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McKinsey Corporation, in their latest report, Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching, argues that the U.S. school system needs to get top people in hard-to-teach areas. “McKinsey’s market research with 900 top-third college students and 525 current teachers with similar backgrounds shows that it would take major new efforts for the U.S. to attract and retain more top third+ talent to teaching.” A top third+ talent is someone who not only graduates from college, but graduates in the top third of the class. Historically, it has been difficult to get these graduates to become teachers.
Their 2007 report, How the World’s Best School Systems Stay on Top, concluded that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” Research had shown that one major step in reforming our education system would be making the classroom teacher more effective. There is hope that the teacher policy will change in America and more of an effort will be made to improve “teacher effectiveness” as one of the ways of improving student achievement.
The U.S. has a decentralized education process which has prevented a national plan on acquiring and maintaining a professional teaching corps. The politics of unions, universities, and local school districts and local budgets has complicated retaining top teachers. 
McKinsey’s latest report asks what we can learn from other nations – especially Singapore, Finland, and South Korea – about recruiting top talent for teaching. These three nations treat the process of teacher training more like a medical school residency.
Improving the teacher corps will take research, pilots, and many resources, but the possibilities of economic and social gains through this effort are strong. Research conducted by McKinsey discovered that the achievement gap between the U.S. and top performing nations is a problem carried mostly by low income and minority students. It is considered as a “permanent national recession” in the United States. As the report summarizes, “In our education system research and work in more than 50 countries, we have never seen an education system achieve world class status without top talent in its teaching profession. If the U.S. is to close its achievement gap with the world’s best education systems – and ease its own socio-economic disparities – a top-third+ strategy for the teaching profession must be part of the debate.” 
One scenario for increasing the number of good teachers in low performing schools includes:
  • Teachers receive their training at no cost
  • High schools would have effective principals
  • Professional development would be available
  • Districts would improve working conditions so teachers work in a safe, clean environment
  • Teachers would qualify for performance bonuses
With this scenario, research suggests that a pilot of top third+ strategies in high-needs districts, would produce positive results. This could be done through a “Race to the Top Third” or through collaboration amongst school districts and philanthropic involvement.
 This research has produced two recommendations:
Pilot a top third+ talent strategy. The de-centralized education plan of the U.S. makes it easier to experiment with different strategies. If a combination of federal funds and philanthropic funds were utilized and focused on high-needs districts to bring top third+ teachers in for a decade it could provide data on how this plan could be successful.
Develop a national teaching talent plan. Unlike the top three performing countries (Singapore, Finland, and South Korea) the US does not have a strategy for reforming the teaching profession. A federal plan on how to recruit teachers, prepare teachers, and retain teachers could greatly improve the profession. 
Conclusion
Within the next decade, more than half of America’s teachers will be retiring. While other countries have developed concrete plans on how to maintain their education systems, America has “followed a more haphazard approach, with its teacher corps the byproduct of broad social and economic trends rather than any conscious design.” 

 




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