As concern that U.S. schools just don't have many good teachers continues to rise, it's encouraging that the education field has actually attracted more academically skilled workers in the past few years, as reported in The New York Times. From 2002 to 2005, according to the Educational Testing Service, which publishes the Praxis teacher licensing exams, the average SAT scores and GPAs of candidates have increased, and the percentage of candidates with GPAs below 3.0 has decreased.
Attracting candidates with higher academic qualifications has become a significant focus in the move to improve the quality of teachers. The Times article includes remarks from the president of the New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization which strives to help districts that have faced recruitment problems attract high-quality teachers. Teach for America, which continues to rack up accolades — most recently, one of our 2008 Social Capitalist Awards — also takes a page from this book: in the fall semester at many top-tier colleges, its recruiters are nearly as ubiquitous as those of investment banks.
The question of whether high qualifications result in higher student performance remains unanswered, however. Despite, or perhaps because of, its success, Teach for America has its share of critics who believe that the organization's burnouts outnumber its superstars. Even professional-related qualifications have come under question. The Florida legislature seeks to review a bonus program that rewards teachers who earn national board certification (although this may be due in large part to finances — payouts totaled $70.9 million in 2006).
Even if high academic marks or national certification doesn't completely equate with high student achievement, it's good that education is increasingly attracting the best students rather than acting as a dumping ground for the bottom third, as previous studies have suggested, according to the Times. The news that more of the best and brightest see education as a lucrative profession should boost morale in the field, which has taken more than enough hits!