Time to Pay Teachers What They Are Worth
It is time to invest in the profession that makes all other professions possible
November 9, 2011
It must be the silly season in the world of education policy. A new report released recently by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute claims teachers are paid too much. Sound research evidence and common sense trump these ridiculous conclusions.
The report's authors, Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs, assert that public school teachers are paid 52 percent more than what similar professionals would be paid in the private sector. A closer look at this "ivory tower" report reveals a swath of methodological flaws, faulty assumptions, and ignorance of the realities of K-12 teaching.
First, let's look at the facts. An Economic Policy Institute study has shown that teachers earn 14 percent less than similarly trained counterparts in the private sector—even when accounting for benefits. The teaching pay gap has increased substantially over the last decade.
Meanwhile, McKinsey & Company, an internationally renowned business consulting firm, recently concluded that, to entice top-flight recruits to teaching, beginning salaries should start at $65,000. It suggested that seasoned experts who do the most for students and the system should earn at least $150,000.
So how did Richwine and Biggs reach their conclusions? They factored in pension benefits when comparing teachers' overall compensation with their private-sector counterparts. Here is what they didn't consider: 30 percent of all teachers leave the profession in five years, never receiving pension benefits.
The new study also assumes that teachers work the "contract" day and week. But longitudinal research shows a majority of teachers ignore "contract" hours, working more than 50 hours per week. One in five teachers works 60 hours or more per week.
Richwine and Biggs do not acknowledge the hidden costs of teaching. Most teachers pay for opportunities (often in summer) to help them teach more effectively. And teachers also spend their own money to provide students with better learning opportunities. In 2010, teachers spent $1.33 billion (an average of $356 per teacher) on supplies and instructional materials.
I suspect Richwine and Biggs reached their conclusions before designing their "study"—which is why their statistical model presents limited data, leading to inaccurate results.
Most who read this report will think it hogwash, especially if they understand the realities classroom teachers face. This is no time to be silly. It is time to pay teachers what they are worth. It is time to invest in the profession that makes all other professions possible.