Overpaid teachers

Teachers earn similar wages — and much higher benefits — when compared to similarly skilled private-sector workers, concludes a study released in November by Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. Including benefits, teachers make $1.52 for every dollar earned by similarly skilled workers in the private sector.

In a new paper and an Ed Week article, Richwine and Biggs respond to their many critics.

Comparing teachers to private-sector workers with similar levels of education misses the difference in cognitive skills, they argue. The study measured teachers’ reading and math skills on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and found “teachers are paid commensurately with their cognitive skills.”

Teaching requires “important organizational and interpersonal skills that formal tests may not capture,” they concede.  However, these skills should be valuable in other jobs as well.

If teachers are not fairly paid for their non-cognitive skills, one would expect teachers who shifted to private-sector jobs to receive significant raises. But they do not. Using data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, we are able to track changes in individuals’ salaries as they switch jobs. We have shown that the average public-school teacher suffers a slight wage decrease upon leaving the profession.

Paying all teachers more money won’t improve teacher quality, they argue.

What is needed is a more rational system that pays teachers according to their performance, encouraging the best teachers to stay and the least effective teachers to leave the profession.

Public school administrators rarely have the flexibility to do this, they write.

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  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    The pay differential may be b/c most adults would rather work in an office, with other adults, than with other people’s poorly behaved children…….

    Prison guards also make good money for their skill and education levels……

  2. Public employees – both teachers and non-teachers – generally receive better benefits than do private employees and they also receive automatic pay increases for academic credentials, whether or not those credentials add any value or are necessary for the job. A recently-retired ES teacher relative received doctoral-level pay for three decades because she had a MAT and over 60 graduate credits. I don’t think private schools are likely to pay third or fifth-grade teachers at that level.

  3. It should be no surprise that the quality of the teacher candidate pool has, on the whole, declined. The barrage of attacks on teachers as a profession, intrusive programs like NCLB, the low pay associated with the profession, and the increased number of career options available to women, among other factors, have led a lot of people who might otherwise have become teachers to instead enter other professions.

    At the same time, the author’s self-defense being duly considered, their theories and conclusions seem more political than academic. The insipid conclusion quoted above – first, don’t pay teachers more money (one of the things that is absolutely necessary to draw better students into the profession and applicant pool), and second skew the pay such that some teachers are paid so poorly that they quit – and then replace those teachers with good teachers who… um… will magically drop from the sky to work for the same meager pay as the ones who quit (because that’s all that’s left in the budget).

  4. The problem with teacher compensation is that there are no other industries with enough similarity for comparability. Most other “government” jobs have a private sector counterpart. In other lines of work/industries, the logical reward for performance is advancement to a supervisoral or managerial role.
    For other personal services (closest analogy I can think of) you have doctors, lawyers, etc., but these folks are compensated by individual customers so that very good ones are very highly paid in comparison with poor or mediocre ones.
    So you have a seniority/credentials based system which overpays bad performers and underpays good ones. The only solution is to make entry into Ed schools more competitive, so to create a shortage which may drive up salaries in the future.

    • Physician pay has changed and will undoubtedly continue to change because more physicians are women and because more are employed by large hospital/clinic systems, as opposed to being in private practice. Women tend to choose primary care fields and they tend to choose family-friendly practice situations, even if they don’t pay as much. (and 25% of women physicians are either not working or are working part time) Also, many physicians are married to other physicians, thereby adding more pressure to work fewer hours.

      I currently live in a city with two large health-care systems and virtually all of the primary care physicians are owned by one of them and both systems are agressively hiring surgeons, both by taking over local private practices and by hiring outside surgeons. Their intent to own all physicians and surgeons is very clear. Although there is a production aspect to their pay, the total compensation is being driven downward, physicians’ ability to refer outside their system is discouraged, (It’s illegal to forbid such referrals, but large organizations have ways…) and there’s lots of administrative BS – from the employer, from insurance companies and from the government. The trend is discouraging top college students from entering the field; few of my kids’ classmates have done so, because they don’t want to work in large organizations where non-physicians and non-clinical physician- administrators control the nature of the practice. Most physicians I know have been actively discouraging their kids from considering med school.

      • momof4 – I was just trying to make a point on how difficult it is to set teacher pay relative to other occupations that require education/licensure as an entry requirement. I could be more specific to the here and now and say specifically Plastic Surgeons or Cosmetic Dentists – who don’t have their compensation dictated by insurance companies.

        The point I was trying to make is that I doubt there is any other way to improve conditions for teachers unless the profession finds a way to limit the number who are admitted into Ed schools, which would allow scarcity to kick in.

        • Ted Craig says:

          I think for certain fields you can create comparisons. One would be English teachers and journalists.

    • Are you serious?

      Uh, does “private school” ring a bell?

      I think the private education system is close enough in purpose to the public education system to provide, at least nominally, a comparison. Of course the private education system does operate under the pricing “umbrella” of the public education system so it is more difficult then it ought to be make a comparison. But hardly impossible. In fact, you imply as much with your observation “a seniority/credentials based system” is inherently inaccurate in assigning compensation.

      It is interesting that the only solution you see to the “problem” of inadequate teacher compensation is artificially restricting entry to the field. Granted the idea of mandating higher entry standards sounds good but if your newer, smarter graduates end up working for the same public education system that pays based on “seniority/credentials” how has anything changed. Other then that you have a better standard of teacher quiting the profession after it becomes clear that there’s no relationship between their skills and their professional recognition.

      • Private schools are not a very good comparison because the working conditions are typically much better than in the public schools. Admissions are selective so teachers don’t have to deal with kids showing up in their classrooms who are disruptive and/or academically unprepared and/or unmotivated. They also have far fewer students who are disabled or non-native English speakers (only those who are capable of keeping up with the rest of the class are permitted to enroll). The physical working conditions are often better as well, and there is less micromanagement from above.

        I know several people who took a pay cut to switch from public to private school teaching because the better working conditions made it worth the lower salary.

        • > I know several people who took a pay cut to switch from public to private school teaching because the better working conditions made it worth the lower salary.

          So, the two are compareable. “Several people” you know were quite capable of making the comparison.

          Also, in your litany of differences between public and private schools, you neglected to mention that the people who run private schools are rather more likely to be concerned with teaching skill then the people who run public schools, for whom teaching skill can be treated as irrelevant.

  5. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Or, we could make the working conditions more pleasant, so teachers would be willing to accept lower compensation. For instance, private/ parochial school teachers are often paid less than public school teachers for the same skills. Why? Because, in general, the working environment is more pleasant– the students are better behaved, there’s more parental support for the staff, etc.

    So– if we could make public schools a more pleasant place to teach, we might get more teachers willing to work for lower wages in exchange for the summers off, ability to be home when their kids are home, etc. But that would mean doing something about all those “intentional non-learners”

    • I’m not sure what measures you have in mind that would transform problem school and classroom environments into those experienced in better private and parochial schools. I suspect that if you could identify and implement meaningful reforms to that end, more people would want to be teachers and student performance would increase markedly without any additional reform.

      Private and parochial schools often benefit from being able to employ as teachers people who would not qualify for a regular teaching job, public or charter, due to lack of credentials or even a lack of degree. Better private schools, though, seem to worry a lot more about credentials and about maintaining a competitive compensation structure.

  6. The American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation are right-wing nut job organization, known for years as producing nothing useful other than propaganda.

    As for those fabulous benefits let’s see:

    Healthcare? Nope
    Paid days off a year? 5

    Hmm, maybe if Texas had REAL teachers’ unions I’d have better benefits.

    • Stellar argumentation – can’t deal with the points raised, so attack the messenger.

      Yup, real classy.

      • Oh, it’s better then that.

        Mike defines “truth” as anything that serves his mercenary purposes. So, when you go look, you find that Texas public school teachers do get health care benefits – http://www.trs.state.tx.us/active.jsp?submenu=trs_activecare&page_id=/TRS_activecare/introduction – and as for “Paid days off a year? 5”, there are ten official holidays.

        Does Mike’s district make him work during Memorial Day? Thanksgiving? Labor Day? I kind of doubt it but Mike’s always a bit cagey when it comes to providing support for his claims.

        • Allen,

          As always you have the facts wrong, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, none of these are paid holidays, we are paid for the days we work.

          Yes, I can get healthcare benefits, if I’m willing to pay a great deal of money for them.

          The state of Texas pays for a catastrophic plan at the ridiculous price of $300 per month, which nets the provider, Aetna I believe, a ridiculous amount of money every year for doing little.

      • Tell me Lee, was this “study” peer reviewed in an actual publication, or was it a “released” working paper?

        Its opinion, nothing more, nothing less, from authors associated with 2 groups known for their right-wing publications.

    • mike, i’m curious about the district that you work in. my husband and i teach south of the houston area, and both have health, dental, and vision, plus 10 sick days a year, 3 personal days and 2 funeral days (should they be needed.) before we lived here, i taught in louisville, ky and also lancaster, pa and had almost the exact same benefits in all 3 districts. i’d be very surprised to find a district that did not offer all of those things, truthfully.

      • Ted Craig says:

        5 paid days off a year ? This district is in session 12 months a year? No Christmas break? No spring break? Those poor kids.

        • Ted,

          You make the same mistake many people make, Christmas break, spring break, are not paid holidays for teachers. We are paid for the days we work, not for the days we don’t work.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I’m not sure this isn’t just playing with semantics. Is there any real difference between a job that pays $50,000/year with three weeks of paid vacation and a job that pays $50,000 for 49 weeks and then requires you to take 3 weeks of unpaid leave during the year?

      • Maia,

        No healthcare, no dental, 5 personal days a year (from the state), and 5 sick days.

        I worked in Florida years ago and had healthcare, dental, vision and other benefits. I doubt seriously teachers in Florida get that anymore.

  7. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Wages aren’t a reward for skill. You can have fifty PhD’s, and if what you’re doing is pumping gas, well, the people who hire for that sort of job have a view of how much that labor is worth. They don’t care about your level of skill beyond a certain point, and they don’t care about your education.

    Wages are a payment for performance of a job.

    So who cares what “similarly skilled” workers in the private sector are doing? They’re not doing the same job, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they aren’t making the same pay.