Byron Auguste, Paul Kihn, and Matt Miller, Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching, (McKinsey and Co., September 2010).

This thoughtful McKinsey report examines the advantages and feasibility of boosting the quality of the American teacher workforce by attracting more of it from the top third of the college class. Today, the authors estimate, we draw 23 percent of new teachers from this upper-tier—and in high-poverty schools, just 14 percent. After the requisite extolling of the benefits of having smarter and better educated teachers (especially for needy kids) and reminding us that high-achieving countries do far better than the U.S. at making the teaching occupation appealing to high-ability people, the authors break into the meat of their report. Here, they offer a number of strategies for upping the reputation of U.S. teachers. Some are costly (e.g., boosting salaries overall); others are less expensive in dollar terms but challenging in other ways. (For example, they suggest making high-need schools safer and better led, giving performance bonuses to top-achieving instructors, and focusing on “turnaround” and/or STEM schools.) Cautiously, the paper points to possible offsetting savings, such as targeting a larger share of the school dollar on instruction; they estimate that we could redirect $50 billion by simply lowering our high “non-educator expenditures”(e.g. admin, transport, and ancillary services) to the OECD average. They are even so bold as to suggest larger classes and more extensive use of instructional technology, which would of course mean fewer—but better paid and presumably abler—teachers. This is the kind of fresh thinking that American education sorely needs. If we were more willing to engage in it and then act on the basis of it, perhaps we’d spend less time and energy waiting for Superman.

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