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How Much Are Teachers Really Paid? By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Jay P. Greene, the Endowed Chair and Head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of Education Myths and the co-author (with Marcus Winters) of the new released report entitled "How Much Are Teachers Paid?" 

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FP: Jay Greene, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Greene:  Thanks for interviewing me. 

FP: Your new report puts quite a hole in the teacher's unions’ constant complaint that the reason why grad rates are low is because teachers need more money and that teachers are barely scraping by.


But before we get to that, let’s back up a bit.


First tell us: how much are teachers really paid? 


Greene: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public school teachers earned, on average, $34.06 per hour in 2005.  That is 36% more than the average white collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker, which are the categories in which the BLS places teachers.  To give some examples, public school teachers are paid at a higher rate than architects, mechanical engineers, psychologists, and chemists.  These earnings figures exclude benefits, such as health and retirement, which tend to be more generous for public school teachers than other workers.  I should also emphasize that we did not calculate any of these earnings figures ourselves.  We simply repeated information collected by the BLS’ National Compensation Survey, which your readers can view themselves here.


FP: So how much do teachers get paid on an annual basis? And how much do they get paid on an annual basis if you factor in that they only work 10 months a year?


Greene: On an annual basis the average teacher in the United States is paid about $47,000 for 38 weeks of work.  The equivalent for 50 weeks of work would be about $62,000.


FP: How do we address concerns about failing to count work that teachers take home?


Greene:  It is certainly the case that many teachers take some work home, but that is also the case with many other professionals.  The BLS survey is designed to capture all hours actually worked, both by teachers and by other workers.  But if we were worried that somehow the BLS counted take-home work by other professionals more often than for teachers, we could look at weekly pay.  Weekly pay would not be sensitive to any miscounting of the number of hours worked.  When we look at weekly pay we still find that public school teachers earn more than the average white collar and professional worker. 


Some critics of the BLS figures argue that weekly earnings by teachers are understated because other professionals receive paid vacations while teacher vacations are counted as weeks not worked.  First it is important to note that not all professionals receive paid vacations, especially self-employed professionals.  Second, teachers have more paid days off, such as sick days, personal leave days, etc…, than do other workers.  So, an apple-to-apple comparison of weekly pay still shows that public school teachers, on average, are better paid than the average white collar and professional worker.


It is true that teacher pay looks less impressive on annual basis, but most teachers are only paid to work about 38 weeks per year, which makes comparisons of annual salaries inappropriate.  Teachers can use those weeks off to spend time with family, engage in other activities they enjoy, or take other employment to supplement their incomes.  That time off is worth money and cannot simply be ignored when looking at teacher pay.  If it were irrelevant, then teachers should be willing to switch to 12 month employment without additional compensation.  But of course, most teachers (rightly) would expect to be paid more if they were expected to work all year.


No matter how we slice it, the evidence from BLS clearly refutes the popular fantasy that teachers are paid more like fast food workers than like professionals. 


FP: So then is there really a relationship between the level of teacher pay and student performance?


Greene: We looked at whether metro areas with higher teacher pay relative to other workers had higher graduation rates, controlling for the demographic and other characteristics in that metro area.  We found no relationship between paying teachers more and higher student achievement.  This doesn’t mean that higher pay couldn’t contribute to student performance; it only suggests that under the way we pay teachers now, higher pay doesn’t improve student outcomes.  This finding is consistent with earlier research.


FP: Could we pay teachers differently so that compensation could contribute to student achievement?


Greene: In almost all public schools, teacher pay is determined by the number of years they have taught and the advanced degrees they hold.  Unfortunately, additional experience (especially beyond the third year) and advanced degrees have little to do with more effective teaching.  Initial results from a merit pay program we have examined with colleagues at the University of Arkansas suggests that directly linking teacher pay to gains in student achievement increases the magnitude of those gains.  A national study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida produced a similar finding.  While I think we still have a lot to learn about how to design and operate performance-based pay systems, this evidence suggests that we are more likely to see greater improvement in student performance by using new dollars for merit pay rather than across-the-board pay increases.


FP: How should teachers feel about this report?


Greene: Some teachers understandably get upset whenever someone talks about what is in their wallet. On the other hand, I’m not sure why we think it is good for teacher morale or for the recruitment of future quality teachers to insist falsely that teachers are paid more like fast-food workers than like professionals. Repeatedly understating how well-paid teachers are serves to discourage quality people from the profession and creates among teachers a false sense of persecution.    


I am sure that there are many underpaid teachers out there. We need to figure out how we can identify and reward those effective teachers. But any discussion we have about this should be based on a solid factual basis about how much teachers currently make and whether the system by which we pay them properly rewards effective teachers.


FP: What interests does it serve those who insist falsely that teachers are paid more like fast-food workers than like professionals? 


Greene: Obviously, understating what teachers are paid is part of a strategy to increase public expenditures on teacher salaries.  The popular willingness to repeat false claims about teachers being paid like fast food workers and to ignore evidence to the contrary stems in part from our desire to affirm our commitment to education.  That is, saying that teachers are horribly underpaid is a way for us to declare our appreciation for teachers. 


And with more than 3 million people currently working as a public school teacher, 1 out of 100 Americans (including children) is a public school teacher. Among adults with a college education a huge percentage are current or former public school teachers, which means that most people reading this will have several current or former public school teachers among their family and friends. Saying that those people deserve more money is an important symbol of affection.


Of course, we should appreciate teachers and express affection for our family and friends, but I don’t think we have to do so by repeating false information about their pay. In fact, I think we can appreciate our best teachers by focusing on ways to ensure that they are paid more even while we recognize that average pay is comparable to other professionals.


FP: Jay P. Greene, it was a pleasure speaking with you.


Greene: Thank you for the opportunity.


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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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