Saturday, October 07, 2006

Decline in Teacher Quality

Back in May, I posted about the hypothesized decline in teacher quality resulting from improved labor market opportunities for women. The Freakonomics blog points me to new research on this topic by Marigee Bacolod. Her conclusions:
This paper brought together several data sources to document a clear change in the composition of women who chose to teach between 1960 and 1990. Teacher performance on standardized exams declined, markedly so among women, relative to previous cohorts of teachers and to professionals in their own cohort. Female prospective teachers were also increasingly being drawn from less selective institutions. Measures of quality using positive assortative mating traits further illustrate the decline in teacher quality. While declining proportions of high quality women did not choose teaching, increasing proportions joined the professions.

Changes in alternative labor market opportunities for females and blacks are linked to the marked decline in teacher quality. Results show that the lower teachers were paid relative to professionals, the less likely high-quality educated women were to choose to teach. High-quality teachers are particularly more sensitive to changes in relative teacher wages. These findings suggest that as alternative opportunities improved for women and blacks over this period, fewer chose to teach, and fewer among those who taught were of high quality.

While changes in female labor markets appear to be the major source of the decline in teacher quality, additional explanations are also likely. Other potential explanations not explored here include women’s admittance to professional programs, their increased access to credit markets for loans to pursue skill acquisition and even access to the pill, as well as unionization in teaching and deunionization in non-teaching, and the general rise in skill returns. It is more likely that an interaction of overall economic, demographic, and institutional factors account for the decline in teacher quality.
Here are a couple of interesting tables from the paper that show the decline in the fraction of women with high test scores (and the rise of teachers with low test scores) who became teachers:

And the fact that women who are teachers are less likely to be married to high wage men:

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