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Get Rich: Be a School Teacher

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Teachers learned last week that they are overpaid. Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters of the Manhattan Institute delivered this joyous news, first in one of Manhattan's "Civic Papers" and then on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. The Manhattan Institute and WSJ both enjoy reputations, deserved, as virulently anti-public school institutions. The Civic Papers are among the Manhattan publications that allow it to make public "research" that would not stand up under the normal scrutiny of peer review.

The report presents itself as just Sergeant Friday giving just the facts: "As we stated at the beginning of this report, we offer no opinions on the proper level of pay for public school teachers. We are simply offering facts...." How touchingly disingenuous. The principal "fact" the Greene and Winters provide is that public school teachers make, on average, $34.06 per hour. This figure comes directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) National Compensation Survey (NCS) for the year 2005.

They open their WSJ piece indicating that neither architects nor economists command this much money. Economists weigh in at $33.85 per hours, architects a mere $30.22. They neglect to advise the reader what the hourly rate adds up to on an annual basis. The 2005 NCS doesn't provide this either, but one from 2000 does. If we presume little change in working conditions from 2000 to 2005, then teachers average $47,991 (elementary and secondary averaged) for a year that just exceeds 1,400 working hours. For their years, both of which require over 2,000 hours, economists earn $69,189 and architects, $62,435.

The BLS has now rejected reporting teacher salaries in hourly figures. One BLS official wrote "We are actively studying which occupations and groups of occupations should not have earnings estimated and published by hour. Flight crews on airlines, outside sales representatives, operating personnel on over-the-road railroads are but a few of the occupations in addition to teachers." Yet Greene and Winters report only the hourly wage.

The annual figure for teachers comes close to estimates made by teacher unions and, being close to the 2005 median family income of $46,086, is not a starving wage. But neither is it a princely sum nor does it reflect what other professionals make in a year.

What about the work teachers do at home or after hours at school? We probably can't get a fix on this--BLS reports similar figures for other professions' work-at-home, and it isn't known how critical the at-home work might be to performing adequately during working hours.

As with other Manhattan reports, this one dodges inconvenient facts. Greene and Winters write "Yet, although previous research has used BLS data to draw conclusions about the proper level of teacher pay, no one has organized and reproduced those data so that others can easily observe the information and form their own interpretations." Oh, so that's what they're up to, just to "organize and reproduce" previous data so that folks can look at it easily. They neglect to mention that that "previous research"directly contradicts their own. In actual research, contradictory findings are discussed, not in Manhattan Civic Papers, apparently.

That previous research analyzed occupations in terms of skill criteria: knowledge needed, supervision received, guidelines applied, complexity, scope and effect, personal contacts, purpose of contacts, physical demands, work environment and supervisory duties. When teachers' salaries were compared to those of 16 occupations ranked similarly to teachers on these criteria, teachers were at a substantial disadvantage against all but one occupation, clergy. They trailed architects by $275 a week, a figure in line with the annual salaries calculated above (How Does Teacher Pay Compare, Economic Policy Institute, 2004).

Greene and Winters can be extraordinarily glib: "Metropolitan areas with higher teacher pay do not graduate a higher percentage of their students than areas with lower teacher pay." "Metropolitan areas" sound like such sophisticated places. In Greene's and Winters' universe, poverty, asthma, untreated eye, ear, and teeth problems, malnutrition, single-parenthood, inadequate prenatal care, low birth-weights, gangs and other achievement-lowering characteristics of "metropolitan areas" don't exist.

"The fact is that teachers are better paid than most other professionals." Well, of course. That explains the great hordes of college grads rushing to become teachers, especially in those "metropolitan areas." It surely accounts for the fact that about 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years--they can't stand the high life that teaching affords. Or do they retire to Santa Fe and Palm Springs?

I don't know Winters at all. I consider Greene the most dangerous "researcher" working the field today. He has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever written one positive word about public schools. Greene's mother was a school teacher. I'm not a Freudian, but....