Forget the cliche of bringing an apple to your favorite teacher. You may want to send her your next bonus check instead -- because she's a big part of why you got it.

That's the gist of a recent report by the Cambridge, Mass.-based National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that attempted to measure the economic value of effective teachers compared to their less effective counterparts.

The study found that during the course of a school year, a student may learn as much as three times more material from a top-performing teacher as a similar student does from a bottom-performing teacher. And that extra learning translates to the bottom line once the student leaves school.

In fact, in one year, a well-above-average teacher -- in this case, one that's in the 84th percentile of effectiveness -- may lead to as much as $400,000 in additional lifetime earnings for her class of 20 compared to an average teacher, the NBER study said.

Add all of those students and school years up, and the numbers get astronomical, so much so that replacing the bottom 5% to 8% of teachers with merely average teachers would add a net value of as much as $100 trillion to the economy -- or about seven times the annual U.S. GDP -- and move the country to near the top of international science and math rankings in the process.

"Recent analysis has demonstrated a very close tie between cognitive skills of a country's population and the country's rate of economic growth," wrote Eric A. Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University and author of the report. "In particular, countries that perform better on international math and science tests have stronger growth of their economies."

The Politics of Education

The study touches on a hot button of sorts because of political disagreements about the effectiveness 2001's Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- also known as "No Child Left Behind" -- that was originally signed by former President George W. Bush and more recently tweaked by President Barack Obama.

Such standards-based education reform was spurred largely by Americans' slipping math and science scores relative to other industrialized countries. In 2009, U.S. students scored below average in math and about average in science among the more than two dozen industrialized nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in that group's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). South Korea, Finland, Japan, Canada and the Netherlands were among the top performers in both subjects, while the U.S. was significantly further back in the pack, just behind nations such as Poland and Hungary.

Still, some educational experts say the study raises more questions than it answers. For one thing, the NBER report says the effect of a larger class size is far smaller than the quality of teacher, and that's been a point of contention among many educators.

Too Much Focus on Test Prep?

"At least one of their apparent statements -- that class size doesn't matter -- is false," says Douglas Fuchs, professor and Nicholas Hobbs Chair in special education and human development at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College. "And there is well-known research to back up the fact that it's false."

Additionally, by focusing strictly on test scores, education officials run the risk of encouraging teachers to cram test-specific information into their students instead of engaging in a discourse that keeps students interested in the curriculum, according to Michael Apple, the John Bascom professor of curriculum and instruction and educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin.

"Schools are not simply places into which knowledge is poured into students' heads," says Apple. "This has led to some of the very worst practices associated with such failed policies as No Child Left Behind -- poor children doing nothing but 'test prep' and not getting a rich and interesting curriculum."

How to Reward the Best, Remove the Worst?

Finally, the NBER report merely studies the possible impact of effective teachers compared to ineffective ones, but it doesn't come up with a solution on how to properly compensate teachers according to performance. That's a major issue given that teacher salaries relative to their peers were at about the 35th percentile in 2000, down from about the 60th percentile in 1940, according to the study. In order for schools to be able to take a harder line approach to poorer-performing teachers, that trend would have to reverse before better teachers can be attracted into a profession with progressively less job security.

That said, the report's implication that officials need to find a better way to properly compensate the more-effective teachers while weeding out the worst ones may be valuable for a country looking to improve its own educational performance relative to its industrialized peers, according to Dominic Brewer, professor of education, economics and policy at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education.

"This is a credible study, and it points to some of the trade-offs that are often ignored," says Brewer, who agrees with the report's hypothesis that investing in teacher quality would be far more effective than spending money on cutting average class sizes.

"I would be wary of saying that if we simply got rid of X amount of teachers things would all work out," counters University of Wisconsin's Apple, noting that such an approach might be particularly risky in poorer, less-educated areas of the country. "This kind of statement lives in world divorced from the reality of schools, teachers, community and the ways in which economies work in places and whole communities where there are few if any jobs and opportunities."

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As a former principal, I know we need to get rid of the bad teachers and find a way to attract good teachers back to our schools. I have some ideas.
1. Let's come up with an appropriate national exam instead of having each state write one. Have this test be diagnostic (identify what problems certain wrong answers indicate and give this feedback to the schools) and have the tests be taken on and graded by computers (schools won't be able to cheat if the already corrected answers go directly to the testing centers) This will save millions of dollars being spent on paper tests.
2. As a principal, I wanted my teachers (junior high) to know three things, first and foremost, the subject matter they were teaching; second, how children learn, learning styles,learning disablities, etc. - there is no silver bullet that will teach all children - no right way to teach,each child is different and it is up to the teacher to find the key, and finally teachers need to understand child development. For example, right now my kindergarten grandson is being criticized because he doesn't print well even though studies show that small muscle development for boys occurs at the average age of seven. Many of the countries who are beating us don't start school until age seven, yet we are pushing unrealistic expectations on kindergarteners, which often ends up doing nothing but discouraging them. Instead of concentrating on these areas, schools of education are requiring hours of ridiculous coursework that ends up discouraging bright people from considering majors in education. When I chose teaching, there were only three areas open to women (teacher, nurse or secretary). I suffered through the stupid courses (which did nothing to make me a better teacher) because I had no other options.
3. Get rid of most of the people in the central offices . Instead find the best teachers already in the schools and use them to conduct inservice education. These central office based teams of so-called often inexperienced experts are not improving things at all, but are vastly increasing the cost of schools.
4. Quit bussing. Return to neighborhood schools, which will help us get parents involved and save a mint that can be used to attract and reward bright teachers. Bussing has not worked. Only 2% of black males are going on to college which may be worse than the statistics before bussing.

February 11 2011 at 8:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The correct figure is $102,357,201,012,398.76. To say it's $100 Trillion is absolutely misleading. (Actually both figures are a total guess, just like Obama's national debt figures.)

February 10 2011 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To get better teacher you need to pay them better. In many High Schools the Football coach is the highest paid "teacher?" In Texas for example the budgets are tight but one realatively small school district was able to find $60,000,000 to build a new Football stadium. Thats right SIXTY MILLION. This money would have been better spent hiring and paying top 10% teachers in Math and Science. Building a facility dedicated to Science. In the long term the nation would benefit far more than having more ex high school football players fliping burgers.

February 10 2011 at 11:31 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Better teachers ? What is that. They are better educated then ever, but give less than 100% of their skills, because they have their own self centered life.

There are too many other activities in the school, sports esc.

Lets let the kids sit home and do their work on the PC, close the schools. Those who want a trade, go to voc techs

The old model needs to go.

February 10 2011 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the fundamental question remains unanswered, and that is, if our schools need to improve so much, why are our public schools still the envy of the world. As reported recently in the NY Times, when American schools open their doors to foreign students, who pay private school prices, they have no shortage of takers. Mexico, also outperforms Americans on some of these comparative tests, but how many Americans want to send their children to Mexican public schools. Many teachers feel their creativity is stifled by the "teaching to the test" mode that NCLB requires, after all who really believes that all children, will learn the same content,at the same age, in the same timeframe? And, how many Steve Jobs and other innovators have these countries produced. The fact is that America still out produces China, with fewer workers, earning higher wages. Americans still create, while others copy. Yes there are poor American teachers, but test results alone are not the way to determine which ones the may be.

February 10 2011 at 9:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to douglyest's comment

I think many parents from other countries send their children here to immerse them in English and prepare them for American universities which are still excellent. Teachers often report that these students are way ahead of ours in math and science. I agree on teaching to the test. Instead of expecting everyone to be above average (such a concept shows how bad our knowledge of math really is)we should expect each child to make a year's gain. That would encourage good teachers to teach low level classes. Instead, based on the system in place in most schools, good teachers are rewarded by being given the best performing kids who could probably pass the test the first of September. On what basis are you saying we out produce China? China exports more goods than any other country and Germany (laden with the same union structure we have but a very well educated work force)comes in second.

February 11 2011 at 8:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Get rid of the poor performing teachers and the union and you'll have a better system. The union and the "tenure rule" is what is destroying our education system. Teachers get paid enough with great health benefits considering they work only 9 months a year.

February 10 2011 at 9:11 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Tony's comment

Wish i got promoted or a raise for sitting on my ass and just being there

February 10 2011 at 9:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

$30K a year to start, Master's required for new teachers in most fields, 10+ hour days grading papers, homework, creating lesson plans and dealing with IEPs for special needs students. (Yes, teachers do more than the simple job of educating 25-30 students an hour while trying to deal with the 3-5 students who make disruption their primary goal.) Add at least a month to that supposed 9 month job for planning and wrapping up. Still think they are getting some sweetheart deal?

As for tenure and unions destroying our education system, those have been around for over 50 years. Nobody complained about our education system for all those years. It's only recently that we started looking for a scapegoat.

February 18 2011 at 11:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are teachers who are worth their weight in gold and there are teachers who should NEVER be teaching our children. Throwing more money at the education system does not make a person a good teacher. Just as throwing money at the 'war against drugs' DOES NOT work. Money is not the answer to everything. The answer to everything is love.

February 10 2011 at 8:12 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to kmbw106's comment
Robert & Lisa

Our socialist public educational system has indoctrinated our children into believing capitalism and freedom is bad and socialism is good. If Socialism is so good, why does the long time socialist government of Mexico boast of being the #1 producer of silver, plenty of oil, and the richest man in the world, yet 99% of their people are in the poverty level making an average of less than 6 dollars a day. Corruption is rampant. The evil, ultra rich see Mexico and want to implement socialism here, where they can have all of the wealth and power and the middle class will now be among the poor. That is what their Demoncrat puppets in the white house and senate are doing to us.

February 10 2011 at 1:42 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert & Lisa's comment

It is not the Democrats who pushed to continue the practice of having Buffet's secretary pay a higher tax rate than he does. What happened in Mexico is what happens when the wealth in a country is concentrated in the hands of a few, which is exactly what is happening here.

February 11 2011 at 8:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hey you

Hmmm. When I think of my education, I don't count my teachers as my role models. My grandmother taught me to read before kindergarten. It my grandfather's love of books that had me interested in going to the library with him and picking a few for myself. It was also his profession, engineering, and the fact that we helped him build his own house that had me interested in science and math. My mom's love of travel had me curious about history and science and even medicine. My aunt's church taught me music and ethics and a sense of responsibility to a community. So maybe other kids don't have my experience, and I do respect that teachers can be an anchor for many students, but there are a lot more people in line ahead of my teachers that I would like to thank for my education.

February 09 2011 at 9:45 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hey you's comment

I was a poor girl going to school, thus to teachers, poor equals dumb. So they let me stay in back of room, like a mushroom. Parents did not have money for school field trips, so I was sent to another class room while other went.
Everyday of school i woke up sick, but had to go. Summer vacation was my only relieve for 12 yrs. One nice word would have helped, they did let me take the class Christmas Tree home for Christmas. Oh well

February 10 2011 at 10:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just skimmed the article regarding the impact of teachers on a persons annual salary. The National Bureau of Economic Research probably spent a fortune on developing this estimate. 20 pupils will earn $400,00 more cumulatively during their lifetimes when taught by the best teachers. $400,000 divieded by 20 pupils equals $20,000 per student over their lifetime. If they work on average 25 years they will earn an added $800 per year during their lifetime. $67 per month. Wow !!! What an impact. If you do an ROI the answer would be don't spend any more money on teaching it's payback stinks. $800 per year won't even cover inflation.
Who are these brilliant people who put these reports together? They are not worth the money they make. And the government probably paid $100, 000, 000 for the study.
This crap is not even worth placing on the system.

February 09 2011 at 9:07 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to limerickbob's comment

Wait, this is not the first time we gave them money, where all the lottery money goig ? One guess raises.
I also beleive Colleges increase tution because of all the money they see parents save for a kids college fund. Suckers

February 10 2011 at 10:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I could not agree with you more. Anybody can "predict" these figures and play safe if even half happens, provided there are no more recessions and high unemployment in those 25 years also. Oh, darn.

February 10 2011 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply