The Lobotomy of Low Wages

Economic incentives matter. This is true for teaching, as for other professions. In the words of a recent academic study examining teacher wages and student outcomes, “If you pay peanuts, don’t you get monkeys?” (hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan & Stephen Pampinella. While American public schools are still awful even after correcting for low wages (think Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey), the relationship between teacher wages and student outcomes is pretty clear:

The real decline in wages for teachers that occurred when society stopped massive de jure and de facto discrimination against women lobotomized the teaching profession.

The reason is obvious: workers have alternatives to teaching, and if you ‘tax’ teaching by paying it less, you get fewer high quality workers in it. This matters beyond just test scores: the collapse of teachers as an influential political bloc and teachers’ embrace of such agitators as Diane Ravitch may well be explained by the emergent effects of lowering the quality of teachers through paying them less.

Teachers want money, and they want it in a way that avoids measuring teacher performance. Unfortunately for teachers as a political bloc, other powerful forces have entered the debate, including powerful federal and academic institutions.

I do not think it is politically sustainable for teachers to unaccountably deliver terrible results while loudly demanding comfortable wages. In fact, I believe this political strategy is downright foolish. It is a sign that the teaching profession has suffered the lobotomy of low wages. While teachers sit like vegetables as the world pass them by, other forces are replacing them (such as this example of a move by Districts and the Federal-Academic Complex to have some students taught by professors, not teachers at all).

If teacher advocates do seriously join the debate, and contribute to a discussion of how better paid teachers can be better measured, we will get “idiot-proof teaching” scripts and the replacement of teachers by completely fungible drones.