She Who Can, Teaches Science. Now Show Her the Money!

Lawrence Krauss argues for differential pay scales for teachers with advanced training in science and math to accommodate the free market.

"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." So wrote George Bernard Shaw in his 1903 Maxims for Revolutionists. Shaw, who humorously dismissed secondary education as "sequestration and imprisonment of children so as to prevent them being a continual nuisance to their parents," had great contempt for the British education system of the early twentieth century. This contempt, in fact, has resonated throughout history, and certainly has its adherents today.

What's the Big Idea?

For many educators and policymakers, this is an article of faith: the quality of teaching deeply impacts student outcomes. So what can we make of Shaw's do/teach dichotomy? For one thing, it can be interpreted as a matter of simple economics. To take up a teaching job means forgoing other potentially lucrative opportunities, particularly for those who have expertise in the STEM subjects. And so, if we don't offer proper incentives for teachers, we lose top talent. To put it another way, playing on a Shavian analogy, if you can get rich by manufacturing armaments for the British empire, you will choose to do, not teach.

In today's world, do/teach is often seen as a false dichotomy. In certain environments the classroom itself has acted as a laboratory for innovation. MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are reportedly growing faster than Facebook. One Duke University MOOC, for instance, had 180,000 students sign up this semester. 

Such innovations, it may be argued however, are the exception to the rule. The bottom line is that we are failing when it comes to teaching math and science in our schools. The U.S has a pronounced skills gap in the STEM subjects for both students and teachers alike. According to Lawrence Krauss, physicist and author of A Universe From Nothing, in order to address this problem we need to recruit the right teachers in the right subjects. 

Krauss says we'll never get there "if 90 percent of middle school science teachers don’t have a training in science, beyond the high school level." Therefore, in the video below Krauss argues for differential pay scales for teachers with advanced training in science and math.

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

Today we rely too often on teachers to be motivated solely through altruism. This expresses itself in numerous ways. A public school teacher, for instance, might spend his own money on supplies because he wants his students to have access to the best learning tools. A successful businesswoman, for instance, might feel compelled to teach because she feels compelled to 'give back.' Teaching, in both senses, is a selfless act.

Krauss, on the other hand, argues that market forces need to be brought to bear if we hope to increase student performance. We need to incentivize more highly trained people to teach in the right subjects, not merely hope that they will do so out of the kindness of their own hearts. 

American students are up against stiff global competition and are getting blown out of the water. Our students get easily discouraged, and as a result often decide not to pursue careers in science. If we hope for students to succeed in the STEM subjects, which are so crucial to national economic growth, we need better talent at the instructional level. Krauss argues that means we need to create a system of incentives for people with advanced skills to become teachers. That doesn't mean simply paying all teachers more. Krauss takes this one step further by arguing that science teachers should be paid more than, say, English teachers. 

This idea obviously won't make the teachers unions happy. Yet right now we pay college presidents disproportionately large salaries, mostly because we value their ability to raise money. By the same token, since economic growth is linked to STEM skills, the people who can teach these skills ought to be rewarded, Krauss argues, in order to compensate for the opportunity cost of teaching, and not doing. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

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