The Ministry of Truth Speaks

A press release from the National Education Association landed in my inbox this morning with the alarming headline: “Teachers Take ‘Pay Cut’ as Inflation Outpaces Salaries.  Average teachers’ salaries declined over the past decade” 

The release goes on to say: “Inflation over the past decade has outpaced teachers’ salaries in every single state across the country, according to the National Education Association’s update to the annual report Rankings and Estimates: Rankings of the States 2009 and Estimates of School Statistics 2010. ‘Public schoolteachers across the nation are continuing to lose spending power for themselves and their families in an already struggling economy,’ said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.”

The only problem is that this is not what the data in the NEA report actually show.  In Table C-14 “Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 1998-99 to 2008-09 (Constant $)” we see that salaries increased by 3.4% nationwide over the last decade after adjusting for inflation.  The increase in average salary outpaced inflation in 36 states, which is very different from the claim that  “Inflation over the past decade has outpaced teachers’ salaries in every single state across the country…”  Check for yourself, the table is on p. 20 of the report, which is p. 38 of the pdf.

I can’t find a single table or figure in the report that would justify the headline and claims in the press release.  But when the Ministry of Truth speaks who are you supposed to believe — them or your lying eyes?

I should add that total compensation for public school teachers has risen much more rapidly than just salary because of the rising value of benefits.  In addition, the numbers the NEA provides are the increase in the average salary, not the increase for the average teacher.  The huge increase in new teachers over the last decade who begin with lower starting salaries makes the rise in average salary smaller than the average raise that each individual teacher has received.

Even with these distortions, the report is a treasure trove of interesting information.  We learn that the average teacher in 2008-09 was paid $54,319, excluding the value of health benefits, generous (and guaranteed) pensions, and exceptionally high job security (See Table C-11).  We also learn that the average school revenue per pupil was $11,681 in 2008-09, up from $11,432 the year before  (See Tables F-1 and F-2).  And total instructional staff has increased by 13.6% over the last decade to 3,716,541, with increases in educators employed every year — no recession here.  (See Table 3.2 on p. 75 of text and p. 93 of pdf.)

UPDATE:  Here is the NEA press release with a video from NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel, repeating the erroneous claim.  It is obvious from the video and an email exchange I’ve been having with the NEA press representative that they compared the constant dollar percentage increase to the increase in the rate of inflation and found that no state had a real increase that was higher than the 29.6% rate of inflation over the past decade.  The problem with this is that the constant dollar percentage increase adjusts for inflation.  The claim of the press release is based on an obvious error.

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7 Responses to The Ministry of Truth Speaks

  1. [...] so. Teacher pay rose in 36 states after inflation, responds Jay P. Greene, looking at the NEA’s own data. . . . we see that [...]

  2. [...] cannot afford to be ignored, of course. But on pronouncements of policy. I direct your attention to an excellent catch posted today by Dr. Jay [...]

  3. [...] friend Jay Greene has a great post over at his blog today.  It seems the NEA is making the claim that , as their headline puts it, [...]

  4. matthewladner says:

    Soooo, they are dumb rather than simply lying this time.

  5. Patrick says:

    I was on Nevada Public Radio last week and the local NSEA president stated that Nevada was last in spending on K-12 education and that teacher pay was near the bottom among the 50 states.

    Nevada’s K-12 expenditures rank 26th through 47th depending on what is counted, while the NEA ranks Nevada 19th for teacher pay. But that was 2008 data, maybe Nevada wasn’t among the 36 states…

    There must be some uniform handbook on talking points that doesn’t deviate from state to state.

  6. Greg Forster says:

    Matt: Those are not mutually exclusive options, as cases like this demonstrate.

    Patrick: The claim that your state is last in the nation doesn’t vary from state to state. What does vary is the cornucopia of spurious methods used to compare states, so that every state’s spending level is last by some measure.

  7. The demonstration that advocates for budget increases lie serves to cast doubt on whatever else they say. Other than that, it seems to me, the details of teacher pay do not matter much, for any position on teacher pay (up, down, too high, too low, too uniform, too varied) presupposes a preference for some State-wide policy. In a competitive market in education services, how an individual parent pays some individual tutor, or some individual school pays some individual teacher will be that parent’s, or tutor’s, or school’s, or teacher’s business, and no one else’s.

    It makes no more sense to put Math, Biology, English, Electronics Shop, and College Prep (there really is a class by that name at Campbell High School in Ewa Beach) teachers on the same salary schedule just because we call them all “teachers” than it makes to pay bicycle, automotive, diesel, A/C, and jet engine mechanics the same just because we call them all “mechanics”.

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