Cashing a reality check on teacher salaries

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November 7, 2011

8:33 PM

In the wake of the College of William and Mary’s meager pay raise for professors after years of wage stagnation, a recent study published by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute concluded that public school teachers are significantly overpaid. The report unleashed an outcry of unparalleled fury among educators nationwide, but the think tanks failed to use methods of analysis that would make a passing grade in any policy discussion.

In the timeless debate on teachers’s compensation, conservatives tend to accentuate the drawn out summer vacation as a restrictive factor on income. Coupled with robust retirement benefits in an age where pensions have diminished exponentially in the private sector, teaching suddenly seems as a fairly comfortable profession, at least by the numbers.

In reality, teachers do not enjoy the elongated breaks mentioned by pundits. While students are out enjoying the summer breeze, teachers must stay behind an extra week or two to finish up their grade books for the year; likewise, teachers must report early before the school year starts to attend teaching conferences and lay out lesson plans. After taking these factors into account, teachers receive around eight weeks of summer vacation in total.

More concerning is how the report assigned arbitrary measures of value to determine market price equivalency in the private sector. The report particularly emphasizes the “statistical” evidence that people obtaining degrees in education lack the intellect associated with alternative subjects. Yet when has anyone who has taught a classroom above primary level received employment with such middling qualifications?

Every high school teacher I have met carried either a bachelor’s degree in English, history, math or the sciences. It takes significant intellectual capacity to obtain a degree in any of the aforementioned fields, especially those in the science, technology, education and math fields and the study blindly assumes that, as educators, all public school teachers major in education. A science or math degree will always fetch higher compensation in the private sector than in teaching, yet the study classifies these invaluable individuals who sacrifice monetary gains to educate America’s future generations as “over-valued.”

Finally, another erroneous claim leveled against public school teachers is the amount of hours worked per week. Judging by the school day, a teacher works around 37 hours weekly. Aside from physical education teachers, most educators have to bring home piles of quizzes and tests daily. While a math teacher can tackle problem sets by quick cursory checks, an English teacher assigned to correct 40 papers would have to spend significant time at home to finish his or her grading. For researchers to suggest that all teachers face equal work hours undermines their argument and credibility.

As the deteriorating quality of American education continues to consume policy makers, headlines that assault the worth of teachers will only serve to alienate those who make the biggest impact in the classroom.

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