Monday, July 17, 2006

Reflections on Teacher Recruitment

What is the PISA test? It's an international comparison, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of student achievement in reading and math, conducted on 15 year olds every three years (2000, 2003, . . .). Everyone around the world pays attention to this, but I'll bet most people in education in the US have no idea what it is. (I didn't.)

For more, see:,2987,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

It's worth reading Barry McGaw's analysis of the last two tests. McGaw is the former Education Director of OECD, and a very sharp analyst. He's a professor at the University of Melbourne:

While McGaw's main focus in this talk is Australia, there is a lot to learn from his charts and analyses about US schooling as well. The punch line: US performance in reading and math is both lower overall, and also much less equitable, than most of the countries we would regard as "peers" in education.

But that's not primarily what drives this posting. What interests me is a comment from a workshop held here in Tasmania a couple of weeks ago, on the state of teacher education. A major focus of the conversation was how to recruit more good people into teaching, and the impediments to doing so. Australia's (relatively good) performance on the PISA test was noted, but people asked what was different about the countries that truly excelled. Predictably, here as in the United States, a major barrier to recruitment and retention is the low priority and status accorded teaching.

And this made me think, for a country that was truly interested in improving and providing a more equitable education -- and specifically in improving the overall quality, diversity, and availability of good teachers for every school in the country -- wouldn't priority number one be better recruiting? I think of those flashy and super-expensive commercials the government produces to entice young people into enlisting into the Army or other military services -- ads which are ubiquitous during sporting events, MTV, and other youth-attracting tv shows.

The national budget for military recruitment and advertising is hard to pin down:

This site says about $3 billion:

But the total is probably much greater than that -- the Army budget alone was $1.3 billion in 2005:

A better guess is well over $4 billion:

I mention this not to bash aggressive military recruitment (not today, anyway) -- although, did you know that the "No Child Left Behind legislation mandates that school districts receiving federal funds send the military names, phone numbers and addresses of all high school seniors and grants recruiters access to students on high school campuses"?

Rather, I just want to ask the simple question, What difference would it make if the federal government spent $4 - 5 billion a year promoting the virtues of teaching, praising the commitment and sacrifice of teachers, and making the career of teaching an appealing career choice? What if the President went out of his way to praise teachers with the frequency and passion that he praised soldiers? Would the status and visibility of teaching be different if it were accorded the same kind of respect?

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