Higher pay best way to recruit better teachers

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

A centerpiece of Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposals to improve education in Mississippi is raising the requirements for college students to major in the education field.

On paper, the idea is a good one. In most classrooms, teacher quality plays a huge role in whether students are successful. Bryant’s advisors, for example, cite a Mississippi State University study that a lot more students in grades 3-8 get better state testing scores when their teacher had a higher ACT score.

One problem with raising the standards is that they would disqualify a lot of people who are interested in majoring in education. The College Board reported that 49 percent of students currently in education programs at Mississippi universities would not have qualified under the higher standards Bryant proposes.

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Current education majors would be unaffected by any requirements the state changes. But down the road, the unexpected consequence of sharply higher standards would be a lack of education majors. That ultimately would translate into a shortage of teachers.

University education deans met recently in Jackson to discuss the issue. One suggestion that makes sense is to phase in higher requirements for education majors over a few years.

The governor’s education advisor agreed that too big a change all at once might defeat the intended purpose of the plan. She said Bryant does not oppose a delay in higher standards or phasing them in, as long as the period is only a couple of years.

There’s another way to attract better teaching candidates that few people seem willing to discuss: Pay them more money. A lot more.

It’s just common sense that if you want to get the attention of college students, you do it by offering the incentive of higher salaries. …

Bryant is trying to move Mississippi in the right direction by raising teacher standards. But that’s only half of the challenge the state faces.

It’s well documented that very few of any university’s top students choose to major in education. The state needs to figure out how to make the profession more appealing, and how to pay for these efforts at a time when money is exceptionally tight.

Meanwhile, quit worrying about paying teachers at the Southeastern average. That’s a moving target that little ole Mississippi will never reach. Focus on professional salaries inside the state and pay teachers accordingly. If they’re so important to the future of education, then treat them like it.