The highest paid anybody

How much is an effective, diligent teacher worth? According to some economists, an effective kindergarten teacher is worth $320,000! Join one education expert as he discusses the implications of this research and how the highest paid person in any school system should be a practicing teacher.

I have said for some time that I will continue to advocate for the teaching profession until the highest paid anybody in a school system is a practicing teacher. Think about the implications: For this idea to become a reality our education system would have to not only identify excellent teachers, but have a variety of venues to make them more visible to policymakers and the public as well as their fellow practitioners.

These top-paid educators would continue to teach part of the day, week, or year, but also spread their expertise in a variety of ways — perhaps as Teacherpreneurs (a concept outlined in Teaching 2030, a book I’ve penned with 12 of my teacher colleagues from the Teacher Leaders Network, with generous support from MetLife Foundation.)

While teachers and parents cheer when they hear me offer up this possibility, many of the D.C. policy pundits roll their eyes and quietly scoff at the idea. Well now a group of economists have confirmed that teachers are worth quite a bit — perhaps more than many of our top-paid urban superintendents.

Raj Chetty and colleagues found that even very young students who had more effective teachers and learned more in kindergarten were more likely to go college and earn more (and in doing so) produce more economic benefit to society. An effective kindergarten teacher, according to the economists, is worth $320,000. The researchers found that the effects of effective teachers were not found in year-to-year gains on standardized tests but in long-term adult outcomes. (They study drew upon a database of 12,000 children who were part of a well-designed scientific investigation in Tennessee in the 1980s and are now in their 30s.)

A recent New York Times article calls the findings “explosive.” I would suggest they are re-affirming our work at the Center for Teaching Quality — and should provoke a new narrative on how policymakers frame efforts to recruit and reward effective teachers.

  • We need to think and act well beyond the narrow (and narrow-minded) strategy of focusing on ridding schools of a few ineffective teachers or paying teachers for short-term gains determined on 20th century standardized tests.
  • We need to begin to blur the lines of distinction between those who lead schools and those who teach in them.
  • We need to place a premium on those who produce long-term results and spread their expertise to others.

We need to really value excellent early childhood teachers, like my Teaching 2030 colleague and co-author John Holland. I will be the first to say that John — a 12-year veteran of teaching three and four-year-olds from Richmond’s toughest neighborhoods who is also an artist and innovator and thoughtful blogger for Inside Pre-K — is worth $320,000 a year.

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