Merit pay is the solution to teacher shortages
Although reports of a nationwide “exodus” of teachers are exaggerated, severe shortages have persisted for years in some areas, particularly in low-income and rural districts. District leaders also reported increased difficulty in filling vacancies for full-time math, science and secondary school teachers. For the most part, money isn’t the issue: Over the past two years, districts have dipped into federal relief money to ramp up the hiring of substitutes and distance instructors who could replace teachers with Covid, but they were slow to spend the funds. As the pandemic subsides, these resources could be used to hire teachers in areas of high need.
The big challenge is to find them. As enrollment in teacher education programs is down sharply, states are increasing incentives to attract new graduates and keep experienced teachers in the workforce. They are also experimenting with other ways to expand the labor pool. Pennsylvania lifted restrictions to allow teachers with a license in other states, while Arizona allows applicants with subject matter expertise to work without a teaching degree. In Georgia, retired teachers can return to the classroom and keep their retirement benefits. About a dozen states have made it easier to obtain a teaching license, with Arizona and Florida waiving longstanding requirements that teachers obtain a bachelor’s degree before being hired for full-time positions; in Florida, military veterans without a degree can earn five-year teaching certificates if they pass an exam in the subject for which they are hired.
Policies like these have angered unions, who say they convey a lack of respect for teachers and undermine professional standards. And it’s certainly fair to be concerned about hiring unqualified candidates. Yet in teaching, as in other professions, simply having a degree is no guarantee of competence – and there is little evidence that teachers with formal educational credentials produce better results for students than non-students.
Rather than dwelling on degrees or other credentials, districts should try to focus more on abilities — in part by revamping how teachers are evaluated and paid. Linking teacher pay to performance would help raise academic standards, encourage new teachers to continue their professional development and attract more skilled workers to the profession. Districts in at least 30 states are offering teachers performance-based bonuses, which have resulted in average gains in student learning equivalent to three additional weeks of school.
Programs that offer incentives based in part on students’ standardized test scores have also been shown to improve retention rates for black and Latino teachers and those working in low-income schools. Despite what the unions say, competent educators should have nothing to fear from such reforms. On the contrary, seasoned teachers should benefit from the focus on attracting new talent, which should boost salaries across the board.
After two years of disrupted and inadequate learning, trust in America’s public school system is near an all-time low. Expanding programs to recruit new teachers to places where they are needed most — and paying them what they are worth — are necessary steps to give all students the education they deserve.
More other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:
• Banning books is a bad idea: Stephen L. Carter
• Online education will not die: Andrea Gabor
• A Wake-up Call for Public Education: Michael R. Bloomberg
The editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion