Debate Club

Average Public School Teacher Is Paid Too Much

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The average teacher working in a public school today receives total compensation roughly 52 percent higher than what he or she would receive in private-sector employment. In that sense, the teacher is, indeed, "overpaid."

Teachers may appear underpaid because they receive lower salaries than the typical college graduate. However, prospective teachers are predominantly drawn from the bottom third of their college graduating class. Compared with those of college graduates with similar skills, teachers' average annual salaries of around $55,000 are about right.

[Read: States Rights at Heart of New 'No Child Left Behind' Debate.]

It is generous fringe benefits that push total teacher compensation far ahead of private-sector levels. A full-career teacher can receive guaranteed pension benefits four times those of a private-sector worker with a 401(k) plan. Moreover, most teachers also receive retiree health benefits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of retirement. Teachers also enjoy 185- to 195-day work years, compared with 260 days for typical private-sector workers. Total fringe benefits for teachers are equal to 101 percent of their salaries, versus just 44 percent for workers in large private firms.

On top of that, school teachers are only half as likely to become unemployed as private-school teachers and workers in similar white-collar occupations. Economists since Adam Smith have agreed that extra job security has a monetary value, which we estimate to be around 9 percent of compensation.

In response to these data, critics often argue that teaching is an especially difficult job that justifies higher pay, citing long work hours and out-of-pocket expenses on classroom supplies. The problem with this argument is that many jobs are hard, and many jobs require sacrifices. Teaching is certainly challenging, but it is not uniquely so.

[Read: The End Is Near for No Child Left Behind.]

For example, when the Census Bureau asks Americans how many hours they work per week, teachers give virtually the same answer as non-teachers. And even if we assumed that non-teachers suffered zero out-of-pocket expenses, the "hundreds of dollars" spent by teachers on classroom supplies would have little effect on our analysis. After all, average teacher salaries and benefits total well over $100,000.

There is no reasonable means of adjusting the data or altering the assumptions to make the teacher compensation premium disappear. Recognizing that the average public school teacher receives excessive compensation is the first step toward meaningful pay reform.

Andrew G. Biggs

About Andrew G. Biggs Experts at Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute

Jason Richwine

About Jason Richwine Experts at Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute

Tags
education
education policy

Other Arguments

#1
93 Pts
Teachers Paid Much Less Than Their Peers

No – Teachers Paid Much Less Than Their Peers

Linda Darling-Hammond Professor at Stanford University

#2
85 Pts
Time to Pay Teachers What They Are Worth

No – Time to Pay Teachers What They Are Worth

Barnett Berry President and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality

#3
73 Pts
Higher Wages Would Attract, Keep Better Teachers

No – Higher Wages Would Attract, Keep Better Teachers

Jack Jennings Founder and CEO of Center on Education Policy

#4
63 Pts
Low Wages Lead to High Teacher Turnover

No – Low Wages Lead to High Teacher Turnover

Randi Weingarten President of American Federation of Teachers

#5
61 Pts
U.S. Should Rethink How It Compensates Teachers

No – U.S. Should Rethink How It Compensates Teachers

Andreas Schleicher Special Adviser on Education Policy at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

#6
-30 Pts
Higher Salaries Won't Improve Teacher Performance

Yes – Higher Salaries Won't Improve Teacher Performance

Marcus Winters Fellow at the Manhattan Institute

#8
-54 Pts
Teacher Pay Has No Correlation With Education Quality

Yes – Teacher Pay Has No Correlation With Education Quality

Rob Port Editor of SayAnythingBlog.com

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