- Eric A. Hanushek
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Eric A. Hanushek
Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socio-economic status (SES). Using assessments from LTT-NAEP, Main-NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA that are psychometrically linked over time, we trace trends in achievement for U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001. Achievement gaps between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century. These unwavering gaps have not been offset by improved achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but have remained unchanged at age 17 for the past quarter century.
States and localities cannot avoid dealing with issues of teacher compensation. Not only is it the largest budget item for most local governments, but it is the place of largest leverage for improving the quality of schools. Fortunately, consistent research evidence directly informs ways to optimize teacher compensation.
This research provides strong motivation for improving teacher compensation. First, it shows that teachers are paid significantly less than they could earn outside of teaching. Second, teacher salaries have been stagnant, largely because personnel budgets have been more directed toward increasing the number of educators and administrators than toward supporting teachers. But simply increasing pay without consideration of teacher effectiveness will not lead to improved student outcomes.
The economic status of both students and the nation as a whole could be dramatically improved with increases in school quality. But with pressures on public budgets—due importantly to the growing costs of public pensions and health benefits—personnel dollars will have to be used more strategically if our students are to compete internationally. Moreover, the nation has a substantial equity problem: achievement gaps have been constant for a half century despite a wide variety of federal, state, and local policies designed to address them.