The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, February 02, 2007


My wife, a primary teacher with many years of classroom experience, is now a Supervisor of Student Teachers at Florida Atlantic University. In that position, and another she holds for substitute teacher training, she works with young student teachers while they teach in a real classrooms, providing them with pragmatic mentoring that makes them better teachers. She’s very good at her job.

Like most teachers, she brings home stories, lots of stories. I can’t count the number of times that she’s mentioned this student teacher or that student sub lament about low starting pay for teachers.

“Man, I could make more working at McDonald’s,” says a young man about to graduate with a degree in education.

“I can’t afford to live alone, I’ll have to have roommates,” says a young woman who is six months away from a full-time teachng job.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Jay Green and Marcus Winters assert that teachers aren’t underpaid … my goodness, they may even be overpaid! It’s an analysis that is intellectually sloppy and not up to the WSJ’s normally high standards of analysis.

Green and Marcus begin:
Who, on average, is better paid--public school teachers or architects? How about teachers or economists? You might be surprised to learn that public school teachers are better paid than these and many other professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public school teachers earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, 36% more than the hourly wage of the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty or technical worker.

What an insightful analysis! Boy, I’ll bet that college professors make a bit more on an hourly basis that “the average white collar worker” with considerably less responsibility (think cancelled classes when you were at college), almost no accountability, and a work week that would look like a vacation for most people (remember I was a prof, so I don’t speak from ignorance).

But Green and Marcus don’t stop there:
It would also be beneficial if the debate [regarding teacher salaries] touched on the correlation between teacher pay and actual results. To wit, higher teacher pay seems to have no effect on raising student achievement. Metropolitan areas with higher teacher pay do not graduate a higher percentage of their students than areas with lower teacher pay.

Probably true. But does a resident internist at a hospital provide better medical diagnosis if she is paid a higher salary? I doubt it. Would a police detective solve more crimes if he was compensated at a higher level? No evidence of that. Would higher pay be a catalyst that drives a physical therapist to build more client muscle. Not likely. Green and Marcus’ argument is vacuous.

Teachers have only so much control over student performance. There are larger forces at work within a school and most are outside the control of a teacher. If the students come from abusive homes, if they come from a culture that does not value education, if they act out in class, they will struggle in the classroom. And although it’s politically incorrect to raise the subject, if the student has below-average intelligence, even the best teacher in the world will struggle to achieve politically acceptable results.

As I’ve watched my wife over her many years as a teacher, I’ve learned that the very best teachers don’t do it for the money. Teaching truly is a calling. But wouldn’t it be nice if teacher salaries reflected the importance of their work. Then again, life’s not fair.

It is, however, a disservice to many underpaid and very dedicated people to imply that they somehow earn too much. What unmitigated nonsense.