Friday, March 02, 2007

Are Public School Teachers Underpaid?

Jay Greene documented clearly in his outstanding book, Education Myths, that teachers, in general are NOT underpaid (great teachers and teachers in teacher shortage areas are, however) -- see my slides on this at
Here is a link to Greene's latest report, which updates and deepens his analyses:
Here's a summary:

In this new report, Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters provide systematic data on how much public school teachers are paid, relative to other white-collar professionals. Because discussions about teacher pay rarely reference these data, the policy debate on education reform has proceeded without a clear understanding of these issues.

This report compiles information on the hourly pay of public school teachers nationally and in 66 metropolitan areas, as collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and compares the hourly income of public school teachers to those of workers in similar professions. Nationwide, the average public school teacher earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, which is 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker. Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week, compared with 39.4 hours per week for white-collar workers, and 39.0 hours per week for professional specialty and technical workers. Nationwide, public school teachers are paid, on average, 61% more per hour than private school teachers. The authors find no relationship between higher teacher pay rates in metropolitan areas and improved high school graduation rates.


Jay Greene's WSJ Op Ed from last week, in which he summarizes his recently released report on teacher pay:

The perception that we underpay teachers is likely to play a significant role in the debate to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. The new Democratic majority intends to push for greater education funding, much of which would likely go toward increasing teacher compensation. It would be beneficial if the debate focused on the actual salaries teachers are already paid.

It would also be beneficial if the debate touched on the correlation between teacher pay and actual results. To wit, higher teacher pay seems to have no effect on raising student achievement. Metropolitan areas with higher teacher pay do not graduate a higher percentage of their students than areas with lower teacher pay.

In fact, the urban areas with the highest teacher pay are famous for their abysmal outcomes...

Evidence suggests that the way we pay teachers is more important than simply what they take home. Currently salaries are determined almost entirely by seniority -- the number of years in the classroom -- and the number of advanced degrees accumulated. Neither has much to do with student improvement.

There is evidence that providing bonuses to teachers who improve the performance of their students does raise academic proficiency.

One of my friends from Teach for America raised the issue that it's not fair to look at what teachers are paid per hour, since Jay Greene's data is based on contractual hours, but many teachers work lots of extra hours "off the clock", grading papers, helping students after school in person or on the phone, etc.  The problem with this argument is that I've never seen any data to support it -- just lots of anecdotes.  I have no doubt that TFA teachers put in a TON of extra hours, but they're hardly typical.  If anyone can show me DATA that supports the assertion that teachers do lots more work "off the clock" relative to other professions, I'd love to see it. 

Is $34.06 Per Hour 'Underpaid'?

February 2, 2007; Page A19

Who, on average, is better paid -- public school teachers or architects? How about teachers or economists? You might be surprised to learn that public school teachers are better paid than these and many other professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public school teachers earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, 36% more than the hourly wage of the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty or technical worker.

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