In the 1960s, most high-achieving female college graduates became teachers, largely because they had few other career choices. By 2000, almost none of them became teachers, largely because they had many other career choices.
The fact is that female teachers nowadays are not as smart as they used to be. And the fact is that’s why students nowadays are not learning as much as they need to learn in order to succeed.
This trend is especially meaningful due to the Chicago Teachers Union strike this week. One major issue is union resistance to teacher evaluations and tenure based in part on student achievement. The union opposes this. The research shows why they’re right to be afraid, very afraid.
This is not me talking.
As one researcher put it: “The disappearance of high-achieving women from teaching and the economic and social reasons for it have already been well documented in both economic and educational literature (citations available here). The researcher continued:
Part of the decline in high-achieving teachers is due, ironically, to expanded opportunities for women and minorities. Until recently, teaching was one of the few acceptable occupations for women and one with a comparatively small gender pay gap. Therefore, it was to be expected that the majority of women entering the labor force would become teachers. The feminist movement and subsequent legislative changes, however, have drastically expanded the professional opportunities open to women. They are now able to participate in a much wider range of careers, and pay equality has significantly increased in most competing fields. The pull of new, interesting opportunities and higher salaries has drawn many potential candidates away from teaching to other professions (Hoxby, 2004). This growth in options for women would not have affected teacher quality if it impacted all candidates equally. It appears, however, that these changes have had the most influence on the prospects available to high-achieving women, rendering them the most likely to choose a different career or to leave teaching early in their careers.
And another researcher found:
In 1964, more than half of working female college graduates were teachers—by 2000, this percentage had dropped to 15 percent. While this decline in the fraction of graduates choosing to teach can be attributed largely to changes in the denominator (the enormous rise in college completion among women), one thing in this picture is clear: Conditional on working, of those women who acquired a college education in the 1960s, most went into teaching; of those completing college today, most do not.
I am part of these statistics. When I was in college in the late 1960s, almost every woman I knew was an education major. And as for teaching being “one of the few acceptable occupations for women,” I am living proof of that as well. My parents “allowed” me to go to college only if I agreed to teach. Lured into a journalism career instead, I broke the news to the folks. The next day, they called the shrinks in the guidance center at my college, saying I had lost my mind because I didn’t want to teach and demanding that I be committed to a psychiatric institution on an emergency basis. I am not making this up. Fortunately, unbeknownst to my parents, I worked for one of the shrinks counseling freshmen and had rehearsed the parental conversation with him. “I thought you were exaggerating,” he said later, “but I was wrong.” (In fairness to them, my folks were worried about my future and probably also worried I’d move back home and become a moocher. But I didn’t, and they got over it eventually. Plus, we laughed about it for years.)
The point, though, is that there are particular consequences to this demographic data for urban school districts like Chicago, where judging from photos of picketing union teachers, many of them are female:
Further, given recent research on the sorting of teachers across schools within states and school districts—the likelihood that a student in a low income or predominately black school encounters a teacher of the highest academic ability is likely to be even lower (See Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckoff, in press). For the casual observer, these results will surprise few. However, if the significant loss of women in the top decile—those who likely stood to benefit most from occupational desegregation—is indicative of a wider trend, then these findings should be of interest to parents, researchers, and policymakers alike”
This trend also has consequences for student achievement: “This frustration over the quality of the teaching force comes amidst a growing body of evidence that shows that certain measures of teacher quality—in particular, their verbal and mathematical skills—are strongly related to student outcomes.”
Much is at stake:
The American economy was so successful in the past century that people have begun to call it the American century. This success was due to many factors, of which avoiding a ground war on American soil surely was one. Another important factor was the broad sweep of American education.
Growth theorists have noted the importance of education for economic growth, and the United States was the world leader in mass education. The American economy grew consistently during the 20th century because we constantly upgraded the quantity and quality of our human capital (Goldin, 2001).
This achievement is now at risk. There is wide-spread dissatisfaction with the quality of education in the United States, particularly in large cities. Mass immigration to the U. S. has brought new challenges to our schools. International tests have shown that educational achievement in the United States is lagging behind that in other countries. We are in danger of losing one of the great advantages we possessed in the 20th century.
It’s not about the money. Frederick M. Hess wrote at the Hoover Institution that teachers make more money per hour than architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, statisticians, biological and life scientists, atmospheric and space scientists, registered nurses, physical therapists and others. And as David Applegate established on this blog Monday, Chicago teachers are well paid. Also, money is not really an issue for the Chicago Teachers Union. Teacher evaluations and potential dismissal of incompetent teaches are front and center in the negotiations, according to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
One talk show radio host Monday attributed the Chicago teachers’ strike in part to the devaluation of teaching from a profession to a trade.
Actually, it’s worse than that, and unionization has played a prominent role. Look at a video of what Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, said when she spoke at a teachers’ conference last year — — where she was channeling President Obama in his high school years. Summarized (but watch the video):
“I am the only black woman in the class of 1974 from Dartmouth College,” she said. “Woo. People are impressed. Let me tell you, I spent those years smoking lots of weed, self-medicating. Self-medicating, thank you.”
When there was laughter from the crowd, she added: “Sounds like you all did too. Oh, I’m sorry there are kids here! I wasn’t supposed to say that right? Too late!”
And that’s not all. She went on to mock Arnie Duncan’s speech impediment:
“Now, you know he [Duncan] went to private school ’cause if he had gone to public school he would have had that lisp fixed.” She added sarcastically: “I know, that was ugly, wasn’t it? I’m sorry.”
Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, was formerly chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. Lewis wasn’t done with him, though:
Talking about Duncan’s years at Harvard, she speculated whether he had taken drugs. “He was an athlete, so he might not have been self-medicating, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Unfortunately, Lewis is not an isolated example. Teacher unionistas in Wisconsin demonstrated 24/7 in Madison, the Wisconsin state capital, last year, banging on bongo drums, spouting obscenities day and night, and threatening legislators. In the process, they caused millions of dollars in damages to the capital building and in costs for increased law enforcement.
As John Fund wrote Monday, 85 percent of fourth graders in Chicago are not proficient in reading and 44 percent of high school freshmen fail to graduate. To fix this deplorable situation, the best and brightest women – and men, too – need to be inspired to teach. With teachers like those in Chicago and Wisconsin as examples, that’s not likely to happen.