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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Where is the demand for better K-12 teachers?

The other day, when I asked where is the demand for better teachers, I was mainly thinking about college teaching. But what’s really disturbing is to consider whether one might ask the same question about K-12 teaching. Obviously, there are entire departments devoted to training K-12 teachers so I’m not talking about the demand for training versus no training, as with grad students who go on to be professors, but there is a lot of complaining out there in the world about the quality of that training. To be fair, I do research in education policy and teacher labor markets so I probably hear more of such complaining than the average person, but there is no doubt that many people perceive the K-12 teaching force to include both amazing individuals and some major duds. But given that K-12 teaching does require at least a year of very specialized training, how does anyone even get to a K-12 classroom without really knowing how to teach? One reason might be that, other than meeting the basic requirements to be accredited, there isn’t really much incentive for any particular credentialing program to produce great teachers. Given the constant demand for teachers of any quality, most programs do not need to worry too much about placing their graduates (as long as they can pass the appropriate courses and tests), and most applicants to credential programs are more concerned about location, convenience and costs than the whether the program will make them an outstanding teacher. I’m not saying that there aren’t some great programs out there; I’m just saying that there is nothing about the market for teachers that gives less-than-amazing programs any incentive to improve. And as every Econ 101 student learns, when markets do not work, there is often a role for government to improve outcomes…

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