WASHINGTON, D.C. – Individuals from across the political spectrum agree that one of the keys to improving America’s public education system is to get the smartest, most capable college students interested in a teaching career.

The belief is that students will learn more if they’re taught by individuals who know their subject area backward and forward.

A new study by Third Way – a think tank with middle-of-the-road views – suggests that’s going to be a tough task.

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Third Way researchers asked 400 high-performing college students – part of the “millennial” generation – for their views on the teaching profession, and the results are disheartening, if not surprising.

From HuffingtonPost.com: “Only 35 percent (of respondents) described teachers as ‘smart,’ half said the profession had gotten less prestigious over the years, and most described teaching as the top profession for ‘average’ people.”

The millennials’ low view of teachers might seem harsh, but it’s not baseless. It’s been long understood that America’s teaching corps is largely made up of individuals who languished in the bottom one-third of their college graduating classes.

That leads to the question: How can Americans attract the best and the brightest to careers in education?

Third Way offers a few policy ideas, including higher pay and increased prospects for career growth.

Third Way researchers suggest “21st century career ladder compensation structures” that pay and promote educators based on their performance instead of their seniority.

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The researchers also suggest creating opportunities for high-performing teachers to take on more responsibilities – such as mentoring new teachers and leading professional development training sessions – while staying in the classroom.

“I think that especially for millennials it’s not just about money, it’s about being (able) to challenge themselves and take on more responsibility,” Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, one of the report’s authors, told HuffingtonPost.com.

Those are all fine ideas, but they’re just pie-in-the-sky concepts until states curtail the power of teacher unions. In most states, teacher unions effectively run public schools through all the work rules and pay regulations contained in their collectively bargained contracts.

As long as the nation’s teacher unions are allowed to treat educators as if they’re assembly-line workers instead of college-trained professionals, the most talented millennials aren’t going to consider teaching as a viable career option.

And that’s bad news for America’s K-12 students.

The Third Way study just adds more fuel to the argument that Big Labor should not have any role in America’s public education system.