Washington has been consumed with debate over raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from the current $5.15. So while many are focused on this issue, it’s timely that the Manhattan Institute has released a new study about teacher pay, How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?.
An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal brought this fascinating report to my attention. Using only Department of Labor compensation statistics, they found that public school teachers earned an average of $34.06 an hour in 2005. That’s 36 percent more than the hourly wage of the average white collar worker and 11 percent more than the average professional specialty or technical worker, such as architects and economists.
For many, this is a bolt out of the blue. The popular perception is that public school teachers are underpaid. Even the First Lady has given voice to this concern. Teacher pay is relevant not only to teachers, but also to communities’ budgets because the bulk of most property tax in any town goes to the school budget and much of that is for teacher pay. According to the Manhattan Institute, the United States now spends more than $500 billion on public education.
This is a competitiveness issue and is relevant for manufacturers, who increasingly rely on better educated students with more math and science for their new hires. Yet many other reports show that U.S. students are not keeping up with their foreign counterparts in these areas. Moreover, in many parts of the country there is a shortage today of such well educated young people who can be hired into high-paying manufacturing jobs.
The Institute is right to point out that any future debate over teacher pay in Congress should look at the connection between pay and performance. Does higher pay translate into better educated students? This was of interest to me a decade ago when I lived in New Jersey in Essex County. Teachers there were paid almost twice per pupil than in neighboring Union County, yet the students in Essex were hardly better prepared. Now the Manhattan Institute is shedding some light on this important topic.
Metro Detroit leads the nation with the highest pay of $47.28 per hour; New York teachers make $45.79 an hour. In both cases, they are paid a sizable premium over what other professionals in those cities earn. Neither city is known for stellar student performance across the board.
What has been learned in Arkansas is that bonuses for teachers who actually improve their students’ performance has raised student proficiency, according to the new report. Florida researchers found similar results recently. The authors, Jay Greene and Marcus Winters, say that they mostly want to point out that HOW teachers are paid is more important than HOW MUCH they are paid.
The authors argue that the only fair way to evaluate teacher pay is by looking at on an hourly basis because teachers don’t work all year. They can take the summer off or line up a summer job, but they do not work a full year in the same way that other professionals do. Of course, the teachers I know are very dedicated and do work after school hours too. That’s not factored into this report, but then the work that I do after work and that countless millions of other Americans do, is not taken into account into compensation surveys either.
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