Is feminism reducing the quality of America’s teaching force?

Liz Goodwin

Thanks to feminism, American schools are no longer benefitting from an invisible wage subsidy that allowed them to attract bright, over-qualified college-educated teachers at low wages and poor working conditions.

That's the controversial conclusion reached in a recent report by Marc Tucker at the nonpartisan National Center on Education and the Economy. Tucker blasts the United States for largely ignoring teacher quality in favor of a focus on grade-by-grade standardized K-12 testing. He points out that those priorities are out of sync with the strategies of developed countries that appear to be churning out students who are better educated than ours.

Instead, countries such Finland, Singapore and the Chinese province of Shanghai--who far outperformed their American counterparts on the latest international PISA tests--are investing in an elite teaching force recruited from the top third or higher tier of each country's college classes by offering various incentives. In the United States, high school students who said in 2008 that their intended college major was education scored in the bottom third of American students who took the SATs.

Tucker argues that the United States has benefitted from an invisible wage subsidy that has now disappeared--the limited professions available to women until just a few decades ago. He argues that America "greatly benefitted for the better part of a century from having a teaching force largely made up of college-educated women whose choice of career was largely limited to nursing, secretarial work and teaching, and some minorities whose career choices were similarly constrained." Schools benefited from a capable workforce willing to work at "below-market wages under poor working conditions," he says. But that's now changed:

Those who accepted that deal are now leaving the workforce in droves.  There are now more women than men in the professional schools preparing young people for many of the most prestigious professions and they are taking advantage of those opportunities. The United States is now about to get the least capable candidates applying to our education schools when we need the best.

The higher status teachers enjoy isn't the only thing that separates the United States from Finland, however. As Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post points out, the country has a 3 percent poverty rate for its children, while 21 percent of American children are currently living in poverty.

(Teacher: ThinkStock)