Teachers are not overpaid. Meghan Keane, Michael Podgursky, and Richard Vedder say so. How do they know this? Because if you divide teachers’ annual salary by the number of hours they are contractually obliged to work in a year, assuming they spend none of their own time grading papers and none of their own money buying classroom supplies…
(Pause for incredulous laughter from the teachers reading this weblog.)
…then if you compare the average hourly earnings of various professionals working for state and local governments, elementary-school teachers get $30.52, lawyers get $34.64, and engineers, architects, and surveyors get $27.71. “Solidly Middle Class”, says the caption on Podgursky’s bar chart.
Matthew Yglesias remarks, “Seems to me that Ms. Keane needs to go back to free market school and remember that there isn’t some number out there in the sky representing What Teachers Deserve to Get Paid.” In this vein, I would like to point out “Teacher Turnover, Teacher Shortages, and the Organization of Schools”, a study by Richard M. Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania.
Ingersoll points out that while the national employee-turnover rate is 11 percent, the rate for teachers ranges from 13.2–15 percent, depending on the year of the survey. (Lest you think turnover is high because teaching is a predominantly female profession, the rate for nurses is 12 percent. Lest you think that retirement of elderly teachers is causing the turnover, retirees account for less than 15 percent of it.) In private schools—those alleged beacons of hope for the union-stifled public education system—turnover is 18.9 percent. Younger teachers (i.e., those who are just realizing what their job entails) are almost twice as likely to quit their jobs as middle-aged teachers.
When teachers were asked why they quit, almost half gave “poor salary” as one of the reasons. After accounting for a variety of other teacher and school characteristics, Ingersoll found that the more money a school offered to its experienced teachers, the lower the chance that teachers at that school would leave. This should suprise nobody—except perhaps Keane, Podgursky, and Vedder. Podgursky opens his article by quoting a former president of the National Education Association — “It’s hard to convince someone to stay in the classroom when the salary is so low” — and then tries to convince us that the salary is not so low at all. Don’t convince us. Convince the teachers who are quitting.