Arnold Kling  

Teachers and Stardom

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A reader sends in this question:

CBS Sunday Morning knocked multi-million dollar baseball salaries this morning and lamented that teachers are much more poorly paid. Then I wondered, why do teachers not market themselves? How come there are no teaching entrepreneurs who try new methods -- Web, TV to bring scale to teaching. Why the dearth of teaching celebrities or stars? Like anything built around human talent, there must be a wide disparity in the capabilities of teachers. There must be some who are exceptional. But, we never hear of them.

Can you explain why there are no ads where teachers tout their track records? ("I taught Arnold Kling all he knows, and can teach your child too!"). Is it a lack of demand? A lack of creativity? A conspiracy by administrators? Why do teachers shun celebrity?

I don't think that A-Rod gets paid a lot because of his marketing prowess. He gets paid a lot because he hits a ton of home runs.

I think that the reason that Britney Spears markets herself and teachers do not is that marketing pays off for the former and not for the latter. In the world of pop music, personal brands matter more than corporate brands.

In the world of mainstream education, institutional brands matter more than personal brands. Think of Harvard. Out of the mainstream, there are portions of the education world where personal branding does matter. Think of Stephen Covey.

Why do teachers not market themselves on the basis of track records? Probably because they can't. Good students are autodidacts, and bad students are darned hard to teach. So value added is elusive to obtain, much less to demonstrate.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Phil writes:

When I was in school, there were good teachers and bad teachers, and everyone knew which were which. Perhaps part of the problem is that so few students are in a position to be able to choose their teachers. I would have paid extra for teacher X, but the option was not available.

Shamus writes:

Education is more of a rent seeking activity in the US than an entrepreneurial one.

Dan Weber writes:

While I surely felt in high school that I knew who the good teachers were, I don't think I'd be comfortable giving the power to choose teachers to high school students. I even feel wary giving it to college students, who may tend to choose "easier graders" over "better teachers." (And high school grades matter a lot, because they are how you get into college.)

Dan Weber writes:

Another thought:

I remember in the past year some high school kid offered up 2% of his future earnings if you paid for his college. His write-up was so filled with grammatical errors that it wasn't really a surprise that no one took him up on it. (I cannot find the link to the story; maybe someone else can.)

But it got me to thinking: what if a super-star teacher offered to manage your kid's education in exchange for, say, 1% of all his future earnings?

There are issues with making sure that the student follows through, as well as the high variability among students future salaries making this high risk. (Don't want to sacrifice a year of salary to help someone become a poet.) But assuming those issues can be addressed, would something like this make sense for a super-star teacher? writes:

I had similar thoughts about teachers when I was thinking of providing my children with exceptional tutors from various disciplines in addition to their regular curriculum. Aristocrats would frequently engage proven scholars to teach their children. Good private schools today attempt to do the work of locating good teachers for you. There are plenty of extracurricular tutoring opportunities. How in the world, though, would one be able to locate and employ extraordinary teachers on an individual basis? Are there agencies that specialize in such activity?

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