Teachers are Overpaid and Underpaid

A new study claims that public school teachers are overpaid. Are they? Depends.

An ongoing whine from teachers unions and their fellow travelers is that public school teachers don’t earn enough money. But according to Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute scholar and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, it is just not true. In fact, in a recently released study, they find that teachers are overpaid. Typically teachers have many perks like excellent healthcare and pension packages which aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

“Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

“When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

“Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

“Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels.”

Needless to say, the usual suspects are none too pleased with the report. A teacher-blogger going by New York City Educator calls his piece, “‘That’s Just Mean’: Bullies at the Heritage Foundation.” Okay, whatever.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan claims that

“…public school teachers are ‘desperately underpaid’ and has called for doubling teacher salaries.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten bashed the report, huffing that it’s full of “ridiculous assertions” says,

“The AEI report concludes that America’s public school teachers are overpaid — something that defies common sense — and uses misleading statistics and questionable research to make its case.

“If teachers are so overpaid, then why aren’t more “1 percenters” banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession? Why do 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three to five years, an attrition rate that costs our school districts $7 billion annually?”

Kim Anderson, advocacy director at the National Education Association, who questions the reliability of the report, chimes in,

“Talented individuals turn away from this rewarding profession because they are forced to choose between making a difference in the lives of students and providing for their families.”

After a quick look at the negative responses, an obvious fix emerges: We should pay teachers by how effective they are in the classroom. By doing this, we would attract a more professional class of teachers. In every other profession in America, people are paid by how competent and productive they are. Good doctors earn more money than their less talented colleagues; good lawyers command higher fees than those who regularly lose their court cases, etc. Why do we make a special case for education – where competency is paramount?

It’s because teachers are positioned in our society like industrial workers, not professionals. Government run schools and the powerful teachers unions have coalesced to make teaching the equivalent of working in a glorified auto plant. Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of collective bargaining, we have an appalling system whereby teachers can make more money simply by logging years on the job and by taking useless professional development classes. Teacher quality throughout almost every school district in the country is a non-factor in teacher compensation.

Hence the real answer to the question, “Are teachers overpaid?” is no and yes. The good ones are most definitely underpaid and the mediocre and worse are most definitely overpaid. Andrew Biggs points this out,

“…across-the-board pay increases are hardly warranted. What is needed is pay flexibility, to reward the best teachers and dismiss the worst.”

In his review of the teacher pay study, AEI’s Rick Hess analyzes the rigidity of the current system,

“In a routine day, a 4th grade teacher who is a terrific English language arts instructor might teach reading for just 90 minutes. This is an extravagant waste of talent, especially when one can stroll down the hallway and see a less adept colleague offering 90 minutes of pedestrian reading instruction.”

On Jay Greene’s blog, Heritage’s Lindsey Burke sums it all up quite well,

“Effective teachers should be handsomely rewarded for the impact they are having on a child’s education. By reforming compensation policies in a way that accounts for the abilities of great teachers to improve student outcomes, we will ensure excellent teachers are richly compensated, and mediocre teachers have a strong incentive to improve.”

Teachers need to demand freedom from the government-teacher union monopoly. Until they escape from this highly unprofessional set-up, join other professionals and are paid according to their ability, they will continue to be treated as interchangeable parts. Yes, if they follow this advice, they may lose some of their union guaranteed perks. But in exchange, they will be treated as professionals with all the respect, esteem and compensation accorded to those in that class.

But in the meantime, we will continue to overpay bad and mediocre teachers and underpay the good ones. And the teachers unions and their allies will keep on bellyaching about yet another lousy state of affairs that they are responsible for.

(Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. This article was first posted on Union Watch.)


  1. reginald zenkewich says

    I believe and know that the education system from K_12 her in Caliphonia is failing the children and rewarding those teachers who are promoting ignorance in history and CIVICS and teaching falsehoods to these students or more importantly corrupt information that leads to ignorance of the issues .

  2. Jaime Cancio says

    From my perspective as a elder re-entry student attending CSU Bakersfield and other univerisities I have attended earning my BA Degree in 2006 and my Communication Ceritificate in 2010. I was enrolled in the Teacher Credentialing Program Multiple Subjects and also the Special Education Credentialing Department, As unversity student, as a classroom observer, as a substitute teacher (long term) (Kintergarden to 12 grade high school) I will be the first to tell you the current education provided our children is not the education we were taught in the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. I have currently majored out in nine subjects so my overview at the university level of instruction and quality can be respected. I also usually a straight ‘A’ student. My background and experience is in professional executive business management.

    I am reminded of one particular day substitute teaching, at the end of day, at the front door of the classroon releasing the students to find their way home, the teacher in the next classroom over stated to me, “I have never worked so hard in my life as I worked today”. I looked at the ass and thought, six hours of your time and you claim this is the hardest day of work in your life? And that day include two breaks and one hour for lunch. Working in the real world I remember working everyday for seven years without a day off working 16 and 20 hour days of true hard physical and mental work and earning a more than a decent wage for all my effort. 4 hours and 40 minutes comprises the teaching work day of which for all their labor is less justification a greater wage.

    I can illustrate with this example, three quarters ago I had to take a required history course at the university and was given at university tuition expense a forth grade eduction I received when I was in the fourth grade; and the worse I can impart, in fourth grade I got a much better education and not the historical distortions and political agendized crap [propoganda] now masking our true history. This is a system that demands you teach from the book even if you know the information is distorted and not correct. The socialist agenda is there to see at every grade level. This too is found at university level.

    As a parent myself, I soon found out that when I was in the teaching classroom, in the entire time in what ever teaching situation (four years), not once did a principal or vice principal, another teacher, ever come to my classrooms to see the quality of my teaching performance. And this is true no matter what school I was teaching be it city or county schools.

    This example, at General Shafter school south of Bakersfield, in a long term substituting teaching position, next to the classroom was another teacher (female) that got hung up in a science project of building model rockets. In the educational environment where required subjects are required to be taught on a daily schedule, the instructor devoted three full weeks to the science project of building model rockets – no other instruction given until the project was completed. And by-the-way, on launching day not one model rocket flew successfully. And of course the instructor was beside herself at the failures.

    The other observation I will note, I have always been surprised how little these educated teachers know; mostly limited book learning and no real world practical experience. I could go on and on on what I observed, and yes I did see good teaching as well but the poorest teaching is in the majority. It is like the one teacher teaching math at a school in Delano who ask me to help him teach mathematics to his classroom while he took over my classroom….good God it was only 5th grade math and this teacher could not understand the mathematics let alone teach it.

    It is time to look at the California education system and change it and I most sincerely suggest home schooling you children if you want them to have to best edcuation….that is how Einstein did it, that is how Lincoln did it, and by the way Hitler did much the same too.

    In a central high school in Bakersfield in some of 8 different classrooms I interacted as observer or substitute every classroom had one particular ethnic background that were nothing but pure beligerent thugs in the same classroom as students wanting to learn; the criminals that will prey on society in the future. This, indeed criminal and lawless element, rules the classroom insuring they learn nothing as well as all the other students in the classroom learn nothing. Students who continually victimize other students and are not once punished for their behavior; I have also noticed, let a white kid do the same things the school system is swift and harsh. While in one classroom three different elements went on a crime spree of a Friday of mugging and robbing other kids. One of their victims, an eleven year old, his head crushed by repeated blows of a lead pipe by one of three 17 years old as they robbed him of .50 cents. You guessed it, right back in the classroom the following Monday distrubing the classroom the entire class period and the teacher not able to do one thing to put a stop to it. In fact, I will quote him as best I can, ‘…what is the use I kick them out of the classroom before the class is over the prinicipal or vice principal will return the student to the classroom’. I was told directly, this true, keep my mouth shut and not to discuss this with anyone or my career as a teacher will end the same day the system finds out I stated anything.

    My last comment, when asking the Department Chair of the Special Education Department at CSUB why these conditions were allowed to flourish under the California Schools Systems he answered me to the effect something along these lines, ‘…if you want a job in teaching you keep your mouth shut!’ Which implies the California School System don’t want to hear nor are they willing to deal with the problems within the school systems of California.

  3. Jaime Cancio says

    And, as a matter of further explanation, that Deparment Chair is instrumental in Sacramento deciding what you children will learn and the textbooks that will be used in the classroom. My favorite comment from him in his classroom was that in the 18 years his involvement in Sacramento he has seen the education system progressively failing each year worse than the year before…and he doesn’t see his own involvment may be the cause! as he is one of the decision makers in the system. And to make things even worse, I am the person who is legally blind!

    • sidewinderaz says

      Wow Jaime, your two posts really hit the CA school system (indoctrination centers) where it hurts. Unfortunately not enough parents are getting involved enough to demand better from the schools than they are getting. I’m not in education myself but have many friends and family who are in different places around the country. Surprisingly enough many of them are relating many of the same problems you experienced. Also as you noted it isn’t just the K-12 schools that are guilty of misleading and undereducating their students. Today’s universities are indoctrination centers for the progressive left (aka socialists, communists) and anyone who opposes them are either shouted down, kicked out or failed.
      We certainly need to start at the top by removing the Dept. of Education and the NEA. With the dropout rate at near or above 50% in some areas in CA something needs to be changed.

  4. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claims that
    “…public school teachers are ‘desperately underpaid’ and has called for doubling teacher salaries.”

    So, eliminate the Federal Department of Education. Reduce the administrators by 3/4 at the state level and let each local county (parish in Louisiana), city or other local government entity compete with private schools for students. Then the local community could determine if their local expenses for a government run education system was worth the taxes paid to support it.

    The private schools could double the salary of their teachers and make the teachers responsible for “teaching” the students.

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