Lifting Teacher Performance

Michael Connolly

Andrew Leigh and Sara Mead
Progressive Policy Institute
April 2005

This policy report from PPI is a succinct and astute review of the importance of teacher quality and the solutions to improve it. We are reminded that teacher quality is one of the most important factors in a child's education, the more so for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But it's not up to par. The report cites weak preparation, few growth opportunities for effective teachers, and a system that demands higher numbers of lower-skilled teachers when it should be insisting on the opposite (see "Teacher can't teach"). The standard notions for improving teacher quality are also flawed. An across-the-board pay increase would do nothing but provide all teachers (good and bad) with a few more dollars, and the current teacher certification process is credential- rather than results-based. (It appears that schools would be better off selecting teachers with high test scores and no teacher training rather than individuals with lesser skills, yet full teacher certification. Maybe that's why private schools follow this practice.) Cutting class size is flawed policy at best and disastrous at worst, since it "risks unintentionally lowering teacher quality even further, as affluent districts make up their numbers by poaching the most capable teachers from poorer areas." The authors instead offer three sweeping recommendations: institute well-designed performance-based teacher pay, offer incentives for teachers who work in struggling schools, and streamline the certification requirements to increase the pool of possible teachers. You can find the report here.