UMass Amherst Economist Co-Authors Book on Relation Between Teaching Quality and Teachers Pay

AMHERST, Mass. - Dale Ballou, associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, is the co-author of a new book that goes against much of the accepted wisdom regarding K-12 teachers: that paying more attracts better teachers.

The book, "Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality," was co-written with former UMass professor, Michael Podgursky, now at the University of Missouri-Columbia. It was published this month by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a nonprofit organization in Kalamazoo, Mich., that studies and publishes on labor issues.

In their writing, Ballou and Podgursky, who received a grant from the Upjohn Institute for research that led up to the book, cast doubt on whether increasing salaries to recruit new teachers attracts more capable candidates, and, therefore, has a positive impact on the education of students. Using several years’ of data drawn from national data bases to document the effects of rising teachers’ salaries, they conclude that many factors inhibit school districts from recruiting more talented teachers, and offer statistical evidence on reforms that, they say, may help overcome these inhibiting factors.

For example, the authors say reforms such as flexibility in compensation may attract better qualified recruits to teaching. This might entail paying bonuses to new teachers, "frontloading" salary increases into the first years of a teaching career, or basing pay on merit or some measurable competencies.

Also, they say, easing certification requirements would allow public schools to recruit from a deeper pool of more talented recruits, because statistics show that noncertified graduates are likely to be of higher ability. Better yet, they say, would be for districts to employ examinations and interviews to identify desirable individuals who could be exempted from traditional licensing requirements.

Other reforms they suggest include raising academic standards for teachers along with salaries, and weakening tenure systems so that replacing ineffective teachers is easier and less costly. And, the two commend the charter school movement where schools, run by entrepreneurs, must compete in the marketplace for students.

A former teacher at both a middle school and a private high school, Ballou attended Stanford and received his Ph.D. in economics from Yale. He has been on the faculty at the University since 1989. He teaches undergraduate microeconomics and public policy-related courses. Podgursky was on the University’s faculty until 1996.