physics teachers, on the grounds that this is “fair.” But when we encounter a pursuit that really matters in our secondary-education system, we somehow manage to find a solution to the pay conundrum: for example, we put a priority on paying our high-school football coaches very well for the extra duties they perform. Not surprisingly, a Sports Illustrated online survey reveals that the nation’s university students believe overwhelmingly that the athletic departments in their institutions have more power than the academic faculties. The public K-12 school system in the United States continues to be largely impervious to the forces of the free-enterprise system.
About 46% of new teachers abandon the profession within 5 years. The attrition rate is even higher among science and mathematics teachers. In 2004, in Maryland, my home state, 523 mathematics teachers resigned. In spite of a monumental effort, only 91 qualified replacements could be hired. The situation is even worse in the case of physics teachers. Geoffrey Summers, of the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus, noted that “if we add four physics teachers per year in Maryland public schools we will double the rate of physics teachers that Maryland currently produces.” That is in a state with nearly 6 million inhabitants. Maryland is not alone in this respect. Before the University of Texas initiated its UTeach program, of which more will be said, only 16 of 12,000 graduates in 1996 were certified to teach secondary science and 5 to teach mathematics. At the University of North Carolina, Erskine Bowles, in his inaugural address as president, remarked, “Think about this: in the past 4 years, our 15 schools of education at the University of North Carolina turned out a grand total of three physics teachers. Three. And we’re going to compete with those guys in Asia? Come on—not that way.” And a recent article in Science points out that “last year, BYU, a private institution run by the Mormon Church, graduated roughly five percent of all the new physics teachers produced by all U.S. colleges and universities in 2006. Its class of 16 dwarfs the production of any other university.”
Why do classroom teachers abandon the profession? There are, of course, a plethora of reasons: lack of prestige, lack of inherent discipline in the classroom, lack of parental support, demanding work, inadequate pay, and so on. The number 1 source of dissatisfaction among teachers in low-poverty suburban public schools is, according to one survey, poor salary (51% of respondents), but among high-poverty public schools, the lack of administrative support (50%) ranks number 1. U.S. News & World Report states that whereas a high-school teacher must work 43 hours to make $1,000, the average corporate CEO can do so in 2 hours and 55 minutes. Kobe Bryant takes only 5 minutes and 30 seconds on the basketball court—and Howard Stern need labor only 24 seconds in his chosen profession.
Simply stated, if a teacher is to inspire today’s young people, that teacher had better be