Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wall Street Journal says teachers are overpaid

I don’t get the Wall Street Journal delivered any more.  I used to be a daily reader of the WSJ until Rupert Murdock took the rag over and nearly every op-ed column sounded like a running stock ticker of GOP blabbery.  I’m also not at all surprised that a recent article published by the Journal takes shot at teachers by stating that comparable skill sets show that teachers are drastically overpaid.  Interesting.  And this is coming from the same newspaper that constantly demands merit pay (otherwise known as a pay increase) for the teaching profession.  Too bad the Wall Street Journal goes Governor Kasich on teachers and seems to forget the fundamental principles of Economics. 

First of all, I’m don’t regularly go on teacher pay tangents.  Do I think I’m underpaid?  Yes.  Drastically.  Not really.  Do I have it better than a lot of people?  Absolutely.  But if we’re being serious about whether or not teachers have an economic value to society then we better be realistic about looking at the true value of a teacher, and not all that fluffy stuff either.

“Good teachers are crucial to a strong economy and a healthy civil society, and they should be paid at a level commensurate with their skills.”

I always enjoy the critical teacher articles that start off “teachers are crucial to society…”, then tell the reader that they are actually not that crucial.  A statement that says that teachers are necessary to a “strong economy and a healthy civil society” already creates an assumption that society values teachers.  If this is true, the skill set that teachers have are in fact valuable enough to warrant a high wage.  And before you come up with the excuse that “anyone could be a teacher”, note that teacher turnover is atrocious in public schools, and even worse in private sector education.  Take Teach for America.  Coming from the best universities is not keeping teachers in the classroom.  Teach for America will happily say that a high number of teachers stay in the education profession.  What they fail to mention is that is almost never the classroom.  They go where the real money is in education.

“Public school teachers do receive salaries 19.3% lower than similarly-educated private workers, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data. “

And as the article states, it isn’t in teaching.  While still having to take on the same debt load as a private sector worker, a fresh teacher from California will not only have less pay to start with (around $34,000), but also need to deal with living in a state with a high cost-of-living.  And forget about teachers living in the city.  That kind of salary makes it impossible for a teacher to live in San Francisco or New York City.  On top of that, public school teachers also has a cap on the maximum wage increases.  At my school, I will never make over $70,000, while a comparable skill set in the private sector has six-figure salaries, stock options, and doesn’t have to pay for supplies for their work.   

…….a majority of public school teachers were education majors in college, and more than two in three received their highest degree (typically a master's) in an education-related field.

Education is widely regarded by researchers and college students alike as one of the easiest fields of study, and one that features substantially higher average grades than most other college majors. On objective tests of cognitive ability such as the SAT, ACT, GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and Armed Forces Qualification Test, teachers score only around the 40th percentile of college graduates.

This is a juvenile argument often brought about by arrogant, insecure people that think they work harder than everyone at everything.  Here’s the deal; I’ll bomb the Math portion of the SAT and GRE.  So probably would most elementary teachers and secondary teachers that don’t teach math.  Oh, and so would many college teachers.  Give us time to study and we’ll do fine.  I dare a Physics major to take an AP Comparative Politics exam.  Right now.  How about an Advanced Placement U.S. History exam?  In fact, how about those Physics students sit down and get testing on Special Education requirements regarding 504’s, IEP’s, and Manifestation Determinations.  That’s a pretty damn important skill set to have.  Good teachers know their shit.  I don’t worry about knowing Calculus as the measure of making me a good teacher.   By the way, I graduate with a History Degree, and so did all my colleagues.  You know what graduates with Master’s in Education degrees?  Administrators who make a lot more than I do.

“………..fringe benefits push teacher compensation well ahead of comparable employees in the private economy.  

……data on paid leave for teachers count vacation days only during the school year, omitting summer and long holiday breaks. A valid pay comparison should include this extra time off, in which teachers can enjoy longer vacations or earn additional income.”

Teachers do have more secure retirement than private sector employees, and I would consider that the trade-off society decided to make when government capped wages at $70,000 a year and refused to allow public teachers to take back payments made to Social Security when they worked in jobs that did not involve public education. 

And I don’t even bother to argue the point of my “longer vacations” any more.  First of all, they aren’t vacations if it involves professional development, lesson planning, taking courses (and paying for courses) required by government mandate, and working another job to make ends meet.  And I’ll make a deal with the WSJ.  I’ll even let you count the summer weekdays as vacation, if you incorporate numbers that show the actual working hours of teachers.  I’m one of hell of a productive, efficient deal.

“ In short, combining salaries, fringe benefits and job security, we have calculated that public school teachers receive around 52% more in average compensation than they could earn in the private sector.”

Then something is wrong here.  If public sector workers have mammoth fringe benefits, higher salaries, and fantastic job security, then why does the profession have an average turnover rate of 50% within five years?  That’s an insane rate for a job with such glorious job wages.

I’ll happily amend the Wall Street Journal’s argument to say that there are bad teachers that are very overpaid, administrators that don’t work towards firing bad teachers, and not enough collaboration between teachers, administrators, district officials, and politicians towards making education more productive and efficient.  But this articles article is just plain bad economics.      

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