James V. Shuls
As the Chicago teacher’s strike carries into its second week, many interesting facts are coming to light. We know the average Chicago public school teacher earns more than $71,000. What makes this figure interesting is that on average, Chicago Public School teachers only scored a 19 on the ACT. That is lower than the national average of 21.1 and the Illinois average of 20.9 (see here). The question is not why are teachers earning so much, but why are we attracting so many below average individuals in terms of academic aptitude into the classroom and so few high-performing ones?

Like Chicago, the difficulty of attracting high-quality individuals into the classroom is a problem we face here in Missouri. Teachers score lower than average on a number of standardized tests, includingthe SAT, the GRE, and the Armed Forces Qualification Test (see here). A study using Missouri data found that 20 percent of teachers scored a 19 or lower on the ACT and 69.6 percent scored a 24 or lower.

There are number of issues that perpetuate this problem of below average individuals entering the classroom. For starters, schools seemingly do a poor job of seeking out high-performing individuals.

In a recent study I co-authored for the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, we examined the application documents of 50 randomly selected Arkansas school districts. What we found was pretty alarming. More schools asked teachers what high school they attended (67 percent) than how they did on the teacher licensure exams (13 percent). Approximately half asked for the applicant’s GPA and none asked for ACT or SAT scores. Certainly scoring higher on a test does not necessarily make you a better teacher, but there is ample evidence to suggest higher-scoring individuals are higher-performing teachers.

Even if schools did request academic information from applicants, they would have little leverage to attract high-performing individuals. The single-salary schedule, which is in place in almost all public schools in Missouri, does not allow administrators to pay individuals more for their aptitude or their potential for being a great teacher. In essence, we get below-average teachers because we treat all the above-average ones like they are . . . average.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.