Cost Disease and Teachers’ Salaries

One of the most vital things schools can do for the success of their students is to recruit and retain the best teachers. Salaries is still brought up as one of the means to accomplish this goal.

Another point to consider is that of cost disease in education. Scott Alexander does an excellent job of explaining cost disease in terms of education, even if you do not have a strong background in economics.

He points out we are spending more per student:

“Per student spending has increased about 2.5x in the past forty years even after adjusting for inflation.”

With no real gain in service provided:

At the same time, test scores have stayed relatively stagnant. You can see the full numbers here, but in short, high school students’ reading scores went from 285 in 1971 to 287 today – a difference of 0.7%.

There is some heterogenity (sic) across races – white students’ test scores increased 1.4% and minority students’ scores by about 20%. But it is hard to credit school spending for the minority students’ improvement, which occurred almost entirely during the period from 1975-1985. School spending has been on exactly the same trajectory before and after that time, and in white and minority areas, suggesting that there was something specific about that decade which improved minority (but not white) scores. Most likely this was the general improvement in minorities’ conditions around that time, giving them better nutrition and a more stable family life. It’s hard to construct a narrative where it was school spending that did it – and even if it did, note that the majority of the increase in school spending happened from 1985 on, and demonstrably helped neither whites nor minorities.

Now, with how you would expect cost disease to work in eduction, costs would rise and in part to pay for teachers’ salaries, but here is the rub. Alexander concludes that not only are teachers’s salaries not remaining on a constant, they are actually lowering.

“Teacher salaries are relatively flat adjusting for inflation. But salaries for other jobs are increasing modestly relative to inflation. So teacher salaries relative to other occupations’ salaries are actually declining.”

One point that Alexander does not address is that perhaps it is harder to teach students now. Regardless, teachers’ salaries are lowering.

I am left wondering if online personalized learning is also being offered partly as a solution to cost disease in education. Proponents argue that not only does it meet the individual needs of the student, but it is more efficient. It also seems to automate some of the service provided by teachers.

Michael Rock, economics professor, and K-12 school board member suggests it is one of our options.

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Using what I know about learning to help others.

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