Efforts to help US schools become more effective generally focus on improving the skills of current teachers or keeping the best and ejecting the least effective ones. The issue of who should actually become teachers has received comparatively little attention. Yet the world’s top-performing systems–in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea–recruit 100 percent of their teaching corps from students in the top third of their classes.
A McKinsey survey of nearly 1,500 top-third US college students confirms that a major effort would be needed to attract them to teaching. Among top-third students not planning to enter the profession, for example, only 33 percent believe that they would be able to support a family if they did. The stakes are high: recent McKinsey research found that an ongoing achievement gap between US students and those in academically top-performing countries imposes the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. To learn more, read “Attracting and retaining top talent in US teaching” (September 2010).