September 28, 2006 3:23PM

Why Is a Good Teacher Like a Needle in a Haystack?

If you have children, they’re likely settling into their school‐​year routine at this point. But how much are they actually learning? The answer to that question depends heavily on your child’s teacher.

With so much riding on teacher selection, surely school administrators go out of their way to hire the best, right? Not so, I discovered! My new policy analysis, Giving Kids the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need, reports that administrators seem to hire mediocre candidates even when standouts are waiting in the wings.

While many of the qualities of good teachers are difficult or impossible to measure – charisma and dedication comes to mind – studies reliably show that a teacher’s own academic aptitude and a strong math or science background can make a difference in his effectiveness. Nonetheless, aspiring teachers with top test scores are actually slightly less likely to be hired than their average counterparts. More surprising still, education majors are inexplicably hired more frequently than math and science majors despite a recognized shortage of highly‐​skilled teachers in those fields.

School choice reforms could put an end to the madness by creating incentives for principles to hire teachers who will satisfy parents. Finally: a way to separate wheat from chaff in the teaching profession.