Report Finds Teachers’ Pay Is More than Adequate Across the Country

Published April 1, 2008

Supporting the almost-universal belief that teachers are underpaid, Education Week published an article on January 10 stating, “public school teachers nationwide make 88 cents for every dollar earned in 16 comparable occupations,” including accountants, architects, clergy, computer programmers, insurance underwriters, physical therapists, and registered nurses.

Education Week‘s Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) prepared the report. EPE Library Director Kay Darko told me the article was based on the book How Does Teacher Pay Compare? (Economic Policy Institute, 2004). The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a Washington, DC research group devoted to “helping working people” and the development of a “strong effective labor movement.” It received $150,000 in 2007 from the National Education Association teachers union.

The EPE Research Team “downloaded two years’ worth of Census data on teacher salaries,” said Darko, to make salary comparisons.

According to the article, “With a median salary of $50,784 in 2006 dollars, workers in our set of 16 comparable occupations outearn teachers by a notable margin. This difference corresponds to a pay-parity index value of 88.0 for the nation, meaning that teachers earn about 88 cents to every dollar earned by comparable workers.”

Popular but Wrong

The long-lived conventional wisdom is that teachers are underpaid. That belief is virtually unanimous. But it runs contrary to many respectable research studies that conclude teacher salaries are at least equal to, if not in excess of, compensation for comparable occupations.

In their article “How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?” researchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus A Winters come to some surprising conclusions. According to their findings, “The average public school teacher in the United States earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, and the average public school teacher was paid 36 percent more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11 percent more than the average professional specialty and technical worker.”

In his article “Comparable Worth,” Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor of economics and senior fellow at the Independent Institute, noted, “Teachers earn more per hour than architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, statisticians, biological and life scientists, registered nurses, university-level foreign-language teachers, and editors and reporters.”

In his paper, “Is Teacher Pay Adequate?” Michael Podgursky, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and expert on teacher compensation, concluded, “In fact, when adjusted for annual weeks of work, teacher pay and benefits compare favorably with those of other college-educated workers.”

Generous Benefits

Several other reputable studies (listed at the end of this article) come to the same conclusion. Teachers are paid more than the average worker and more than the average college graduate, and are paid as much as or more than those in comparable occupations.

To objectively evaluate teacher benefits relative to other occupations, several relevant conditions need to be factored in. For example, teachers work about 20 percent fewer days annually than other white-collar workers. Consequently, a teacher paid $60,000 per year is actually being paid $72,000 at the adjusted rate. Add another 25 percent (on average) for retirement and health insurance, and the annual benefit package increases to $87,000.

But that’s not all. Many other inducements make teaching attractive. Teachers have a family-friendly work schedule–they’re home early in the afternoons, and in addition to all regularly observed national holidays, they have summers off. Few teachers must endure stressful business travel. And unlike comparable occupations that require a college degree, prospective teachers have a plethora of grants and scholarships available to them to reduce the cost of a college education.

And let’s not forget that teachers are paid according to a compensation schedule that guarantees a salary increase every year, plus increases for additional college credits. The illogic of the teacher salary grid is explained in my book The Deserved Collapse of Public Schools (AuthorHouse, 2006).

Furthermore, often hidden from the public, teachers have additional benefits in their union-negotiated labor contracts, such as special leaves, reduced workloads, extra compensatory emoluments, and a variety of clauses that protect the interests of teachers–sometimes at the expense of student welfare.

Biggest Bonus of All

No fair assessment of teacher benefits can be made without highlighting the most valuable benefit of all: tenure, a lifetime of guaranteed employment irrespective of performance.

Other unionized workers would give an arm and a leg at the bargaining table to obtain such a benefit, but it’s a freebie for teachers. They don’t even have to ask for it, and it’s protected by law.

One could rightfully conclude that in the new world of global competition, where millions of American workers struggle to hold their jobs, not only are teachers not underpaid–they have become a protected and privileged class.

Richard G. Neal ([email protected]) writes from North Carolina.

For more information …

“How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?” by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, Manhattan Institute, No. 50, January 2007: 50htm#05

“Comparable Worth,” by Richard Vedder, Education Next, Spring 2003:

“Is Teacher Pay Adequate?” by Michael Podgursky, Education Working Paper, Department of Economics, University of Missouri-Columbia, April 4, 2006:

“Are Teachers Underpaid?” debate between Michael Podgursky and Lawrence Mishel, National Council on Teacher Quality, July 2005:

“Learning About Teacher Pay,” by Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation, No. 307, February 14, 2007:

“Teacher Quality, Teacher Pay,” by Frederick M. Hess, Hoover Institution, April-May 2004:

“Do Higher Salaries Buy Better Teachers?” by Eric A. Hanushek, John F. Kain, and Steven G. Rivkin, NBER Working Papers, 7082, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., April 1999: