Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pay The Teachers

There’s a study going around the Orcosphere by a couple of researchers at the American Enterprise Institute that claims that public school teachers are actually overpaid compared to “similarly educated and experienced private-sector workers.”

The organization said it took a “comprehensive” look at teacher’s salaries and tried to take into account what it says are unique areas of compensation for teachers, including generous pension plans and better job security.

The bottom line? Teacher’s compensation, the American Enterprise Institute writes, is 52 percent above market rates and costs government “$120 billion annually in excessive labor costs.”

Aside from the fact that I have first-hand knowledge that at least in one very large school district the average salary for a teacher is, to use the technical term, a pittance compared to people with similar educations and experience in the workplace, the researchers themselves admit to several flaws in their own study.

According to Census data, Richwine and Biggs admit that teachers do look underpaid; they receive a 20 percent lower salary than private-sector workers with the same level of education, and have benefits approximately the same.

These numbers are flawed, however, according to Richwine and Biggs. They show that the typical worker who moves from the private sector into teaching receives a salary increase of 8.8 percent, and the typical teacher who enters the private sector receives a pay cut of 3.1 percent. If teachers were underpaid, they write, “this is the opposite of what one would expect.”


They also admit, however, that given the small sample size of workers who switch between teaching and non-teaching, “these data should not be considered precise.” It is also probable that a private sector worker who would receive a significant pay cut from becoming a teacher is less likely to fulfill that mid-career calling.

I’m not a statistician, but it seems to me that if you admit to having a small sample size and “these data should not be considered precise,” perhaps it might not be a good idea to publish your findings until you get more data. But why let facts get in the way of keeping a lie going around?

I challenge any right-winger to spend one week shadowing a teacher at a public school of their choice. It can be the best school in their district. Let them see what happens and what teachers do before, during, and after the school bell has rung. I guarantee that after that week of class prep, class time, after-school coaching, meeting with parents, cleaning up the classroom, patching the holes, paying for their own school supplies, taking required professional development and certification courses at their own expense, and the hundreds of other things that make up the day in America’s educational system, they’ll be out in the park leading the demonstration for better pay for the teachers. I’ll even let them play the bongo drums.