more to attract more and better candidates into the profession. Isolated merit pay bonuses won't change that if the overall compensation remains mediocre. Ruthless firing of teachers will only create still more openings in tough jobs with unexciting pay. You can imagine how many brainiacs are lusting to build a career in impoverished communities with a starting pay of $28,000 or so and classrooms full of kids from struggling homes.
Pay teachers more. Value them more. That's a start.