Economists have determined all individuals do benefit from education along with society especially when long term investments have been made in order for students to learn to read, write and calculate. Compared to other countries, the United States is no longer ranked highly in preparing its youth for tomorrow. The United States has fallen to "average" in international education rankings released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the AFP. America has received scores around 500 on a scale that goes up to 1,000: 487 in math, 500 in reading and 502 in science. The three-yearly OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics. (Huffington Post 2012) Some of these issues are centered on three major issues: student teacher ratios, teacher qualifications, and pay incentives for teachers. Brief descriptions of these issues according to a review of literature are as followed: 1) student teacher ratio sounds like a really simple conceptâ€¦22 students to 1teacher. This is not the case. The student teacher ratio is the number of students in the school compared to the number of teachers in the school, whether they are aides or teachers that do pull outs; 2) teachers in the United States are only required to get a specific certification to teach a particular subject once the child has reached middle school. The elementary teaching certificate is called generalist and requires you to know a little about all subjects. If teachers were required to have specific certification being at the first grade, it might better prepare the students for state mandated test; 3) pay incentives help create a positive work environment; however, when looking at fiscal and monetary policies it is almost impossible to create incentives that are attractive to teachers. This paper will entail clear cut answers as to why these problems exist.
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Student Teacher Ratios in Public Schools
Student-teacher ratios are figured by dividing the number of students who attend the school by the number of teachers within the school. Student-teacher ratios do not necessarily provide an accurate assessment of a straight measurement of a class size. . The national statistics for the United States reveals the student/teacher ratio for both regular public elementary and secondary schools declined between 1990-91 and 2007-08 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). To make sure the reader(s) of this paper understand secondary schools are defined as the school years between elementary and college aged students. Class size during the elementary years, which is a child's formative years, is extremely important to keep the class size as small as possible since this is the time the human brain grows and develops at its maximum. Once a child has reached the high school years (secondary level of school) the student-teacher ratio normally does not need to be scrutinized as much since the formative years have taken place by this point.
What are the factors affecting the student-teacher ratios? There is a myriad list of complex reasons and the following do affect student-teacher ratio, a) below average personal income in designated school districts due to lower pay out of property taxes or just the opposite if the payout of property taxes is higher the more money the school district has to hire teachers, b) super high benefits granted to teachers and c) for those states with state income tax the income-tax-dependent state revenue system as this means many areas of the state organizations are competing for the benefits of collecting state income taxes.
INTERNATIONAL TEACHER COMPARISONS
The indicator report #29- International Teacher Comparisons report on the group of eight countries and in fact the G8 countries which are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. This report discusses the results in terms of recent professional development in four areas: content, pedagogy/instruction, improving students' critical-thinking or problem-solving skills, and assessment in regards to math and science for the two years prior to 2009 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). The countries listed are the considered to be per global economic standards the most economically developed countries and are the United States largest economic associates. The data in the report reflects the percentages of where the range is for each G8 country and the United States fell in the mid-to-high level percentages in most of the areas for the fourth and eighth grade levels.
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As we know teachers are not always identified correctly as being purely math or science teachers meaning the degrees they hold are not necessarily in math and science therefore this information is identifying these individuals as classroom teachers who are responsible for teaching the subjects especially at the fourth grade level thus the reason the lower percentages for the United States compared to the other identified G8 countries. As we note from the data the eighth grade level students normally do have teachers who are degreed in math or science thus the reason why the percentages in the United States are higher for this age group. Do we have higher IQ's in the United States? Yes we do but does that make us "smarter"? No it does not and the reason being is we are not applying enough resources to teach math and science during the formative elementary years and it reflects in our society and workplaces due to the critical shortages of math and science teachers whether at the elementary or secondary levels.
PAY INCENTIVES FOR TEACHERS
Indicator report #37 examines pay incentives for teachers in the United States in 2007-08 reveals 46 percent of teachers worked in districts where a pay incentive was offered for obtaining National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification; 30 percent of teachers worked in districts where a pay incentive was offered to recruit or retain teachers for positions in fields with teachers shortages (National Center for Education Statistics 2010). The reported information is for public schools alone and does not include private or charter schools.
Per the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) the districts reported the criteria for cash bonuses, salary incentives or different viable steps to an increase in salary scale were the following:
Encourage Teachers to obtain National Board for Professional Teach Standards certifications.
Reward excellence in teaching.
Recruit or retain teachers for positions in less desirable locations.
Recruit or retain teachers for positions in field shortages (ex: math and science).
(National Center for Education Statistics 2010).
Does pay incentives for teachers actually work? Some would say yes others would say no but the matter of fact is we have an economic crisis in the United States in regards to education and rather than sit back to see if not the pay incentives work we must adhere to continuing to allow the incentives in order to increase the output of knowledge in our children.
THE IMAGINARY TEACHER SHORTAGE
The article states for the most part hiring more teachers is not necessarily driving the improvement of student achievements and higher test scores. The article continues to give a fact regarding the math scores of 17 year olds since 1970 has virtually remained unchanged per the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics More teachers does not necessarily create a classroom environment of improved student scores such as in math as the scores for 17 year olds in the United States has virtually remained unchanged since 1970 and the federal estimate of high school graduation rates also shows about the same amount of students graduating high school now and in 1970 which is 75 percent. What does this tell us? The United States is still not paying for teachers who are highly qualified to teach math and science as teaching still does not pay what the private sector will pay for math and science educated persons such as in the oil and gas industry. So does hiring more teachers solve the issue if you do not hire the higher level teacher talent pool schools need in order to have students achieve more in math and science? What does the United States need to do across the entire nation? Increase the value of the classroom by arming the public school system with the technology which will advance students besides a textbook and along with this the teacher will need to be technologically advanced also in order to use the tools to prepare students for advanced math and science to propel the United States in the next level of economic industrialization.
A NEW CONTRACT FOR TEACHERS IS SHAKING UP NEW JERSEY'S LARGEST CITY
The article discusses the city of Newark, New Jersey change in the contracts where there will be bonus pay outs and the payouts will be evaluated based on peer review, the school superintendent and an independent panel will review the teacher also and the union has accepted and approved the new agreement. The agreement states teachers can earn up to $12,000.00 in annual bonuses; $5,000 for achieving good results, up to $5,000 for working in poorly performing schools and up to $2,500 for teaching a hard-to-staff subject. Of course the infamous governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie is hope Newark's teachers union will serve as a model for other school districts in New Jersey; however, the largest state's union The New Jersey Education Association is totally against the bonus payout program as not every district has the funds Newark has to fund such a program. Economically many others parts of the United States are implementing the same bonus payout for teachers such as Baltimore, Maryland, Boston, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, Denver, Colorado, Washington, D.C. to use this as a collective bargaining tool to get teachers to teach in hard to staff schools, in particular districts where there is high teacher turnover rate due to student behaviors, and obtaining degreed professional teachers who can teach and mentor the hard subjects such as the math and sciences. While many believe this undermines the teacher's unions this trend does not seem to be ceasing any time soon as most teachers realize they need to improve their teaching in order to have economic gain on their paycheck.
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A BILLION BRAINS -A BETTER EDUCATION SYSTEM CALLS FOR MORE THAN MONEY SPECIAL REPORT: INDIA.
The article speaks to the fact India is very far behind its economic status in regards to education and work force due to the fact many global companies are coming into India in a hurling fashion in order to gain the affordable labor but finding it extremely difficult to find skilled laborers. Yes, we do know India as having educated engineers and IT graduates but most companies are finding the educations are not always up to the standards and levels they need the college graduate to be at and finding themselves having to take more time to train the new employees or even at times not hiring. A "noted economist" in the article states a lot of the private education in India is useless as so many of the management colleges do little teaching but make promises of getting them jobs when they have graduated. Some of the noted data for example is India produces over 500,000 engineering graduates a year but a Aspiring Minds a Guragaon-based company assessed the student employability and found that not even 3% were to be taken on by IT firms unless the firm agreed to allow extra training (The Economist, 2012). What a lot of firms in India are finding once an employees contract is up at one company as an engineer and they find out XYZ corporation pays $2.00 more per hour they search for the next job and jump from one company to the next or have XYZ corporation buy out their contract if they are a valuable asset as an employee. As businesses and manufacturing sites are growing leaps and bounds in India it is currently very difficult in regards to the economics of education as there is not enough graduates currently to hire for the degreed positions. Also, even those people who are not college graduates and are farmers are finding if they put their funds together they can keep farming and purchase a tractor or whatever farm equipment they need and team up to farm and these type of laborers can continue to work for themselves as they are considered a skilled laborer but the corporations will not see them at their doors for physical labor jobs as they have put all their "economic eggs" together to continue to work for themselves and survive economically. One final note in regards to this article Indian do see education as a route to prosperity and will spend as much as possible on education; however, an Indian senior government economist is concerned if parents "almost spend too much" (The Economist, 2012).
Every August, parents ponder on important educational questions: Who is teaching my child? ; Will my child be encouraged by his/her teacher? ; Will the teacher have adequate time for my child needs? ; Will my child actually learn from the teacher? These few questions represent three major issues which are teacher/student ratio, international teaching comparisons, and the pay incentives for teachers regarding the microeconomic theory of education. The microeconomic theory of education in the United States reveals that the more the government reduces the education budget, the quality and quantity will fall also. This is an economic phenomenon that is causing a decline in the quality of education.
Of these three issues mentioned above, the student/teacher ratio is the main factor causing the decline in education. According to the center for education reform, the current public student/teacher ratio in the United States is 15.7:1, which has decline over time (Digest 2010, Table 67). The student/teacher ratio does not grant a direct measure of class size, but is defined by dividing the total number of full-time teachers into the overall student enrollment. Full-time teachers in most school systems are classified as pre-kindergarten, art, music, physical education teachers, and teacher's aids. Government officials believe budget cuts will not affect the quality of education, but in actuality the quality of teachers and their abilities to provide enough attention to one student which affects the students overall performance. The United States saw a huge decline in student/teacher ratios between the years 1990-1991 and 2007-2008, showing that gradually over time, ensuring that each individual student has the best opportunity to succeed is declining. According to the article The Imaginary Teacher Shortage by Jay Greene, Greene observes that "for decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers" and as a result "we have essentially nothing to show for it" signifying that although the student/teacher ratio is a huge issue, it cannot just be corrected by hiring more teachers. Teachers should not be hired to just simply raise the ratio. The focus should be to increase the quality of education. When students have fewer students to compete with in the classroom, they are more comfortable reaching out for assistance from their teacher/professor; which is why the teacher-student ratio is highly enforced in the early years. Children need constant instruction in the early cognitive stages to ensure they do not fall behind. The issue becomes after elementary years, the same strive for success for each individual student declines.
Not only do we see the decline of students' individual success, but we also see the decline in quality of teachers. When comparing teachers internationally, the biggest factor that separates teachers is other countries is their expertise and mastery in a single subject; making single subject teachers superior to a teacher who teaches many different subjects. During the early years of education for a student in the United States, students have teachers that are qualified to teach certain subjects. But as they progress in the education system, teachers have less expertise in one specific subject because they teach more than one subject. In other countries, students have teachers throughout their education process that are specifically qualified to teach specific subjects. This difference separates the U.S. from other countries because other countries are able to provide more quality education to its students simply because teachers teach one subject. The U.S. education system is mainly concerned with providing education to the masses, therefore teaches take on multiple subjects so that school districts do not have to hire teachers that they will not afford to pay. But education should not fall under the hands of a budget. Education is the key that unlocks the door to opportunities, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Therefore, to short a child of quality education because teachers are not qualified to teach one subject, is wrong. That practice of teachers only teaching one subject occurs in the elementary years for students in the U.S., needs to be consistent throughout the entire secondary education process. The government stresses "No child left behind" but does not take into consideration the quality of education. A lot of children are left behind, because they do not receive the adequate amount of time with their teachers/professors because there are too many students in the classroom. The U.S. needs to consistently reinforce the teacher-student ratio to ensure that each child not only receives an education, but receives a QUALITY education.
In regards to paying teachers incentives to promote education, the U.S. tops other countries in terms of receiving incentives for education, which ties back to the issue of students actually receiving a quality education. The motivation for teachers to provide quality education now depends upon the incentives that teachers receive; which turns into a viscous cycle. In order for students to even receive a normal education, teachers will not produce quality work without incentives. Therefore, no teacher incentives equates to a lack of quality in education. But, although some believe that incentives should not be used, incentives must continue to be used in order for students to even receive an education in general. Internationally, however, the definition of incentives differs. According to the article," A Billion Brains", some teacher incentives in India includes "rote learning, discrimination against-low caste children, grade inflation, flogging" and at times "teachers accept bribes from students in return for exam passes. Therefore regardless if incentives are right or wrong, they must be used which does not even indicate that a quality education is provided. However, in a New Jersey, they believe merit pay for teachers will help retain those quality teachers. The belief is that if those quality teachers receive a higher pay, they will continue to teach in public schools, and therefore children will be able to receive a quality education from those quality teachers. In addition to giving teachers incentives, Jay Greene also suggests to use funds to improve educational technology for the classrooms. Greene believes that if we use "cheaper technology" we won't "need as many expensive people". (Greene, 2012) Greene is stating that to solve the issue of quality education, there should be fewer teachers with higher salaries along with adopting more technology to teach students. But the problem which this theory is that not all school districts can afford to increase teacher salary to keep these quality teachers around or to purchase additional technology. In order to increase teacher salaries in some districts, other teachers must be fired which directly affects the student/teacher ratio. In regards to additional technology, some public schools cannot afford it, therefore educational technology cannot be offered across the board. So what about the underprivileged neighborhoods? In struggling areas, low household income leads to underprivileged school districts whereas wealthy areas acquire more money by property taxes to hire teachers. These factors affect the consistency of education. Quality education now becomes dependent on what type of neighborhood you live in. This ultimately boils down to the division between the rich and the poor. If education was consistent regardless of where it is given, children would be able to receive a quality education regardless of race, availability of materials and/or household income.
In conclusion, the United States has to take some major steps towards improving its educational system. And the majority of the changes that need to take place are with choosing specific degreed teachers for math and sciences and providing them with effective pay. It is no secret that educators are the least paid profession in the economic arena. So, one of the first things that the United States needs to do is make educators' salaries competitive with other professions and this could dissolve the use of the incentive pay type programs. Consequently, if salaries are more competitive, teachers would be guaranteed not only to be highly qualified, but certified for the assigned grade level and subject that they are teaching and a greater amount of accountability could become the teachers. Currently, teachers are held accountable for subject matter that they have not been well versed in due to the lack of being degreed in a specific subject such as math. Finally, ensuring that the students are provided with a healthy student teacher ratio would make a great difference in the educational process and allow teachers to deliver excellent instruction.