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Are Teachers Underpaid?


I was reading the Wall Street Journal online tonight and came across an article that makes an argument that teachers are overpaid. I was shocked with the comparisons and the idea that you can compare the work a teacher does to the work an architect or economists does. The other thing I was astonished to read was that the author was basing his premise on an hourly wage.

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. [snip]…..

In the popular imagination, however, public school teachers are underpaid. “Salaries are too low. We all know that,” noted First Lady Laura Bush, expressing the consensus view. “[snip]…. time per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled; overall we now annually spend more than $500 billion on public education. [snip]….

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

Source: Is $34.06 Per Hour ‘Underpaid’? – WSJ.com

Teachers have contracts and a set number of hours they are required to work each day in our school district, but as anyone who has spent any time in a k12 school knows that teachers do not work the set hours and get their job done. 7.5 hours is not enough time to prepare lessons, prepare for the requirements of the state and federal “No Child Left Behind” standards or in the case of Florida the FCAT test. If a teacher just worked their 7.5 hours they would be woefully unprepared.

The author uses a poor logic for the annual differences in salaries stating that:

But comparing earnings on an annual basis would be inappropriate when teachers work significantly fewer hours than do other workers. Teachers can use that time to be with family, to engage in activities that they enjoy, or to earn additional money from other employment. That time off is worth money and cannot simply be ignored when comparing earnings. [snip]….

Moreover, the earnings data reported here, which are taken directly from the National Compensation Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, do not include retirement and health benefits, which tend to be quite generous for public school teachers relative to other workers.

Source: Is $34.06 Per Hour ‘Underpaid’? – WSJ.com

Now, nowhere in the article does the author link to his sources, he quotes them and tells us where they supposedly came from, but we have no easy way to check his facts. So, because a teacher can spend time with their family that’s compensation? Has the author tried to get a summer job? I don’t think so, especially when he is a higher education professor with the University of Arkansas and is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He doesn’t explain how the time off is worth money, it’s just a statement with no facts to back it up.

As for the benefits and retirement, if the data he quotes does not include these items for teachers, then they don’t include them for the other jobs he uses in comparison. How does he know the benefit packages for k12 teachers and economist? He again shows no facts, so how are we to believe his words.

I work with the k12 teachers, I know the benefits packages for these people. K12 teachers are underpaid for what they have to do, which is teach our kids how to read, write, count, be prepared for higher education and be a productive member of society if they don’t go onto higher education.

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30 Comments

  1. [...] Teaching, Teachers, Teacher Pay. trackback Ray reacts to a lousy Wall Street Journal article, here. Take a [...]

  2. Anonymous says:

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  3. HappyChyck says:

    I wonder if there are any articles out there about attorneys who are overpaid. My mediocre attorney charges $250 an hour. If she or her secretary writes us a letter, she charges us for 1/2 hour. If she calls to confirm something or ask a question, we are charged. We were in family court one morning for 3 hours, which we were charged for although she didn’t give us her undivided attention for those hours.. In that time, she was also juggling 2 other cases that were going before the judge, too. Man, I’d sure like to complain about the amount those attorneys gouge us for, but it doesn’t seem to be popular these days. Sure, pick on the teacher who makes $30 dollars an hour–and by my calculations it’s more like $15 an hour.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if there are any articles out there about attorneys who are overpaid. My mediocre attorney charges $250 an hour. If she or her secretary writes us a letter, she charges us for 1/2 hour. If she calls to confirm something or ask a question, we are charged. We were in family court one morning for 3 hours, which we were charged for although she didn’t give us her undivided attention for those hours.. In that time, she was also juggling 2 other cases that were going before the judge, too. Man, I’d sure like to complain about the amount those attorneys gouge us for, but it doesn’t seem to be popular these days. Sure, pick on the teacher who makes $30 dollars an hour–and by my calculations it’s more like $15 an hour.

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    $30.00/hour? How is that figured?

    7 hours in front of a class; 1 hour meetings; 2 hours (minimum) grading, 1 hour making lesson plans. That’s 11 hours a day by my count, and it’s expected. It doesn’t include bus duty, lunchroom or hall duty, or extra hours on extracurricular activities. 55 hours a week, 36 weeks . . . that’s 1,980 hours. At $30/hour that would be $59,400, or at least $25,000 more than most teachers here in Texas make in a year.

    By the way, lawyers expect 2,000 billable hours, which is 50 weeks at 40 hours — twenty more hours than Texas teachers work.

    Now, add in 80 hours of continuing education, and we’re past an average work year.

    If teachers really were to get paid $30/hour, it would be closer to fair. And since teachers get all that work in 36 weeks, while it takes lawyers 40 weeks, shouldn’t we give out productivity awards to teachers, too?

    Now let’s add in hazard pay (I’ve had more death threats from kids in a year than I had in 10 years dealing with corrupt unions and corrupt employers); health equivalent and inconvenience pay (I regularly have blocks scheduled for six hours with no bathroom breaks — that would be illegal in any other profession); and aggravation pay for having to read crap like that in the Wall Street Journal, which should know better, and I’m due $100 bucks an hour at least.

    I’m concerned that the WSJ essentially advocates a socialist solution here — limiting teacher pay. Were they real free marketeers, they’d advocate raising teacher pay to improve the quality — you know, attract the best and brightest? Free market solutions are favored for everyone except those the WSJ wags hate — and God knows, they seem to hate teachers.

    Teaching is one of those public professions where the policy of the WSJ is “we’re gonna keep pay low until we attract the best people and quality improves!” File that in the “daily floggings will continue until morale gets better” file.

    By the way, I paid 5 times as much, and spent ten times as long, to get certified as a teacher as I spent to get my bar license. Not only are teachers paid less, they must pay more, than lawyers.

    Justice, anyone?

  6. Anonymous says:

    $30.00/hour? How is that figured?

    7 hours in front of a class; 1 hour meetings; 2 hours (minimum) grading, 1 hour making lesson plans. That’s 11 hours a day by my count, and it’s expected. It doesn’t include bus duty, lunchroom or hall duty, or extra hours on extracurricular activities. 55 hours a week, 36 weeks . . . that’s 1,980 hours. At $30/hour that would be $59,400, or at least $25,000 more than most teachers here in Texas make in a year.

    By the way, lawyers expect 2,000 billable hours, which is 50 weeks at 40 hours — twenty more hours than Texas teachers work.

    Now, add in 80 hours of continuing education, and we’re past an average work year.

    If teachers really were to get paid $30/hour, it would be closer to fair. And since teachers get all that work in 36 weeks, while it takes lawyers 40 weeks, shouldn’t we give out productivity awards to teachers, too?

    Now let’s add in hazard pay (I’ve had more death threats from kids in a year than I had in 10 years dealing with corrupt unions and corrupt employers); health equivalent and inconvenience pay (I regularly have blocks scheduled for six hours with no bathroom breaks — that would be illegal in any other profession); and aggravation pay for having to read crap like that in the Wall Street Journal, which should know better, and I’m due $100 bucks an hour at least.

    I’m concerned that the WSJ essentially advocates a socialist solution here — limiting teacher pay. Were they real free marketeers, they’d advocate raising teacher pay to improve the quality — you know, attract the best and brightest? Free market solutions are favored for everyone except those the WSJ wags hate — and God knows, they seem to hate teachers.

    Teaching is one of those public professions where the policy of the WSJ is “we’re gonna keep pay low until we attract the best people and quality improves!” File that in the “daily floggings will continue until morale gets better” file.

    By the way, I paid 5 times as much, and spent ten times as long, to get certified as a teacher as I spent to get my bar license. Not only are teachers paid less, they must pay more, than lawyers.

    Justice, anyone?

  7. [...] Hat-tip to JD2718: the Wall Street Journal decided to resurrect the meme that public school teachers work 7 hours a week. Based on calculating the number of hours they [...]

  8. Anonymous says:

    [...] Hat-tip to JD2718: the Wall Street Journal decided to resurrect the meme that public school teachers work 7 hours a week. Based on calculating the number of hours they [...]

  9. Ed Darrell says:

    Question everything, especially authority.

    If one goes to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one finds this first disclaimer on teacher pay:

    When compared with other occupations the hourly earnings for some occupations, such as teachers and airline pilots, seem higher than expected. Why is this?

    Answer: Hourly earnings are just one means of comparing the wages of different occupations. This method has the advantage of treating all occupations with a common denominator — a single hour. Unfortunately, this method may not work well for certain occupations with unusual hours. Teachers who often work only 9 or 10 months per year are an example of this problem. Another example is the airline pilot occupation. In addition to flight hours, which are highly regulated and carefully recorded, airline pilots also spend time preparing for flights. The preparation time may not be as closely monitored as flight hours. In occupations such as these, total work hours may have to be estimated. Because of these issues, comparisons of annual salaries published by the National Compensation Survey (NCS) might be more appropriate when considering certain occupations.

    Here: http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ocs/peoplebox.htm#Q01

    So far, I can’t find an hourly breakdown at BLS. I wonder what the WSJ was quoting?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Question everything, especially authority.

    If one goes to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one finds this first disclaimer on teacher pay:

    When compared with other occupations the hourly earnings for some occupations, such as teachers and airline pilots, seem higher than expected. Why is this?

    Answer: Hourly earnings are just one means of comparing the wages of different occupations. This method has the advantage of treating all occupations with a common denominator — a single hour. Unfortunately, this method may not work well for certain occupations with unusual hours. Teachers who often work only 9 or 10 months per year are an example of this problem. Another example is the airline pilot occupation. In addition to flight hours, which are highly regulated and carefully recorded, airline pilots also spend time preparing for flights. The preparation time may not be as closely monitored as flight hours. In occupations such as these, total work hours may have to be estimated. Because of these issues, comparisons of annual salaries published by the National Compensation Survey (NCS) might be more appropriate when considering certain occupations.

    Here: http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ocs/peoplebox.htm#Q01

    So far, I can’t find an hourly breakdown at BLS. I wonder what the WSJ was quoting?

  11. Ed Darrell says:

    It looks to me as if this fellow is comparing college professor pay and calling it “public teacher pay.” I can’t find a category that matches his numbers.

    Can someone else head over to the BLS site and find the stuff for me?

    Or, is this a WSJ hoax?

  12. Anonymous says:

    It looks to me as if this fellow is comparing college professor pay and calling it “public teacher pay.” I can’t find a category that matches his numbers.

    Can someone else head over to the BLS site and find the stuff for me?

    Or, is this a WSJ hoax?

  13. Ed Darrell says:

    This table at the BLS shows teacher pay at just over $17/hour: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/realer.t02.htm

    I smell hoax of some sort.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This table at the BLS shows teacher pay at just over $17/hour: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/realer.t02.htm

    I smell hoax of some sort.

  15. Ed Darrell says:

    Here’s the report cited by the Manhattan Institute. Please, go look at the teacher pay stuff, such as that on page 12: http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ocs/sp/ncbl0832.pdf

    Do you think the figures are accurate?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Here’s the report cited by the Manhattan Institute. Please, go look at the teacher pay stuff, such as that on page 12: http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ocs/sp/ncbl0832.pdf

    Do you think the figures are accurate?

  17. [...] Education and Technology, I hear of a study that says teachers may not be undercompensated, with a supporting opinion piece in the Wall Street [...]

  18. Anonymous says:

    [...] Education and Technology, I hear of a study that says teachers may not be undercompensated, with a supporting opinion piece in the Wall Street [...]

  19. KC says:

    The WSJ piece was based on the Manhattan Institute report found here:
    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_50.htm

    If you look at their summary you’ll see they attempt to justify their use of BLS data, their failure to compare annual earnings, and their discounting of hours/wk due to summers off.

    As hard as they try, they fail. The BLS data is clearly a lowball figure. Annual earnings are all that really matter. Any attempt to talk about hourly rates for teachers is a joke. When the joke is told by a right wing outfit, it really is not the least bit funny.

  20. Anonymous says:

    The WSJ piece was based on the Manhattan Institute report found here:
    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_50.htm

    If you look at their summary you’ll see they attempt to justify their use of BLS data, their failure to compare annual earnings, and their discounting of hours/wk due to summers off.

    As hard as they try, they fail. The BLS data is clearly a lowball figure. Annual earnings are all that really matter. Any attempt to talk about hourly rates for teachers is a joke. When the joke is told by a right wing outfit, it really is not the least bit funny.

  21. jd2718 says:

    The figures are accurate, but they are not clearly identifying what is being compared. The more numerous jobs in the BLS White Collar classification are teachers and techs: radiology techs, LPNs, legal assistants… By using the term “white collar” without defining it, one might give the impression that teachers make much more than they actually do. Somewhere in there must be raw numbers in each category – but I didn’t search.

    Of course, that leaves out the unreported hours.

    It is important to realize that number crunching without analysis can be used to create misleading results. It is the low-tech reading skill that reveals their manipulation.

  22. Anonymous says:

    The figures are accurate, but they are not clearly identifying what is being compared. The more numerous jobs in the BLS White Collar classification are teachers and techs: radiology techs, LPNs, legal assistants… By using the term “white collar” without defining it, one might give the impression that teachers make much more than they actually do. Somewhere in there must be raw numbers in each category – but I didn’t search.

    Of course, that leaves out the unreported hours.

    It is important to realize that number crunching without analysis can be used to create misleading results. It is the low-tech reading skill that reveals their manipulation.

  23. Ray says:

    jd2718 writes: “It is important to realize that number crunching without analysis can be used to create misleading results. It is the low-tech reading skill that reveals their manipulation.”

    That is very true. One of my professors, interestingly enough in a Political Statistics class once said ‘You can take any set of numbers and massage it to get whatever results you want’.

    We just need to be vigilant in how we read and digest what is placed in front of us. What my blog post and the resulting comments show are that the people that care about this issue will see through the fluff and FUD to find the true numbers. But will the average person reading the article or the main stream TV or newspaper who won’t research the data that the numbers are based on? I don’t thik they will, which is why we need to properly educate the public about this misinformation.

  24. Anonymous says:

    jd2718 writes: “It is important to realize that number crunching without analysis can be used to create misleading results. It is the low-tech reading skill that reveals their manipulation.”

    That is very true. One of my professors, interestingly enough in a Political Statistics class once said ‘You can take any set of numbers and massage it to get whatever results you want’.

    We just need to be vigilant in how we read and digest what is placed in front of us. What my blog post and the resulting comments show are that the people that care about this issue will see through the fluff and FUD to find the true numbers. But will the average person reading the article or the main stream TV or newspaper who won’t research the data that the numbers are based on? I don’t thik they will, which is why we need to properly educate the public about this misinformation.

  25. High School Newspaper Editor says:

    This comment has been edited by the blog author for content

    Hello,
    I am a student in Florida, and I am writing an article for my school newspaper about the low-paid teachers, and how it affects students.

    I attend West Boca High School, and perhaps you’ve heard of my school. We had a teacher here by the name of (Name Removed by blog author). Before becoming a teacher she was a model. One parent found out about her past, and went to the media, outraged that she was allowed to teach at our school. Soon, her story was all over the internet and t.v.

    She was shunned because she had a few pictures, nothing harmfull. Most who had her class thought she was a good teacher. But the parents and the media drove her to the point where she couldnt take it. She quit the job….

    But while parents were wrapped up about a model, they fail to realize that a teacher has her face on the internet for truely harmful means. She has two DUI’s and an assault charge. Why can’t the parents complain about that.

    But the source of the problem isnt the parents. Its the low pay given to teachers. School Districts lose the oppertunity to grab the more qualified educators because of low pay. Why would a qualified person want to work in a job that consumes all your time, and reaps no true reward expect that moral reward of helping students?

    The public school systems are forced to choose underqualified teachers, and the students are suffering. This isnt an issue to be held lightly. They hold the power to make or break our lives. It is getting harder and harder to earn a good education, and the low salary is the reason.

    Maybe if Florida’s state government spent less on the FCAT (a stadardized tests given to students that decide how much money the school, and the teachers make) and spend more on slaries of teachers, we wouldn’t have this problem.

  26. Anonymous says:

    This comment has been edited by the blog author for content

    Hello,
    I am a student in Florida, and I am writing an article for my school newspaper about the low-paid teachers, and how it affects students.

    I attend West Boca High School, and perhaps you’ve heard of my school. We had a teacher here by the name of (Name Removed by blog author). Before becoming a teacher she was a model. One parent found out about her past, and went to the media, outraged that she was allowed to teach at our school. Soon, her story was all over the internet and t.v.

    She was shunned because she had a few pictures, nothing harmfull. Most who had her class thought she was a good teacher. But the parents and the media drove her to the point where she couldnt take it. She quit the job….

    But while parents were wrapped up about a model, they fail to realize that a teacher has her face on the internet for truely harmful means. She has two DUI’s and an assault charge. Why can’t the parents complain about that.

    But the source of the problem isnt the parents. Its the low pay given to teachers. School Districts lose the oppertunity to grab the more qualified educators because of low pay. Why would a qualified person want to work in a job that consumes all your time, and reaps no true reward expect that moral reward of helping students?

    The public school systems are forced to choose underqualified teachers, and the students are suffering. This isnt an issue to be held lightly. They hold the power to make or break our lives. It is getting harder and harder to earn a good education, and the low salary is the reason.

    Maybe if Florida’s state government spent less on the FCAT (a stadardized tests given to students that decide how much money the school, and the teachers make) and spend more on slaries of teachers, we wouldn’t have this problem.

  27. chris says:

    What I found most disturbing about the coverage of this study in the local paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was the following.

    The table they showed had teachers listed as being paid more than lab techs, nurses, chemists, and a few others but more than Attorneys, Doctors, etc.

    The glaring omission is that all of the jobs making less than teachers require only an undergraduate degree while the jobs listed as being higher paid requried an advanced degree.

    As a public school teacher in Cleveland I am required to have an MEd after 6 years of teaching.

    In essence the chart showed that teachers were the LOWEST paid of any profession listed requiring an advanced degree.

    They conveniently missed that point.

    Chris

  28. Anonymous says:

    What I found most disturbing about the coverage of this study in the local paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was the following.

    The table they showed had teachers listed as being paid more than lab techs, nurses, chemists, and a few others but more than Attorneys, Doctors, etc.

    The glaring omission is that all of the jobs making less than teachers require only an undergraduate degree while the jobs listed as being higher paid requried an advanced degree.

    As a public school teacher in Cleveland I am required to have an MEd after 6 years of teaching.

    In essence the chart showed that teachers were the LOWEST paid of any profession listed requiring an advanced degree.

    They conveniently missed that point.

    Chris

  29. Carl says:

    Everybody has a hard job, teachers included.

    And everybody believes their job deserves more money, teachers included.

    However, consider the following…
    Public school teacher unions are able to negotiate for very generous pensions and health care benefits, which many private sector jobs don’t have.

    Teachers don’t have to spend three to seven years in training, taking on more student debt, after undergraduate college, like doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, psychologists, economists, etc. The majority of teaching positions require a four-year education degree and relevant certification.

    Teachers don’t have to spend extended periods away from their families on the other side of the world, in life-or-death situations, like soldiers.

    Teachers don’t have to risk their lives to run into a burning building, like firefighters, who often earn less money than teachers.

    Public school teachers still make significantly more than private religious school teachers who do exactly the same work. I attended a religious high school where the teachers earned $21,000/year + benefits at a time when the median public teacher salary in that city was about $37,000 + benefits.

    Teachers don’t spend their entire lives pursuing a career where only a small select few people ever succeed, such as professional artists, athletes, and entertainers. The majority of teachers rather tend to find stable jobs soon after graduation.

    Teachers with good skills have excellent job security, knowing that there will always be a market for their skills because there will always be children to teach. This certainty does not exist in many manufacturing- and technology-related jobs where workers have to wonder if there will still be a market for their skills.

    Teachers who have children in school tend to get the same days off as their kids (holidy breaks, extended summer breaks, etc), allowing more days and weeks of family time than other jobs where workers only have 10 vacation days and a few holidays.

    Yes, teachers deserve a fair wage and recognition for the hard work they contribute to our society. But so do all positions in our economy. Everybody’s work is valuale.

  30. Jon says:

    To Carl:
    “Public school teacher unions are able to negotiate for very generous pensions and health care benefits, which many private sector jobs don’t have.”

    It’s not a fail-safe. Unions are notoriously corruptible, both by the opposition and the greed of their own leaders. Furthermore, you could put this argument to ANY civil service job. Why pick on teachers? It’s a simple trade off: civil service severely restricts performance raises and offers benefits security instead. You pick your lifestyle. America USED to have strong private sector unions, which are now only in a few blue-collar professions. That’s not _our_ fault.

    “Teachers don’t have to spend three to seven years in training, taking on more student debt, after undergraduate college, like doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, psychologists, economists, etc. The majority of teaching positions require a four-year education degree and relevant certification.”

    Unless you weren’t on that track in the first place, and have to go back to get your masters. Also, in NY, all teachers MUST earn their masters within the first five years of teaching. Universally, professional days, which are often scheduled beyond the school year, constitute additional training. Then there are the local decisions like textbook revision and technology upgrades. The profession isn’t stagnant.

    “Teachers don’t have to spend extended periods away from their families on the other side of the world, in life-or-death situations, like soldiers.”

    Granted. But neither do many people in the private sector making comparable pay.

    “Teachers don’t have to risk their lives to run into a burning building, like firefighters, who often earn less money than teachers.”

    Of course not. Many instead risk their lives like police officers, facing violent youth every day without either the gun or the badge or backup. Let’s also not forget the actionable psychological harassment and intimidation that wouldn’t stand in the typical office.

    “Public school teachers still make significantly more than private religious school teachers who do exactly the same work. I attended a religious high school where the teachers earned $21,000/year + benefits at a time when the median public teacher salary in that city was about $37,000 + benefits.”

    This is true, and it’s why I left teaching, as I DID work in a private school. 2 things to consider, however: smaller grading loads, and lower hiring requirements. Still, you’re right. It’s often not worth it.

    “Teachers don’t spend their entire lives pursuing a career where only a small select few people ever succeed, such as professional artists, athletes, and entertainers. The majority of teachers rather tend to find stable jobs soon after graduation.”

    This is no less true of police officers, delivery men, nurses, or any other of the vital infrastructure jobs. Furthermore, teaching has an average 50% turnover within the first five years last I checked. Sounds to me like you’re describing why the profession is so in need of fixing.

    “Teachers with good skills have excellent job security, knowing that there will always be a market for their skills because there will always be children to teach. This certainty does not exist in many manufacturing- and technology-related jobs where workers have to wonder if there will still be a market for their skills.”

    And you would think that the importance of our work would draw more people. In fact, teacher staffing is headed for a crisis over the coming decade if you take a look at the demographics and retirement projections.

    “Teachers who have children in school tend to get the same days off as their kids (holidy breaks, extended summer breaks, etc), allowing more days and weeks of family time than other jobs where workers only have 10 vacation days and a few holidays.”

    This is commonly the main reason why homemakers take the job: to match their children’s off-time. Why? Saves on daycare and babysitting expenses. Allows time-strapped families to survive. As mentioned earlier however, the amount of time a teacher actually WORKS, which any other white collar job would call “billable hours,” are woefully unreported.

    For the record, I have _never_ heard a teacher or even a former teacher make the “teachers are decently paid or overpaid” argument. It always comes from those outside of the profession.

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