It is rarely recognised, but Australia in the 1960s had two ingenious ways of keeping teacher quality high. First, rampant gender pay discrimination in the professions pushed many talented women into teaching (where gender pay gaps were generally smaller). Second, a highly regulated labour market meant that many companies rewarded their employees based on tenure, not performance – just as teaching did (and still does).
Over the past half-century, these two factors changed radically. On balance, the large-scale entry of women into business, law, and medicine has been a terrific development. But an unintended consequence is that fewer talented women now become teachers. And while the growth of performance pay has benefited many occupations, it has made the uniform salary schedules in teaching look increasingly unattractive to todayâ€™s graduates.
On the theme of unexpected factors that might lower teacher quality, a school principal in the audience made a point I’d never heard before. To the extent that teaching is a much better job for parents than most other occupations, the push in other occupations for universal paidÂ maternity leave – and more family-friendly provisions generally -Â will have the effect of drawing still more talented women out of teaching. Of course, this isn’t an argument against maternity leave (just as the above quote isn’t an argument for going back to a world where 95% of lawyers were men). But it does imply that we should think broadly about policy spillovers; and maybe universal paid maternity leave needs to go hand-in-hand with better pay for teachers.