Monday, 10 April 2017

Teacher proposal tries to increase market power

As reported in the New Zealand Herald last week, the Education Council (the professional organisation for teachers) are floating a change that would require all prospective teachers to have a post-graduate qualification. Here's what was reported:
People wanting to become teachers would need to get a post-graduate qualification, under a change floated by the Education Council in a bid to raise the status of teaching.
The change would cover all teachers - early childhood, primary and secondary - and has the backing of universities.
First, it's not at all surprising that this proposal would have the backing of universities. If teachers require post-graduate qualifications, that means more people studying post-graduate qualifications (albeit probably not a whole lot more - see below), which means more fees for universities.

Second, it's really hard not to be cynical and see this as a simple way for existing teachers to increase their market power. If you raise the threshold for new graduates to become teachers, this creates a barrier to entry for graduates into the teaching market. [*] Essentially this restricts the supply of new teachers, because it would cost more to become a teacher (an additional year of student loans and foregone earnings, made even worse by student allowances not being available for post-graduate study). This would make alternative occupations (that are cheaper to get into), just a little bit more attractive. So, while this wouldn't stop everyone considering teaching as a career from following that path, at the margin it will be enough to dissuade some. Which is essentially what the PPTA says in the article:
However, the PPTA is unconvinced, saying teacher supply problems could worsen as a result.
Requiring all future teachers to get a post-graduate qualification would raise the bar for entry into the profession, and would likely be most keenly felt at the primary and ECE level.
Restricting competition makes sellers (in this case, sellers in the labour market for teachers) better off. It raises the bargaining power of the existing teachers, and when schools are looking for new teachers there are fewer options available, so they have to offer slightly higher salaries to attract applicants. Voila! Existing teachers are made better off, whether they are staying at the same school or moving between schools, at the expense of people who would have become teachers but for the higher barrier to entry.

The Education Council argues that this proposal would "raise the status of teaching". However, it's hard to see how it does that, other than by increasing teacher salaries at the margin. It may increase the quality of new teachers, to the extent that you believe a post-graduate qualification adds to their quality (dubious, when compared with the alternative of giving a graduate a year of actual teaching experience).

I'd argue that we probably need to go in precisely the opposite direction, especially for high school teachers of STEM subjects. When my father was at university, he taught chemistry at a high school in Auckland while studying his Bachelor of Science. That gave him a little bit of free cash flow, and benefited the school by providing a cost-effective way of teaching a subject that was difficult to recruit quality teachers for (and it certainly hasn't gotten any better since then). Why not open up teaching in STEM subjects to final-year graduates (probably economics too), given the teacher shortages in those subjects? Who knows? Some of them may actually enjoy the experience enough to stay on and become teachers (which they wouldn't have done otherwise). Raising the bar for people to become teachers is ridiculous, when you can't fill the vacancies for quality teachers in STEM subjects (and other subjects) now.


[*] Ok, there is already a barrier to entry because teachers require a qualification. However, this proposal raises the barrier to entry even higher.

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