You get what you pay for, period. I recently read an AP article: Report: Too many teachers, too little quality and it discussed how we graduated too many teachers for available positions with too easy of a path through secondary education. But it is simple, if teaching is a disrespected profession, and it currently is, you will get what you pay for --- period.
I worked as engineer & manager for a decade
prior to teaching and I know from that time as a manager how respect (pay/benefits) directly correlated to skills. It is simple economics for career choices and job choices, smart
people go for respect (and the salary/benefits that come with it). You will have a few that excel at the lower end, but the true "rock-stars" typically move along to the more respected positions.
Currently teaching has little respect and while a good hunk of teachers
are good at their job, have "high-level" skills and ignore the
disrespect (me for one - I believe) that leaves another hunk who don't have great skills and are giving an effort equal to the respect (which is often not good enough). And again it starts with what is expected at college. In Engineering there were "flunk-out" courses which thinned the herd of students who wanted to be engineers. Is there a thinning class in education? What about the following:
1) Student teaching -- if you cannot do it well, then you should not become a teacher. Except all schools put it at the end, where flunking a student would mean a lost of 4 years of schooling so failing a student rarely happens; meaning we pass some truly mediocre teachers into the profession. (Who usually cannot get job due to poor interview skills)
2) Should we expect all new teachers to be good at Algebra & Geometry? Seems reasonable but is far from the norm in my experience. We move K-8 teachers through school where they survive math versus understand it, then they become our 4th and 5th grade teachers who teach procedure versus concepts (though I am lucky at my school).
3) A truly deep education class at the beginning of the sophomore year where students really study, learn classroom management, the brain, learning styles and how to deeply reflect -- but currently early education classes are pretty "cupcake."
But those expectations are only going to happen if the education field is respected and wants the best people. Cause while a few of the best come because they want to, a great deal fall into teaching. The rigor of secondary education will follow respect, not vice versa.
And even if a teacher has the true prerequisite skills to be great, how many
really bust themselves to deliver -- again without respect, effort
wains. It is too easy to say they don't pay me to be great, they pay for what they get. Thus a few late nights or weekends, a few extras but not consistently pushing for greatness. That is hard, you need respect to truly work hard.
And finally the article says it is hard to remove teachers, but it is completely possible. I simply notice a lack of effort to get it done, a culture of accepting poor performance by the highest paid, theoretically most qualified people - administrators. After being mentored as a manager I became very forceful with less than stellar performers -- education can be the same. High expectations - period. But the compensation must be in line too and it isn't - so we live with mediocrity because that's what we pay for.
So as we are changing education and complaining about the field we must remember one simple fact -- you get what you pay for.