In the last century the status of women in the workplace has risen dramatically, and never more so than in the last 40 years. While this has been great for women, and even society overall, it has been a disaster for the education of our children.
Historically, women had very few job choices, limited to roles such as home-maker, positions in the garment and food industries or teacher.
But starting with the Suffragette movement in the late 18th century, women have gone from strength to strength. Along the way they have had some help: two world wars, the “Pill”, knowledge based economies and even bottle feeding, have all contributed to a level of freedom never before experienced by women – and education has paid the price.
In 1960 about 40% of female teachers scored in the top quintile of IQ tests, with less than 8% of them in the bottom. Twenty years later less than half that number made the top spot, and the number of teachers in the bottom quintile has more than doubled.
This fact was highlighted by The Chancellor of New York City’s public schools in 2000 when he said, “The quality of teachers has been declining for decades, and nobody wants to talk about it.” In addition, between 1967 and 1980 school test scores fell by 1.25 grade level equivalents – a fact that John Bishop (the well-known education researcher) called “historically unprecedented.”
Of course, we can’t blame women for wanting a better standard of living, and sending them back to the kitchen is really not an option…at least not without a lot of folks sleeping on the couch. So what do we do?
The first thing we need to do is recognize that education, particularly in those early formative years, is critical to future success. If we are not willing to invest in education, then America is doomed to fall further and further behind, in part because the brightest women are simply following the money.
That is not to say that there are no good teachers – there are many, and teachers who have choices but stay for the love of the children should be put up on a pedestal and thanked profusely. Sadly they are not, and teaching pay scales are generally lower than many other professions, in part because most educators only work 9 months of the year.
Since we can’t force people into teaching we must raise the status of teaching to make it more appealing. Increased pay is an obvious method to improve status, but that is only part of the story. On a per-hour basis teachers are actually well paid, so perhaps we need to increase the number of hours worked in a year to enable teaching to become a “full-time” profession.
It has been well documented that those long hot summers are an “education eraser”. On average our children lose about 2 months of learning during the summer, and this effect is more pronounced in the poorer families who cannot afford to send their kids away to camps to stimulate their minds. Adding in 6 more weeks of education would boost salaries, increase learning, and allow people who could not consider a teaching profession because of the lower “per year” salary to look at it anew. This is also a fairer way to boost pay than the typical ‘seniority’ increases that are often awarded and have proven to be of little benefit to the children.
Unfortunately the ratio of people without kids in school is increasing as people live longer – and many of those will not vote for an increase in school budgets. Personally I feel this is short-sighted, since a good school district raises the value of their homes – but what do I know?
During the last election America came very close to seeing its first female President, so I think we can agree that women are going to take more and more of the prestigious roles in society – and rightly so. So let’s make teaching a prestigious role again, so that the best and brightest – be they men or women – are there to motivate our children and drive them to be the leaders of tomorrow.
- Bill Gates Calls for Overhauling Teacher Pay System (dailyfinance.com)
- Teaching for America (nytimes.com)