Teachers’ decline blamed on low pay

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Researchers, not just the labour unions representing teachers, are now blaming relatively low pay for what they claim is a marked decline in the overall level of teachers’ intelligence in Norway. They say the level of knowledge among male teachers has dropped dramatically in the past 30 years.

The researchers at Norway’s most prestigious school  of economics, NHH (Norges Handelshøyskole) in Bergen, based their conclusions on an examination of teachers’ IQ scores. “We’re surprised over how large the decline in knowledge levels has become,” one of the researchers told newspaper Aftenposten.

IQ caution
The report set off immediate protests from some teachers’ organizations and other researchers, who warned against relying too heavily on IQ scores. “In the teaching profession, there’s so much more than IQ that’s also important,” Professor Peder Haug at the state college in Volda (Høgskulen i Volda) told Aftenposten. Haug pointed to the ability to relate to children and youth, for example, “which often is viewed as ‘peanuts’ but important, and a quality that can’t be tested and ranked.”

Still, the NHH research was catching attention because of how it illustrates the decline in status that the teaching profession has suffered since what some consider its “glory days” in the 1950s. At that time, entrance requirements to teachers’ colleges were much higher than they are now. In the 1960s, academic demands for those wanting to become teachers were as high as for doctors.

Haug agrees teachers today “have become more like ‘normal folks’.” He added that “there’s no doubt” they had higher status and much more authority in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. He blames the decline on the protest movements of the late 1960s that seriously challenged authority, that demands grew in Norway that people should “be more alike,” that pay levels have fallen and politicians routinely criticize the quality of teaching and the schools. The teaching profession, he said, also has been affected by social challenges such as higher divorce rates, drug use, immigration and a generally more mobile, less stable society. Teachers today, even in the elementary schools, have to deal with far more issues than simply reading, writing and arithmetic.

Lower scores and fewer advanced degrees
The NHH researchers compared IQ scores of teachers born from 1930 to 1980, using mostly data collected from young men when they performed mandatory military service and who later went on to become teachers. Average IQ scores on a scale of 1-9 fell from 7.3 to 6.2 during the past 30 years. The researchers lacked similar data for women, but said they had reason to believe the trend was the same.

They also found that the portion of teachers with advanced degrees declined by half between 1971 and 2006. Professor Kjell Gunnar Salvanes of NHH told Aftenposten that “we know the brightest teachers quit and move on to something else.”

Salvanes and fellow researchers Jarle Møen and Helge Sandvig Thorsen blame much of the decline in status and intelligence on salary levels that simply don’t attract the best and the brightest. “Income for teachers compared to other relevant fields has declined over a long period,” Salvanes told Aftenposten. “There are a lot of things that determine what profession people choose, but income is an important element. And we think that salaries are an important clarification as to why more teachers are recruited from groups with lower levels of knowledge.”

Salvanes criticized the lack of effort made to uphold pay levels. “Everyone knows we need more teachers, everyone knows it has to do with salaries,” he said. “But no one does anything about it.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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