Yesterday, I suggested that a government program subsidizing early-childhood education degrees for childcare providers — “giving them a chance to teach in a public school and earn more money” — was an example of backwards government thinking that ignores market forces. As if to follow up on that suggestion, Linda Borg has an article, in today’s Providence Journal, that proves and reinforces my point:
Locally, superintendents say they are flooded with applications for elementary education openings but struggle to fill vacancies in secondary math and science, especially in physics. Many school districts have now expanded their search to include international candidates. …
In Rhode Island and elsewhere, the teaching profession can’t compete with the salaries offered to math and science majors in the private sector.
Borg goes on to lay blame on increasing attempts to make public school teachers accountable for their work and the minor reductions in pension benefits, leading teachers to “postpone retirement.” There may be some truth to the first point, although education needs some system of accountability, and absent real school choice that would create accountability through competition, the public is right to insist on objective metrics. As for pension reforms, I’m not persuaded; indeed, the two points strike me as contradictory: If teaching is a less attractive profession, then teachers should be more inclined to retire earlier.
The real problem, here, is obvious. The old-fashioned factory pay scale prevents public schools from dealing with market realities. School districts are paying way above what elementary school teachers would demand if everybody were free to work for as much as they needed to earn, and they’re prevented from paying enough to attract teachers in subjects that require expertise in areas that are, themselves, more in demand. (That’s a good indication, by the way, that those areas are particularly important to teach well.)
Some districts have agreements with their unions that allow bonuses and such for difficult-to-fill positions, but clearly, that’s insufficient, and in any event, they run up against budget constraints, because they can’t reduce other pay commensurately.
Like many other intractable problems in public policy, this should be easy to fix. Back off the government and union restrictions, and implement school choice policies. With freedom, competition, and more-flexible forms of accountability, everybody will find their level, and teachers, students, and taxpayers will all benefit.
Unfortunately, labor unions and politicians have built a giant dam that prevents the reasonable flow of money, talent, and customers. Yeah, they get to siphon off money and power, but everybody else suffers.