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Those are both great ideas. It could be extended to dedicated science education as well, I reckon.

I'm from a family that is soon to see its fifth generation teacher (a niece). So this hits home with me.

One point I'd make is that while the data may show some slippage in test scores on entry, the amount of education and training needed to teach has risen substantially, which might offset that. My mother, who taught elementary school in the late forties/fifties had to take a year of university level education to qualify. My niece of course has taken the whole BEd thing and further specialized training. My fathers mother, who taught grade school in England before the War (the first one) probably never saw the inside of a university, nor did my mother's grandmother who taught grade school in Perth around the turn of the century. My grandmother was an outlier, getting a full university degree in classics around 1920 and teaching high school - these days she'd have probably gone on to grad school and maybe taught university.

If the quality of education has indeed declined (and I think you could argue that a variety of ways - I think there's been a fall off in some respects like writing, but maybe improvement elsewhere, and the fall off in writing is as likely the fault of outside of school stuff like changing technology and people not reading as much as we did), I think worse teachers is only one of a couple of possibilities. Another possibility is that curriculum design or methods have been altered in ways that have meant that even good teachers don't produce good results.

As to your header line - I'm wondering now how you meant that. Expanding job opportunities for women could be taken here in two ways: expanded opportunities outside of education or within. Actually both are probably true. For earlier generations of clever women teaching was one of a few opportunities to use their talents, so the quality of those going into teaching might have been higher as few alternatives existed. Of course that would be out of a smaller subset of women looking to work. Now you get a larger share of women working, but many more options for them aside from teaching. On the other hand, they also have a larger share of teaching jobs available as men seem to have largely given up on teaching (in particular elementary). Which of course raises the question whether its change on the part of women or change on the part of men that's to blame. Maybe average quality has gone down (if it has) because there aren't as many talented male teachers anymore.

Finally, in terms of the relatively attractive compensation available, I can add a few points. One is that compensation is not only good but has gone up substantially. My mother's family was raised on the income of her father as a high school teacher, who did have summers off but didn't get paid. From what I've heard they made it through the summer by going to the family cottage (inherited) and living off fish my grandfather caught and vegetables my grandmother scrounged from her brother's garden in Perth. Second, you forgot their outrageously good pensions, which put ours to shame.

Just from logical arguments, I would expect your sister to be correct. A couple of generations ago, half the best minds were attracted to teaching because it was one of the only intellectual pursuits open to them. That's no longer the case, how can quality not have slipped? This, of course, may be at least partly made up for through increased training of lesser minds to come out in a wash in terms of teaching quality (different from teacher quality).

I think that wages are probably a very poor measure of quality in any union-driven wage environment. Not only do individual wages not reflect quality so much as seniority in such an environment, the associated costs (dues and strikes) reduce the effective wage. On top of that, about 2/3 of the people I know who started teaching have left because the politics are too emotionally draining. This is particularly true at the elementary level, the high school teachers I know seem more able to stick through it.

Has anyone looked for trends in standardized test scores of MEN going into teaching between 1960 and 1990? I am sympathetic to Neil's argument, but I'd also like to see something less theoretical.

Is it possible that instead of saying that today's wages are high, we should say that the large supply of high-quality teachers (since they were excluded from other markets) meant that wages were too low in previous generations?

A few points:

I think Neil hits the nail on the head with respect to salaries being a rather poor indicator of quality in a unionized environment - particularly in the case of powerful public sector teachers unions. The CATO Institute has done a number of studies finding education costs(inflation adjusted and of which salaries must be a big part) have risen hugely over the past 40 years. However, achievment in science, reading and math has stayed about the same. The data is American of course, but the labour environment seems roughly the same.

From a purely anecdotal standpoint, my experience may not necessarily support a decline in *quality*, but I'm beyond certain that students are being graded easier. Over a period of about 30 years my Mother has seen myself and my younger three siblings go through the exact same school system. She has told me numerous times that when I was in school only a few kids in the class would get 90s (most of them are doctors now). My youngest sister is now finishing high school, has all 90s and even a 100, and apparently many of her peer do too. I don't think this was confined to the Nova Scotia system we went through.

When in graduate school at a blue chip Ontario university I was a TA for an introductory level course comprised entirely of Ontario high school graduates. Stephen, Nick, Frances, I'm sure you have heard this before, possibly experienced it, but students expectations were that they would get 90s for work that I think would be inadequate at any level. They were shocked, genuinely shocked to get grades in the 60s.


One of the problems with this issue is, as you indicate, measurability of teacher quality, particularly over time. It is hard to say why/whether teacher A is better than teacher B, and it is even harder if they taught 40 years apart. There are a number of factors cited here: score of teachers on standardized tests; competitiveness of entry; salaries; anecdotal experience. Except for the anecdotes, those are all measures that cite things *about* the teacher (who she is and what she's done), but presumably the measure of quality in a teacher has to be related to student outcomes in some way. That then makes the measurability quite difficult. Anecdotes work in the sense that they compare one's own experience as a student with one's children's. But there are all the usual problems with that sort of evidence.

Could one look at high school completion rates over time, e.g.? At pass rates in provinces where there has been standardized testing for a while (in BC it has been in place in grade 12 since at least 1985)?

Even that is problematic though, as you note. The Fraser Institute asserts that it can compare schools based on performance on standardized testing. However, those results have such a high correlation with socio-economic factors such that it is difficult to be sure that the results really do say much about the schools or teachers in question. Moreover, as you note, there ends up being a lot of gaming, as evidenced, e.g., by teachers in the US who falsified test results to avoid punitive effects under No Child Left Behind.

At the theoretical level I tend to see some problems with the women out of teaching argument as well. It is true that women didn't have a lot of other choices professionally. However the response to that for a lot of women (e.g., the other Woolley woman - mum) was simply not to work outside the home at all. The far greater numbers of women participating in the work force may counter-balance the opening up of other career alternatives.

The question of creating and rewarding good teachers is vexing. We tend to focus in Canada only on input "regulation" (qualification and entry barriers), and do very little in the way of output regulation (firing bad teachers). The US is moving increasingly to output/incentive regulating, but it isn't yet obvious to me that it is going to work any better.

For what it's worth, I am not convinced that teachers are worse now either. That is based on anecdotal observation but also on the fact that I think we are better at teaching how to teach than we once were. And there is a lot of teaching that *is* teachable.


"We tend to focus in Canada only on input "regulation" (qualification and entry barriers), and do very little in the way of output regulation (firing bad teachers)"

Quite true, though I look at what friends of mine actually do in their BEd programs and wonder if we don't get the input part very wrong as well. Frances, just for example, has a PhD in economics, but in most public high schools in Canada that I am aware of, she would not be permitted to teach economics or mathematics as she didn't spend a year in a BEd program gluing macaroni to construction paper and learning useless post-modern education theory.

I contend that incentives matter in the production of learning and that they have become increasingly diluted, which could be due to the growing strength and influence of unions in the education sector.  Anecdotally, it seems that the ability of principals to motivate teachers has diminished as grievances (or the threat of them) have become more routine.  Moreover, perhaps owing to both union opposition and the reality that our educational outcomes are relatively favourable when compared with some failing state systems to the south, Canadian policymakers seem reluctant to adopt reforms that would inject greater accountability into the system.  Instead, we are still pursuing the same types of input-based reform (i.e. newer textbooks, smaller classes) that many U.S. states have shifted away from in favour of performance-based schemes.
Ultimately, instances of poor teaching in Ontario schools are probably due to a combination of muted incentives and lower teacher quality.  Although I am not sure which of these is the dominant factor.  One potential way to empirically address whether teacher quality is an important determinant would be to exploit variation in public and private sector employment measures.  A key feature of the most recent recession is that private sector employment opportunities have experienced a relatively severe contraction, while government spending (and debt) has increased to pick up the slack.  Indeed, public sector teaching salaries in Ontario have actually risen due to the most recent round of collective bargaining.  Given that incentives in Ontario have remained relatively low powered over this time period, I would submit that the outside option for teachers has become significantly less attractive.  Thus, I would expect teacher quality to have improved over the last few years.  It would be interesting to see whether this prediction is borne out by teacher licensing scores or the standardized test scores of their students.

With respect to Alice's comment about comparing schools based on standardized testing, it is true that scores are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. That is why many of the more sophisticated schemes in the U.S. have moved away from measuring performance using uncorrected scores, which is what the relatively primitive No Child Left Behind Act does. Many use a value-added approach, where current performance is compared with prior outcomes to assess the school's contribution. These measures are still likely to be biased, but less so than for scores without context.

Just specialist mathematics teachers? Why not specialist social science, humanities, and music teachers? I think you're betraying your economic-utilitarian proclivity. We can't have properly functioning citizens without teachers who are willing and able to engage students on matters of history and philosophy. And music is purported to sharpen the mind better than math.

Also, what benefit(s) do you have in mind when you propose common Grade 12 examinations in Ontario?

Willard -if I had to rate a typical elementary school teachers' expertise, I would say that on average elementary school teachers excel in the humanities, and do well in social studies and basic musical education. Essentially we have specialist teachers in humanities already - the problem is that they're teaching everything!

Specialist music teachers in the middle grades would be great, but I don't battle with musical illiteracy in my daily life so I don't see it as such a crucial deficit. And even if inner city schools can afford music teachers, they can't afford French Horns. Just providing students with textbooks or blinds to keep out the sun on hot June or Sept days is enough of a challenge.

Matthew - though there's a case to be made that PhDs in Econ shouldn't be unleashed on students without some basic teacher training! Alice's point here is well taken - some amount of training can, in fact, make you a better teacher. Not sticking macaroni on paper, but voice training, timing, use of rubrics for marking essays.

Willard, on grade 12 exams - the same benefits as we get from having common final exams in ECON 1000 and having second readers on PhD theses - some kind of quality control. And, as Matthew said earlier, there's incentives in the system for grade inflation, and final exams make sure that grade inflation happens at a uniform rate anyways.

Though actually, Matthew, scores on IQ tests have been rising quite substantially over time (though the effect may be levelling out now). It's called the Flynn effect.

Frances - Yes, IQ test scores have risen significantly. Curiously, since the 1970s, SAT reading scores in the US have declined. In math they have risen *very* modestly.

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