PhDs to teach…3rd grade math?

From Laurie Chen in the South China Morning Post:

One of Beijing’s leading schools has said it will only hire people with PhDs to work as teachers in its primary and middle schools.

The Experimental School, which is affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, posted a recruitment notice on its website last Thursday, stating that all available positions need a PhD qualification related to the teaching subject.

The school, in the exclusive district of Chaoyang in the heart of Beijing, is currently hiring teachers for subjects including physical education, maths, English, and “morality and law” for its primary and middle school.

There are 2 possible reasons for a policy like this:

1. To improve learning. Maybe the school’s leaders believe PhD’s are actually better teachers. This would be incorrect.

2. To please parents and outsiders. Maybe the school’s leaders believe PhD teachers will seem impressive. On this, I have no clue. It is plausible, perhaps even likely.

Back in 1988, as a Duke undergrad, my econ professor was Helen Ladd. She’s still rolling! In 2015, she co-authored this study:

The study estimates returns to master’s degrees (compared to teachers with bachelor’s degrees)…Even with this careful attention to selection bias, we confirm the findings of prior studies showing that teachers with master’s degrees are no more effective than those without.

Professor Ladd’s research builds on hundreds of other studies. There aren’t enough PhDs teaching K-12 to study them effectively (small sample size), but we could guess that the result from teachers with masters degrees will be similar.

I hearken back to Match High School in 2003, when we had a PhD in math teaching our oldest students. He struggled enormously with succinct explanations and student motivation. In 2004, we hired Chris, who had a bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan. Students loved him and his results were sensational.

I remember the chief operating officer of Teach For America, Jerry, visiting one day and spending an hour in Chris’s class. “That’s the best math teacher I’ve ever seen!” he said.

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