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05 November 2011

Repudiation: Hertiage Foundation Assessing Teacher Pay

On 1 November, the Heritage Foundation published a "study" titled Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers.  A study that uses assumptions to create an appearance of much higher pay than is real.

The first point they make is to base comparison of ability on standardized testing.  Traditionally one of the considerations when comparing compensation is to compare the number of years required to prepare for a field and the degrees or certifications required.  This study disregards that.

The wage gap between teachers and non-teachers disappears when both groups are matched on an objective measure of cognitive ability rather than on years of education.

They go on to claim standardized test results, including IQ scores is a better measure.

Although teachers as a group score above the national average on intelligence tests, their scores fall below the average for other college graduates. This implies that, to the extent that cognitive ability affects earnings independently of education, ordinary wage regressions may overestimate teacher earnings relative to those of other professions.


As both a direct measure of acquired knowledge and an indirect measure of innate ability, teacher education does not compare well to education in other fields. The result is that years of education could be a highly misleading measure of teacher skill.

Let me acknowledge that there are problems with some teacher training and acceptance of poorly prepared college students into teacher education programs.  But, that is a separate problem from wage scales.

The big problem with this criterion is that traditional measurements of cognitive ability are notoriously incomplete.  The beginning point for understanding the limitations of IQ and similar assessments is the study of Multiple Intelligences, as expressed first by Howard Gardner.  In short, IQ tests are very good at assessing how well a person is prepared to take IQ tests.  Many smart people express their intelligence in other ways.

In the classroom, one needs teachers who are intelligent far beyond standardized tests.  A simplistic breakdown is to consider that some people are more adept at visual learning, some at auditory learning, and some at kinesthetic learning.  IQ tests and other standardized tests focus on visual learning.  Most students are kinesthetic learners.

Using standardized cognitive assessments as a basis for comparison is flawed.

A second consideration for why education degrees and certifications should be considered is the cost.  Part of why medical doctors have such high wages is to enable them to pay off student loans, which are often ridiculously large.  While teachers do not incur the burden of medical doctors, the cost of education is far from trivial and should be considered.

Their second point is a comparison with private school teachers.

Public-school teachers earn higher wages than private-school teachers, even when the comparison is limited to secular schools with standard curriculums.

Let me concede this point immediately.  It is not surprising that private schools, employers who do not need to work with collective bargaining, pay less.

The third point is related to changing professions

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.

The change from a non-teaching job to a teaching job is a big change.  In my case, while still working in industry, I went to school half time for four years (this is after earning my B.S. and many years in industry), to certify to teach.  The certification work also pulled me about half-way to an M.S. which I completed later.

The claim of an increase in pay, after several years of training, makes some sense.  This is not a comparison of the same person before leaving industry and after starting to teach because the teacher has had to make a considerable investment of time and money in the training.  It is also going to vary tremendously between prior vocations (those in business management, engineering, and scientific fields are particularly likely to see a wage drop with the change in vocation ... I did).

Since there are no national teaching certification standards, although some guidelines were provided by the No Child Left Behind law, each state establishes its own criteria.  There are neither standard certification classes across states nor alternative certification.  Some states allow military veterans to skip certain education courses or people coming from industry to take certification courses while they begin teaching.

The change from education to industry does not usually involve a large investment in coursework.  Since the types of jobs are usually very different and the former teacher does not have recent experience in industry, the wage cut makes sense.

None of this is indicative of teachers being overpaid.  They slip in a complaint about teacher wages being tied to seniority.

The salary premium for public-school teachers ranged from 9 percent to 28 percent depending on teacher experience, with the least experienced receiving the highest premiums.

Quick translation, those with the most classroom experience, but least experience in industry, earn the most.  Ask almost any teacher and they will tell you that time working with students is crucial to becoming a good teacher and, perhaps, a great teacher.  This is not the same as other vocations where one can become an expert quickly.

Most of the rest of this so-called study is a complaint about how wonderful the benefit package is for teachers.

We had a history of teachers accepting lower wages in exchange for better benefits.  Some of that has been changing with the attacks on teacher pension plans and collective bargaining, notably in New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  Bringing a teacher up to speed for a particular school takes time, making it cost effective for schools to invest in the health of their teachers.

There is a large section of complaint about the methodology used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to categorize benefits.  This is the standard, but those numbers would not help reach the results desired by the authors.  So, they recalculate.  I am not going to defend the particular calculations of the BLS, but will discuss the larger aspects of typical teacher benefit packages.

Pensions can be confusing.  As in industry, most teachers are eligible for a pension plan and are allowed to contribute to a private plan that they control.  While the latter is a 401(K) for most people, teachers are not allowed that but are allowed a 403(B) which is supposed to be quite similar.  Honestly, I have not studied the differences between these.  Unlike most people, many teachers are not eligible for Social Security.  The full comparison is not something that I have seen presented without tremendous bias.

Health benefits are far from regular across states.  I have taught in three states and been under very different plans in two of those states and had no health coverage in the third.  Some teachers do enjoy "Cadillac health plans", but this is being eroded by the state of the health care insurance system and politicians, against notably in New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Part of the complaint in the study is that teachers get great pay while having short hours.

[P]aid time off reported in BLS data reflects leave only during a 37-week work year and excludes 15 weeks of leave during summers and holidays.

The study goes on to allow for 195 work days, typical of school requirements for teachers.  What is missing from this is that teachers are working beyond the time spent with students.  Most teachers are spending weekends grading papers and creating new lessons and assessments.  My typical summer includes only two to three weeks where I am not taking classes or attending workshops and seminars (sometimes paid for by the school or by grants and sometimes out of pocket).  Teaching is not a 9 - 5 profession with weekends off and two or three weeks of vacation.  It is ten to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week from September through June (or in some areas August through May), with outside training over the "summer vacation".

There is a section on job security.  Given recent layoffs in many states, teacher jobs are clearly not secure.

State and local governments seeking to balance their budgets in difficult times should take a close look at teacher compensation, which is considerably higher than necessary to retain the existing teacher workforce. More fundamental reform of teacher compensation would scrap the existing rewards for education and experience—and instead pay market rates to teachers who are measurably effective.

The notion that teachers are overpaid is silly.  Yes, state economies are tight ... largely due to political decisions that have placed our entire economy in peril.  Placing more of the burden on the backs of teachers does not make any sense.  Instead of restricting educational budgets, we should be investing in education as we did in the 1950s and 1960s, much to the benefit of our entire economy.

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