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Just Right?

Coin-Stacks---ROHWe here in Brevard County, Florida are in the midst of a debate as to whether to increase the sales tax by one half of one percent with the additional money going to the education budget. That debate will be settled by the voters in November, but as children return to the classroom, we expect to hear comments from many people, particularly candidates running for County Commissioner and for seats on the School Board on the level of pay for teachers.

The debate on teachers’ pay has raged forever. Some say that teachers are grossly underpaid because of the hours they put in during the school year. Others say that the rate of pay is too high for a job where a person is working only part of the year.

Now an article on the Forbes website written by economist Jeffrey Dorfman has come out and says that the pay level is “just right.”

First, the facts about what teachers actually get paid. Teachers make much more than most people think. If one uses a less detailed data source, like the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data set, you would think teachers are severely underpaid. With that data, the best category you can get is for elementary and secondary schools. You would find such employees making and average of $2,913 per month during the school year, suggesting pay of perhaps under $30,000 on average, given that teachers do not get paid year-round in most cases. However, that category is all workers at elementary and secondary schools, not just teachers.

Using the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Occupational Employment Wage Estimates, we get quite a different picture. Now we can be much more detailed in the categories we study. For example, preschool, primary, secondary, and special education teachers earn an average of $54,740 per year. If we drop the preschool teachers, salaries rise even more. Elementary and middle school teachers average $56,420 per year and secondary (high school) teachers earn an average of $58,170. These figures place teachers comfortably above the national average of $46,440 reported by the BLS (link at the top of the list here).

These comparisons do not make teacher pay look too bad. Plus, we should probably factor in something for the fact that teachers do not work year-round. There is some dispute about how many hours teachers work and what the adjustment should be for the roughly 38 week work-year. If we treat teachers as working three-quarters of the year (39 weeks), then those salaries in the range of $54-58,000 per year would translate to $72,000-$77,000 per year to make them equal on a per hour worked basis.

At that level, teachers would compare to the earnings of network and computer systems administrators ($77,910 per year), nuclear power reactor operators ($78,400), chiropractors ($78,410), and architects ($79,650). Again, these comparisons do not seem to indicate teachers are underpaid.

Dorfman continues and makes a compelling point:

However, the important thing is there does not appear to be any systemic shortage of teachers. There also do not appear to be thousands of people with teaching certificates unable to locate a teaching job. While there are plenty of stories in the news at the moment about college graduates working jobs that do not require a college degree, the subjects of the stories rarely, if ever, are searching for a teaching career.

Overall, the salary data and the supply and demand for teachers suggest that teacher pay is quite fair. The amounts paid do not seem low and the labor market for teachers appears to be in a nearly perfect balance. While it might upset those on both sides of the debate, it appears that teacher pay is in keeping with the tale of Goldilocks: it is not too high, not too low, rather it is just right.

It would be interesting to see reactions from people running for election to this article, but we are not holding our breath.



One Response to “Just Right?”

  1. Lori says:

    This article is an example of how people are trying to fit an octagonal peg into a square hole and classify teaching in an objective manner. It simply doesn’t work. Teachers are called upon to do so many different tasks during the day that we can’t possibly take away the subjectivity involved in the job.

    Having been in business for 20 years before going into teaching, I can assure you that I have never worked harder AND had to prove that every part of my job was done. Because people assume that they know what goes on in a classroom and all of the preparation involved, they feel confident in making claims such as the ones in the article. One can’t possibly understand the nuances of this profession without experiencing it first hand. Not for a day visit in a classroom but for at least a month.

    While there are the obvious goals of teaching a subject it is the variables that are consistently thrown in that are where strong professionals shine. Too many of our customers are not ready for school – tired from lack of sleep, hungry, angry, argumentative, “unplugged.” You name it. Most of this boils down to – not economics, but parents not instilling the importance of learning to children. Parents are such an essential part of this success formula and only the teachers are held responsible.

    A student had missed 83 days in the school year. Around March I finally got into a meeting about the student where I thought we could get a truancy officer to assist with the problem. Not so. I was repeatedly asked what I was doing to make sure the child was at school!

    After 15 years of teaching I am almost making what I made in the business world. There are many years we do not get any raise but even the years we get one, the amount is minimal – $400 year, $250 year.

    The ONLY reason that most areas do not have a shortage of teachers is because it is a job that people have a calling to do. Otherwise there would be tremendous turnover. No matter how challenging my day was, when a 6 year old throws their arms around my knees and tells me they love me – I will show up the next day to try again.

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