Are Teachers Overpaid?


"Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters have an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal suggesting that teachers aren't really underpaid at all. "Public school teachers earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, 36% more than the hourly wage of the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty or technical worker," they write. So should teachers stop their whining? Are we all misguided in our beliefs that teachers are underpaid for the critical work that they do? I don't think so. (In addition to being the ball-and-chain of one of the regular Plank denizens, I'm an education policy and research consultant, and I also teach a remedial reading class at a charter school.)

There are three big problems with their op-ed. The first is their assumptions. They assume that teachers work a 35-hour work week. Yes, that may be the number of hours they spend in the classroom, but as any teacher knows, preparation, grading, and maintaining relationships with parents are extremely time consuming activities. Greene and Winters discount this additional work, arguing that in other careers, people take home work as well. But its not fair to compare teachers' planning and preparation to "take-home work" in other careers, since these additional activities are an integral and necessary part of teaching. Especially in the elementary grades, teachers have very little planning time built into their days and planning is an essential part of teaching. Unless we want unprepared teachers who get up and wing it every day, planning time needs to be considered an essential part of a teacher's duties.

In an ideal world, teachers would have about half of their time for planning and preparation. In reality, the National Education Association has conducted research on teacher working conditions and found that teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on all teaching duties. When that assumption is figured into the calculation, teachers' hourly wage drops to an average of $24. ....

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Third, Greene and Winters insist that teacher pay doesn't matter because urban areas with the highest teacher pay have the most abysmal outcomes. This is a ridiculous argument. As decades of research has shown, a whole host of demographic and socioeconomic factors affect student achievement, particularly in high-poverty urban districts. If we wanted a true test of the effects of teachers' salaries on the quality of teaching in urban districts, we'd have to randomly assign teachers with higher salaries to socio-economically similar districts and see if the higher paid teachers have a greater impact on student achievement."

"Finally, saying that teachers earn "enough" misses the point. Enough for what? Everybody agrees that we don't have enough high-quality teachers, particularly in high-poverty districts. Of course it's not all about money--working conditions and the professionalization and respect afforded the profession matter a great deal. On the other hand, if we paid teachers $150,000 per year, they'd probably be willing to endure the poor working conditions. Conservatives like to think the market works for everything else except teachers' salaries. I say we conduct an experiment and see how it works--let's double teachers' salaries in a random sample of districts and see if we don't get top quality teachers."

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Anonymous said...


So what's you point with this post? Should teachers get a raise? I think the public sector needs to learn a lesson from the private sector and that is sometimes you have to cut back on things and suck it up.

If teachers aren't satisfied with their jobs and think they can get paid more in the private sector, they need to take their skills there.

I know of few people who wouldn't be happy to get a raise and improve their benefit picture, in both the public and private sector. You need to face the fact that teachers are just factory worker pumping out tomorrow's cogs in the big wheel that we call the American economy.

Ink Stained Wretch said...

You know what Killy,

You private sector guys should wake up and smell the crap you're getting.
The average standard of living is dropping like a rock, and instead of looking at the cause of that you've been indoctrinated to be jealous of the less drastic losses the public sector have seen. Neither one is keeping up with inflation. So Wake UP! and get to the root of the problem which is the Big Business wholesale buy out of policy making in this country!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...


I don't think you understand how the free market works. As markets expand throughout the world and seeks out more competitive sources of labor and increased volume, you should expect the artifically high wages in the US to drop. Since the labor in Third World countries don't require health or retirement benefits, you will see those disappear in the US. This is all happening now, as I'm sure you are well aware.

Factory labor is a commodity and the US has enjoyed a corner on the market that lasted from the end of WWII to approximately 20 years ago. At first it was a trickle and now it is a steady stream. My advice to your stary-eyed liberals is to keep your resumes updated, get additional training in the hot fields and invest in the stock market.

Ink Stained Wretch said...

There's no other word for what you admit is an orchestrated effort to lower wages and the American standard of living than Exploitation. Maybe you want to treated as a commodity but I refuse. Obviously you have a stake in reducing labor costs or you'd never be such a cheer leading advocate for policies that create hardship and suffering for thousands of American working families and even greater hardship to millions of exploited workers in sweatshops overseas. This sir is immorality in the highest degree, and while it may not punished in this life, it certainly will be in the next.
I certainly hope that you don't claim to be a "Christian".

Ink Stained Wretch said...


Your advice is worth exactly what I paid for it.... NOTHING!
Did you add to you portfolio last week?

"My advice to your stary-eyed liberals is to keep your resumes updated, get additional training in the hot fields and invest in the stock market."

"Dow industrials plunge 2.6% on anniversary of 1987 crash
Friday's losses mimic those just before "Black Monday," but many analysts say this October won't witness a repeat of the havoc seen 20 years ago."