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Closing the teaching talent gap

By Byron Auguste, Paul Kihn, and Matt Miller

What would it take to systematically attract—and retain—top students to a teaching career in the United States?

Improving teacher effectiveness to lift student achievement has become a major theme in US education. Most efforts focus on improving the effectiveness of teachers already in the classroom or on retaining the best performers and dismissing the least effective. Attracting more young people with stronger academic backgrounds to teaching has received comparatively little attention.

McKinsey’s experience with school systems in more than 50 countries suggests that this is an important gap in the US debate. In a new report, Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching (PDF–2.1MB), we review the experiences of the top-performing systems in the world—Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. These countries recruit, develop, and retain the leading academic talent as one of their central education strategies, and they have achieved extraordinary results. In the United States, by contrast, only 23 percent of new teachers come from the top third, and just 14 percent in high-poverty schools, where the difficulty of attracting and retaining talented teachers is particularly acute. The report asks what it would take to emulate nations that pursue this strategy if the United States decided it was worthwhile.

The report also includes new market research with nearly 1,500 current top-third students and teachers. It offers the first quantitative research-based answer to the question of how the US could substantially increase the portion of new teachers each year who are higher caliber graduates, and how this could be done in a cost-effective way.

Download the full report on which this article is based, Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching (PDF–2.1MB).

About the author(s)

Byron Auguste is a director in McKinsey’s Washington, DC, office, where Paul Kihn is a principal. Matt Miller is an associate principal in the Southern California office.
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