Consider the teacher paradox. Education is critical to the survival and advancement of our society, yet we chronically under-value teachers in both pay and respect. That said, a new study would seem to indicate that teacher salaries and work hours aren’t the most important factor in determining student achievement, at least when comparing countries.
High school students in the U.S. score low-average in reading, math and science despite having the third-highest paid teachers in the world (roughly $60,000), who work about 45 per week. Compare that to Korea and Japan, which score near the top of the chart. While their teachers make roughly the same amount (about $50,000) Japanese teachers work 54 hours a week compared to just 37 for the Korean educators.
The Netherlands pays its teachers five times the going rate in Estonia, but the Estonian kids outperform their Dutch peers academically.
The lesson here is that academic achievement is the result of many factors, including a culture that prioritizes and celebrates education, as do Japan and Korea. In such cultures, children are taught the importance of learning from an early age. Because teachers are honored as givers of learning and wisdom, some of the country’s best minds go into education. I wish we did a better job of foster those attitudes here in the U.S.
I also wish our educational establishment would reconsider the current obsession with standardized testing. While increased testing came from a good place — including a desire to give parents the tools to know how their child’s school is performing — it has become all-consuming. Schools now spend an inordinate amount of time essentially preparing kids for the questions that will appear on the various standardized tests. This “teaching to the test” forces teachers to keep imparting facts and reduces the opportunities to teach children how to think and be creative.
The best educators are frustrated by this situation. A teacher I know recently told me she was relieved when her daughter decided not to follow her into education. The mediocre pay and demands of testing have sucked much of the joy out of the work, she said. This woman, by the way, teaches gifted kids, and is still demoralized about her profession!
I would be nice to see this issue take center stage in the Presidential election. Republicans do a great job of explaining how government regulation hurts businesses, both large and small. They should talk more – a lot more — about how government rules and regulation are hurting our schools, our students and, ultimately, our future.