There’s an interesting article in a recent Economist about some McKinsey research on improving school performance. I couldn’t find the original McKinsey research (presumably they charge governments a lot of money for it), but even the bits summarised in the Economist are different from most of what you will read about improving education. The McKinsey research was based on analysing the top country performances (using this OECD research, which shows Australia as one of the better countries, for what its worth), and what seemed to work for them. Of course, there are bound to be cultural effects lurking in there that complicate things, but it seems worth exploring further, at the very least. A few points to note:
- the most important thing is to attract the best teachers. Research shows that the difference between good and bad teachers is one of the most statistically significant variables in education performance.
- attracting the best teachers is not necessarily about paying more (at least based on looking at the countries that are successful at doing it). Its at least as much about making teaching attractive in other ways through things such as making teaching hard to get into at university, creating great working conditions, particularly in terms of good training, and support on the job, and working hard for low turnover.
- keep teaching the teachers throughout their working life, particularly by allowing them to share their knowledge with each other (which makes them all more efficient, through such things as sharing lesson plans etc)
- intervene early and often when teachers or pupils seem to be failing
I imagine that there are enough variables that you can prove a fair few things if you torture the available data enough. Nevertheless, there are ways to create status, and job satisfaction without pay. Most research suggests that pay is rarely the top reason that people change jobs. It’s certainly a factor, but on its own, it isn’t going to change people’s behaviour.
There is a lot of talk these days about how important performance pay for teachers is – to give rewards to the best teachers. I think it is important that there is a track for good teachers to be well paid. But there are other ways of creating high status professions. Most actors don’t go into acting because Nicole Kidman is a millionaire. They go into it because they want to be actors. Easy to say, hard to do, but instead of blaming teachers for every failing in today’s youth, perhaps we as a society need to think about how to make them our heroes.
Certainly the experience of watching my son’s kindergarten teacher take 20 5 year olds from a variety of backgrounds (non english speaking, preschool or non preschool) and mold them into an organised, functional unit within a couple of weeks gave me a deep and abiding respect for the work that teachers do.