Are Teachers Overpaid or Underpaid? Answer: Yes
Last week, the Education Week Teacher online site reported on a new study that used federal wage, benefit, and job-security data, along with measures of cognitive ability, to argue that teachers are overpaid compared to what they would earn in the private sector. The study, authored by Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, challenged the refrain that teachers are, in the words of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “desperately underpaid.” I suppose it’s because Biggs is a colleague of mine at AEI, but many have wondered about my thoughts on the study.
My take is threefold.
First, claims that teachers ought to be paid more are a familiar part of the education landscape. Given that we’ve steadily boosted staffing and after-inflation spending in recent decades to little obvious effect, and that states and districts are wrestling with structural shortfalls, it’s healthy to question such orthodoxies. The findings remind us that the costs of teacher benefits dramatically inflate the cost of compensation, even if the results aren’t always obvious when scanning a paycheck. Recall, for example, that University of Arkansas economist Bob Costrell pointed out during the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight earlier this year that the average Milwaukee teacher earned a salary of $56,500 but, due to benefits, actually cost the district $100,005 in total compensation. This ought to be of particular concern to educators wishing to see more of their compensation in their pay stubs. Given that, I’m disappointed (if not surprised) that most of the responses I’ve seen to Biggs and Richwine...
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