Education Next's One-Two Punch for Effective Teaching, Productive Spending

The good experts at Education Next have come forward with a potent one-two punch on teacher quality with a relevant message for Colorado policy makers, particularly in a time when tightened budgets weigh heavy on some minds. Are they listening? ….

Part of the short-term solution to the K-12 budget situation is cutting unproductive spending in the form of rewards for teacher master degrees. Dr. Paul Peterson writes in Education Next, explaining how he and fellow researcher Matt Chingos have added one more proof to the gigantic pile of evidence that shows the ineffectiveness of “master’s bumps.” It’s past time to confront this reality that costs Colorado somewhere around $140 million per year.

The second half of the one-two combination is a piece by Dr. Eric Hanushek, in which he quantifies the economic benefit of providing students with more effective teachers:

The numbers are astounding. A teacher at the 85th percentile can, in comparison to an average teacher, raise the present value of each student’s lifetime earnings by over $20,000–implying that such a teacher with a class of 20 students generates over $400,000 in economic benefits, compared to an average teacher, for each year that she gets such achievement gains.

Gains go up and down with how good the teacher is and with how many students she has. And the gains are symmetrical in comparison to the average teacher – a teacher at the 15th percentile subtracts $400,000 in value from her class of 20 students.

Even if Hanushek overstates the effect by a factor of two, the economic impact is still incredibly significant. Talk about a way not only to generate more jobs and economic activity but also to have more funds available to finance K-12 education in future decades and generations. Want to venture a bet that there aren’t many policy makers right now operating with this sort of long-term perspective?

The challenge naturally is using reliable measures to identify teacher effectiveness. While measures will never be perfect, we are certainly a long ways ahead of the Dark Ages before I was born. And Colorado’s Senate Bill 191 — complete with a Democrats for Education Reform playbook for adopting the same type of reform in your state — offers the promise of a system that recognizes and rewards both teachers and principals accordingly.

I can see a bright future, but I’m not taking anything for granted.