This just in — the key to success in education is teaching. According to a study released this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the most effective education systems are the ones that recruit teachers from the same pool of talent that go into law or medicine, and give teachers rigorous training and substantial support. They also pay them well.

Perhaps as a result of those things, teachers in countries with successful education systems from Singapore to Finland are held in high esteem.

What does that mean for Maine, which hopes to improve its education system at a time when enrollments are declining and taxpayer support is harder to come by? The short answer is that we can’t afford not to, and somehow in the loud debate over state and local budgets, we should acknowledge the valuable role teachers play and put them at the center of reform efforts.

Doing so does not have to cost more. While the United States has one of the world’s most expensive education systems, the study found that it has one of the lowest rates of pay for teachers relative to other professions. Studies show that students are better off in a large class with a superior teacher than in a small class with a below- average one, so paying more does not necessarily mean spending more.

Recruiting the best students to become future teachers is important, but so is supporting them once they have started work. More than half of new teachers quit before five years on the job because the work is so demanding and they can find less stress and better pay elsewhere.

Teacher evaluation should also be part of any improvement plan. A system that identifies the best performers and compensates them for their work will help attract and retain those who should be in a classroom as well as weed out the ones who shouldn’t.

When it comes to the esteem in which we hold educators, it’s important for everyone to remember the teachers who have made a difference to them. Teachers do difficult and important work, and no meaningful reform will succeed without them.