Report: ‘Top-third’ teachers essential to U.S. success

U.S. views

Researchers talked with teachers and “top third” college students to understand what it would take to attract them to the teaching profession and retain them in the field, as well as what system changes would have to accompany that shift.

McKinsey research of 900 top-third college students and 525 current teachers revealed that most students view teaching as “unattractive in terms of the quality of the people in the field, professional growth, and compensation.”

Of the top-third students who are not planning to enter teaching, most said prestige and compensation are two deterrents.

“Our research suggests that improving compensation and other features of teaching careers could dramatically increase the portion of top-third new hires in high-need schools and school districts, and retain these teachers in much greater numbers with complementary changes, such as better school leaders and working conditions,” the report says.

A separate study, commissioned by Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and released earlier this year, suggests that while higher salaries are important, teachers view money as less important than a supportive leader. Fewer than half of teachers (45 percent) in that earlier study said higher salaries are absolutely essential for retaining good teachers. More teachers said it’s essential to have supportive leadership (68 percent), time to collaborate (54 percent), and high-quality curriculum (49 percent).

The McKinsey report reveals that many education efforts focus on improving the quality of existing classroom teachers, while little attention is paid to attracting college graduates with strong academic performance to the teaching field.

The authors note that U.S. research on whether teachers’ academic backgrounds can predict classroom effectiveness is very mixed, and “merely sprinkling teachers with top-third academic credentials into our existing system will not by itself produce dramatic gains in student achievement.”

“Mentoring and induction programs, and support programs, and not consistent across public education,” Malfaro said.

Some say skilled teachers swim and unskilled teachers sink, and leave the profession, but other successful industries train employees to be successful, he said, adding that U.S. teachers are not consistently supported in how to become successful educators.

“Too often in American public schools, we expect half of our people to leave after five years, and we design systems to ameliorate loss,” he said.

Putting theory into practice

To explore what it would mean to put such global top-third policies into practice in a U.S. context, the nation first would have to identify ways to attract top-third talent to teaching, and then would have to pursue top-third initiatives in cost-effective ways.

The research suggests an immediate need for a shift in teacher recruitment and support in order to attract and retain top graduates to the teaching field.

Education stakeholders would have to examine various areas, “including student-teacher ratios, the basis and structure of teacher compensation over time, and per-pupil school funding formulas and levels” as consideration for a top-third framework begins.

For instance, if the nation accepted higher student-teacher ratios and raised salaries of only the teachers deemed effective by comprehensive evaluations, the cost might be tempered.

Laura Ascione

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