Solving the Teacher Crisis: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

School choice can transform the teaching profession, study finds

September 25, 2006

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WASHINGTON – Public schools shun the best and brightest teachers, claims a study released today by the Cato Institute. Indeed, the study finds that the best teachers fare worse than their mediocre colleagues due to biases in hiring and compensation practices.

In the study “Giving Kids the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need,” Marie Gryphon, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, reveals serious flaws in the teacher training, selection, and retention practices of monopolistic state school systems, and argues that market-driven personnel policies produce a far superior alternative to the status quo.

In public schools, “teachers are chosen and compensated on the basis of criteria set by teachers’ unions and other entrenched interests,” Gryphon explains. “Because those criteria do not focus on the qualities that define good teachers, they often favor less-qualified applicants over applicants whose skills could dramatically improve educational outcomes for their students.”

While many policymakers advocate across-the-board salary increases, Gryphon finds that such pay raises do not, in fact, improve teacher quality. In actuality, “untargeted, across-the-board teacher salary hikes may lower the overall quality of the teaching workforce, because they may attract more low-quality applicants,” she states. “Only new hiring policies that effectively separate the wheat from the chaff can transform the teaching profession.”

Give parents school choice, and give schools the autonomy and incentives they need to hire the best teachers, Gryphon recommends. School choice will foster competition among schools, and in turn, “public school administrators seek out higher-performing applicants and work harder to retain them.” This effect, Gryphon finds, is “especially pronounced in low-income districts and can meaningfully improve educational outcomes for poor students.”

Policy Analysis #579