SEATTLE - It's an idea that, in this economy, is bound to raise some eyebrows. A new book by a University of Washington
economist suggests that the way to get education out of its slump is to pay teachers more - a lot more.
Dick Startz, Castor Professor of Economics and author of "Profit of Education," says his national research found if teachers were paid like other types of highly educated professionals, they would be making about 40 percent more than they do now. Because Americans think of teaching as a calling, like the ministry or charitable work, schools often pay accordingly, he explains, so it's hard to keep the best and brightest in the classroom.
"If you look at who goes into teaching and then leaves, actually one of the best indicators of somebody who's going to quit teaching relatively early in their career is a really high score on teacher tests. That's because those people have alternatives. The fact is, we're just not paying them enough."
Long-term, Startz calculates that paying teachers more would be a winning proposition for the economy. He says better teachers turn out better-educated students, who will then earn more and pay more taxes.
"If we raise teachers' salaries, if we invest in education in that way, we really do improve education - then we can get about a nine-fold return. My best calculation is that the money you would put into the program would repay itself, in terms of tax dollars, by a factor of about two or three."
Through the mid-1970s, Startz says, American schools were the best in the world, and it made a difference in the nation's prosperity.
"There's a lot of evidence that basic K-through-12 education was the driving force that really put America in the economic forefront of the world. It's not that our schools have gotten so much worse, it's that everybody else has caught up - we're just getting our lunch eaten by everybody."
He realizes he's making a difficult case when he suggests throwing $90 billion a year at raising teachers' pay, but Startz says he would like to see individual states like Washington test his theory in a few districts. He says it's something politicians from any party could champion, if they had the courage.
Startz also blogs about research related to this topic at www.profitofeducation.org