As we talked about last week, we’re going to be working on an on-going series about education in America. It’s sure to be one of the hot-button topics this election, and there will be a lot of column inches devoted to our education policy. Because this is America, and we love our soundbites and scapegoats, we’re not likely to hear about things like curriculum design, supportive administrations and the effects of poverty on a society. No, we’re going to hear that teachers suck.
So, to battle the tidal wave of teacher hatred that’s headed our way, we’re going to use Mondays to debunk some myths and Wednesdays to explain various education topics and controversies. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Today’s Myth: Teachers come from the bottom third of college graduates.
Offenders: Time Magazine How To Recruit Better Teachers
More than 85% of U.S. teachers have an education degree. But many ed schools are fusty, politicized institutions that seem designed to turn out reliable teachers’-union members rather than reliable educators. And their lecture halls aren’t exactly brimming with overachievers. According to a forthcoming McKinsey & Co. study, just 23% of new teachers in the U.S. come from the top third of their college classes; 47% come from the bottom third. In other words, we hire lots of our lowest performers to teach, and then we scream when our kids don’t excel.
Whitney Tilson on Huffpo, Rebutting 7 Myths About Teach for America
Whether attrition is a problem or not depends on who is leaving the profession. Sadly, the teaching profession is increasingly drawing new teachers from the bottom third of college graduates so it’s hardly surprising that many of these teachers prove to be ineffective in the classroom. If the 50 percent attrition comes from these ranks, then this is something to be celebrated.
Most of this criticism cites a report on the World’s School Systems by McKinsey and Company. This report talks about the highest-performing school systems worldwide, including in Finland, Singapore and Japan. As part of the report, it talks about how teachers are trained, supported, compensated and viewed by society. In every single area, the U.S. falls short. U.S. reporters are focusing only on one detail, however. The U.S. does not attract teachers from the top 10-25% of their college classes, as these other countries do. The McKinsey report goes on to explore how far Singapore, Japan and Finland go to ensure their teaching forces are both highly qualified and highly supported. In the U.S., apparently our college graduates are supposed to be so altruistic and noble, they’ll give up a job making enough money to be set for life to work in a profession half the country thinks is made up of idiots. In fact, one of our most widely read print outlets, Time Magazine, asked in a poll “Why don’t smart people go into teaching?”
This assumption is apparently based on a data point that says college graduates whose SAT/ACT scores were in the lowest quadrile were more likely to chose education as a career path than those in the highest quadrile. While this fact is disturbing, it does not lead one to, “We hire lots of our lowest performers to teach.” (Sources: Do Teachers REALLY Come From The Bottom Third Of Colleges? Or Is That Statistic A Bunch Of Baloney? by Larry Ferlazzo, which led to Tough Choices Or Tough Times, a report issued by The New Commission On The Skills Of The American Workforce in 2007; which led to Report From The Department Of Education, National Center For Education Statistics, The Condition Of Education 2002.)
In the US, only 24.4% of our population has a Bachelor’s degree, which is the minimum requirement to teach. Only 5.9% have a Master’s degree, which is held by 16% of teachers with <3 years experience and 62% of teachers with >20 years experience.
So, with the magic of math, we can see that having a college degree already makes an American better educated than 75% of the population. Even if teachers were consistently in the bottom of this group, which even Tilson acknowledges isn’t true, how can we call anyone with more education than 3/4 of the rest of the country among our “lowest performers”?
Here, I made us a pie chart:
In the comments of the two articles I quoted under “offenders” several people took this data even one step further in the game of telephone happening around education to say that our teacher pool came from the lowest performing third of high school graduates. Which I then saw repeated in more than one article criticizing teachers.
Like many of your best teachers probably told you through the years, it’s important to look at everything we see and hear with our critical thinking skills fully engaged.
Your homework: I’d like each of you to find an instance online where this statistic about teacher quality has been distorted.