Education Opinion

The Efficiency Index

By Walt Gardner — September 12, 2014 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over the course of the 22 years that I’ve been writing about education, I’ve read countless reports about how to improve schools. But the most preposterous involves what is known as the efficiency index (“America’s Schools Could Be More Efficient If Teachers Were Paid Less: Report,” Huffington Post, Sept. 4).

The provocative title caught my attention, and so I decided to read on. The researchers began by arguing that the most defensible way of evaluating education systems is by calculating which system generates the greatest educational return for each dollar invested. The basis are scores on the Program for International Student Assessment. Finland is ranked No. 1 in this regard, while the U.S. comes in at No. 19.

Since 80 percent of education budgets is determined by teachers’ salaries, countries that reduce what teachers are paid will be more efficient. The U.S. is the best example. It spends five times as much as any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country. Moreover, its class sizes are small. Therefore, the report recommends that the U.S. should reduce the average salary from $41,460 to $39,520. At the same time, it should increase class size.

After finishing this report, I first thought it was a satire. But then I realized that it was intended to be taken seriously. I don’t know if GEMS Education Solutions, which was behind the report, realizes how ridiculous the recommendations are, but there will be those who agree with them.

For this reason alone, I make the following points: First, scores on PISA or any other test of international competition are hardly a fair way of judging overall education quality. So much has already been written about why this is the case that I won’t bother repeating the conclusion. Second, public schools are not businesses. Efficiency, therefore, is an inappropriate measure. Third, reducing salaries will only deter the best and the brightest from choosing teaching as a career. Given the illogic of the report, why not just put all teachers on straight commission?

Actually, efficiency observations go back to the Progressive Era when supervisors rated teachers on the number of their students who were tardy or how long it took teachers to hand out worksheets (The Teacher Wars, Doubleday, 2014). Just as these benchmarks were eventually dropped, I also hope the efficiency index will meet the same fate.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.