The myth of the underpaid teacher

Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters wrote this in a piece published today in the Philadelphia Daily News:

“WHEN ADULTS think of public schools, they usually trot out the clichés. Perhaps the most widespread of these is the low-paid teacher.

If people know anything about public education, it is that teachers are paid next to nothing compared to similar professionals. But the facts stand in stark contrast to the myth.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, public-school teachers nationwide make more per hour than most other professionals.”

Jay P. Greene isn’t just a commentator. He teaches education reform at the University of Arkansas and is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Marcus A. Winters is a senior research associate there. A week ago they published a study, “How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?”

Here in Illinois, where approximately 80 percent of the public school’s Education Fund for ever school district is spent on salaries, legislators are teaming up with special interests (who will directly profit) to pass an enormous income tax increase on families and businesses.

Despite the fact that taxpayers have continued to increase their funding of the public schools at substantially higher levels than the rate of inflation, those responsible for the management of these schools spend recklessly – including on teacher and administrator pay increases.

And let’s be clear about one of the reasons why that’s happening. It’s called ratcheting. Teachers and administrators all over the state check out each other’s salaries and then clamor for more for themselves.

Forget student performance or whether the market value of their job fits their demands. None of that is important. They want more and they want it now – and if taxpayers don’t do more, that’s when the threats start. Cries of poverty are combined with warnings that extracurriculars will be cut or teachers will strike.

No proof is ever given that what’s already being spent isn’t enough. Full financial transparency is avoided by the public school system at all costs. When some of the facts do get leaked, hardworking taxpayers are disgusted.

Greene and Winters note:

“According to the BLS, the average public-school teacher across the nation earns $34.06 an hour. This is about 36 percent more than other white-collar workers, and about 11 percent more than what is paid to other professionals that the BLS considers similar to teachers, such as engineers, computer scientists and health workers…

Public school teacher salaries are nearly entirely determined by the number of years taught and the number of advanced degrees held, two characteristics that research suggests have little to do with student academic achievement.”

llinois needs a few independent legislative leaders – that is, a few not beholden to groups like the teacher unions PACS – to stand up and begin factoring this kind of information in to the discussion of school spending. Until it is, and until there has been a thorough accounting and disclosure of how all that current money is being spent, there should be no consideration of giving the schools even more.