Economic Snapshot | Education

Majority of teachers graduate in the top of their class

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Snapshot for May 23, 2007.

Majority of teachers graduate in the top of their class

by Joydeep Roy

It has been argued recently that student performance lags because of poor teacher quality, and specifically because teachers are drawn from the bottom half of the ability distribution. For example, the recent Tough Choices report of The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce asserts that “[W]e recruit a disproportionate share of our teachers from among the less able of the high school students who go to college…. [W]e are now recruiting more of our teachers from the bottom third of the high school students going to college than is wise.”1

But the facts don’t support this argument. For example, data for new female teachers show that well over half of them come from the upper 40% of high school graduates (see the Chart below).

Shares of new female teachers by high school test score quintile, 2000

Of all the new female teachers from the high school class of 1992, who had entered into teaching by 2000, almost a third (32%) came from the top fifth of high school test scores. An additional 26% came from the next fifth, implying that almost 60% of the new recruits had scores in the top 40%. Conversely, only about 20% of new female teachers came from the bottom 40%. Note that more than three-fourths of all teachers are women.

It is true, however, that fewer teachers are drawn from the top test-takers than was the case 40 years ago. For instance, the percentage of new hires from the top fifth declined from 38% in 1965 to 32% in 2000. However, the percentage of new hires from the bottom fifth has also gone down (4% in 2000 compared to 6% in 1965).

With teacher salaries falling behind those in comparable occupations over the last decade (see Allegretto et al. 2004) and other professions including medicine and the legal profession luring away the best female college graduates (see Corcoran et al. 2004), a competitive salary schedule for teachers should be a top priority.

Allegretto, Sylvia A., Sean P. Corcoran, and Lawrence Mishel. 2004. How Does Teacher Pay Compare? Methodological Challenges and Answers. Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute.

Corcoran, Sean P., William N. Evans, and Robert M. Schwab. 2004. Women, the labor market, and the declining relative quality of teachers. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Volume 23, Issue 3, Summer 2004, pages 449-470.

1. See Tough Choices or Tough Times, The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, December 14, 2006.

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