“How Do You Sleep at Night?”

February 7, 2012

Just fine, thank you.

But some teachers seem determined to disturb the sleep of people who do research they dislike.  When Heritage’s Jason Richwine co-authored a study on teacher pay, he received a message from his child’s second grade teacher asking him, “How do you sleep at night?”

Note that the teacher did not ask him to describe the source of the data analyzed or defend the interpretation of results.  The teacher was just engaged in bullying, a practice that schools say they are trying to discourage.  And part of the bullying is the not so subtle reminder that the teacher has Richwine’s children all day.  Parents are (at least partially) compelled to send their children to the care of adults who may threaten you if you say things they dislike.

Imagine a doctor similarly bullying a patient who advocated for reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates.  I imagine the doctor could face disciplinary action from licensing authorities for unethical conduct.  If teachers want to be treated as professionals, then they have to abide by professional norms of behavior, including separating one’s personal feelings from one’s job.

Most teachers do behave professionally, but these outbursts are not as rare as they should be.  Unfortunately, the teacher unions and their advocates, like Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, encourage strident views and confrontational tactics that make unprofessional behavior far more likely.

Long run, it’s a bad strategy for teachers to get their way in policy disputes by threatening and intimidating parents.  It takes a couple hundred ads about teachers buying school supplies with their own funds to counter one such incident.


Are Public School Teachers Underpaid?

November 7, 2011

(Guest Post by Lindsey M. Burke)

My colleague at Heritage, Jason Richwine, along with co-author Andrew Biggs of AEI, has just published a groundbreaking new paper on teacher compensation. The authors find that public school teachers “make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”

As Bob Costrell noted (Costrell was the discussant at the public event at AEI earlier this week to present the findings) Richwine and Biggs’ research significantly contributes to the existing literature on teacher compensation. In doing so, it shatters three myths that have driven policy in the wrong direction for decades.

Myth No. 1: Teachers are constantly tempted to leave the classroom for high-paying private sector jobs. We’re told that teachers are tempted into higher-paying professions; that it is a teacher’s sense of commitment, not high compensation, which tethers them to the classroom. Teachers, as former AFT president Sandra Feldman once argued “are being lured to other professions with handsome salary offers.” The NEA’s Kim Anderson even responded to the Richwine/Biggs study by stating that “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.”

For the average teacher, however, this isn’t the case. Switching from a non-teaching job to a teaching job increases workers wages, on average, by 9 percent; transitioning from teaching to non-teaching, by contrast, results in a wage decrease of 3 percent. As Richwine and Biggs observe, it’s “the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.”

Which brings us to myth number two…

Myth No. 2: Teachers are underpaid. Richwine and Biggs’ finding that teachers are paid above market value runs contrary to what we so often hear – that teachers are, to quote Sec. Duncan, “desperately underpaid.”

While it’s true that public school teachers earn less, on average, than similarly credentialed non-teachers, Richwine and Biggs note that traditional skill measures, such as years spent in school or level of degree, do not lend themselves to an accurate salary comparison of teachers to non-teachers. The “wage gap” disappears when teachers and non-teachers are compared using objective measures of cognitive ability, as opposed to years of university education.

Beyond paper qualifications, comparisons of public school teachers to their private school counterparts provides more evidence that public school teachers are compensated above market value. The authors find that “With all observable skills held constant, public-school teachers nationally earn 9.8 percent more in salaries than private school teachers.”

But it’s the benefits that are the biggest factor. Biggs notes in NRO:

“The BLS benefits data, which most pay studies rely on, has three shortcomings: It omits the value of retiree health coverage, which is uncommon for private workers but is worth about an extra 10 percent of pay for teachers; it understates the value of teachers’ defined-benefit pensions, which pay benefits several times higher than the typical private 401(k) plan; and it ignores teachers’ time off outside the normal school year, meaning that long summer vacations aren’t counted as a benefit. When we fix these problems, teacher benefits are worth about double the average private-sector level.

“Finally, public-school teachers have much greater job security, with unemployment rates about half those of private-school teachers or other comparable private occupations. Job security protects against loss of income during unemployment and, even more importantly, protects a position in which benefits are much more generous than private-sector levels.”

When considering the benefits public school teachers enjoy – job security, health benefits, and plush pension packages – the “totality of the evidence” suggests that teachers are not underpaid, and are actually, overpaid.

Myth No. 3: We aren’t attracting enough teachers. Well, myth number three is actually a half-myth. During the AEI discussion, Costrell also pointed out that the median number of qualified applicants per teaching position is 15:1. So while there is actually excess supply, there is wide variation by field. While there are only four applications for every available speech and language pathology position, there are 129 applicants for every elementary (K-6 teacher) position.

Teachers should be paid fair market wages, but the current system prevents teachers from being rewarded based on their performance.

Research shows that teacher quality is one of the most important factors in increasing student achievement. 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.


Question for Leo — How Long Will It Take For an NEA Correction?

January 29, 2010

Since the teacher union flacks have a hard time changing the cue cards from which they read, we have a question for Leo:  How long will it take until the NEA issues a correction for the obvious error committed in the video above and in the press release here?

In case you need to catch up, the NEA issued a press release claiming “Inflation over the past decade has outpaced teachers’ salaries in every single state across the country…”  The only problem is that their own report shows that teacher salaries actually rose at a real rate of 3.4% nationwide over the last decade and at faster than the rate of inflation in 36 states.  Read more about it here.

We’ll start our new series, NEA Correction Watch, tomorrow to count the days until they admit the error.

UPDATE — I’ve been corresponding by email with Celeste F. Busser, the NEA’s Senior Public Relations Specialist, about this error.  I have to say she has been very responsive.  In fact, she just emailed me to say that the NEA’s research department has “confirmed their mistake.”  She has altered the web site of the press release to say that inflation has outpaced salary increases in 15 states (rather than every state) over the past decade.  And she says that she will send a corrected press release to everyone who received the original one. 

Yes, the NEA is still putting their heavy spin on these facts, but at least they are getting the facts right.  I feel a little guilty about expecting the worst with regard to their issuing a correction.  But my guilt is reduced somewhat by the fact that they do not appear to acknowledge any error and are just replacing the erroneous information as if it never happened.  That’s not quite what they should be doing.


The Ministry of Truth Speaks

January 29, 2010

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.


Double Dipping

August 4, 2009

At a time when nearly 10% of American workers are unemployed, taxes are rising, families are tightening their belts, and the federal government has showered more than $100 billion in stimulus money on K-12 schools to avoid cuts, we are seeing a slew of newspaper articles about “double dipping” in education.  Double dipping is the practice of “retiring” from an education job and then, because of loopholes in teacher pension plans, returning to work with full pay and full pension benefits.  By doing so they can increase the money they take home by about 60%  for doing the same job (it varies across state plans and individual circumstances).  It’s a nice deal if you can get it.

A quick Google News search for double dipping teacher retirement yields the following 15 articles from 7 different states in the last month alone.  Maybe after seeing their ranks decimated by layoffs and pay-cuts reporters aren’t as eager to promote the false grievance of the starving teacher.

Contract allows one county to beat ‘double dipping’ law

Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Christopher Curry – ‎7 hours ago‎

But the School Board has grown divided over the DES of Florida contract this year, as double dipping has drawn increased scrutiny from lawmakers and the …

Pension limit lifted for working retirees

Arkansas Democrat Gazette – Andy Davis – ‎Aug 3, 2009‎

The income limit was imposed decades ago to “prevent the perception of double-dipping,” she said. But the retirement system had no way of making sure all …
The Plain Dealer – cleveland.com – ‎Aug 2, 2009‎
by The editors “Double-dipping” has been a fact of Ohio life for decades. In its purest form, the practice of letting some public workers bank both a full …

Teachers delay union negotiations

Winona Post – Cynthya Porter – ‎Jul 29, 2009‎

“You over-cut staff and now you’re really double dippingto bring them back.” After the meeting ended on that contentious note, Seeley said he was vexed by …

Vote postponed on raise for South Euclid-Lyndhurst superintendent

Sun News – cleveland.com – Ed Wittenberg – ‎Jul 29, 2009‎

Moores said the double-dipping aspect of a retire-rehire deal seems like a conflict of interest to him. “There are a lot of young, energetic teachers out …

EDITORIAL >>Taxpayers robbed again

Arkansas Leader – ‎Jul 29, 2009‎

After 30 years (now 28) of teaching, they could stop their payroll contributions to the Teacher Retirement System, and while they would not start drawing …

School Board ‘Retirees’ Pulling In $3.4 A Year

Broward New Times – Bob Norman – ‎Jul 27, 2009‎

Ricky Frey making nearly $320000 off of a popular state retirement scam for government officials that basically allows triple-dippingand opulant take home …

Teachers see retire-rehire practice end

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette – Angela Mapes Turner – ‎Jul 26

Lee educators get DROP on law’s loophole

The News-Press – ryan lengerich – ‎Jul 25, 2009‎

The so called “double dipping” has caused controversy, especially for elected officials. Appraiser Ken Wilkinson took all December off, just a month after …

Saturday special: Double dippers

Arkansas Times – ‎Jul 25, 2009‎

For elected officials, it’s an even sweeter double-dip because they can double-count their years of service. That means their retirement pay might equal …

More on double dipping

Arkansas Times – ‎Jul 23, 2009‎

Double dipping is rampant throughout the ranks of state government — and legal. Teachers got on the train early with the T-drop retirement programs that …

Geiler lands at Providence Day

CharlotteObserver.com – Langston Wertz Jr – ‎Jul 21, 2009‎
… come back to a new job, where he could collect retirement plus a new paycheck. “I sat at home and all these thoughts about how I’d double dip,” he said. …
Silver City Sun News – Nick Mandel – ‎Jul 20, 2009‎
Or the double-dipping practice, allowing former retired state and local government employees to return to work for public-sector organizations and continue …
Examiner.com – ‎Jul 14, 2009‎
We also need to halt the seemingly endless accumulation of sick and vacation days. Double dipping needs to end, too. No rehire after retirement. …
Muncie Star Press – Joy Leiker – ‎Jul 12, 2009‎
But school officials dismiss the notion they’re double-dipping. “I think most people see it as a savings for the corporation,” said Cowan Community Schools …
(edited for typo)

Become a Teacher

July 20, 2009

Business colleges routinely brag about what attractive jobs their graduate are likely to get.  But we in education colleges rarely do the same.  If we make an appeal to prospective teachers at all it is usually akin to an appeal to enter the priesthood.  You’ll make the world a better place, we say.  We almost never say, “And you’ll do well for yourself while doing well for others.”  Just look at the marketing — even the title — of Teach for America.

But the reality is that teaching is a pretty good gig.  Yes, the work can be draining, but the hours are great and you get regular breaks throughout the year, including a long one over the summer.  The annual pay is OK, but when you consider it on an hourly or weekly basis, you’ll get paid more than the average white collar or professional specialty and technical worker (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In addition, during a period of almost 10% unemployment you’ll sure appreciate the high job security.  And let’s not forget the benefits, including solid health-care and an extremely generous retirement package that will let you retire in your mid-50s with about 60% of your peak salary guaranteed for the remainder of your life and adjusted for inflation.  It would take a fortune in a 401k or 403b to produce that kind of pension benefit.

People shouldn’t complain about what a good gig teaching is; people should seek to become teachers and get it themselves.  That’s the sensible advice that a Madison, WI teacher gave:

As someone who has been teaching for 18 years, Brand is familiar with the resentment and jealousy that her summer break elicits from those outside the profession. “It’s definitely a perk of the job,” she says, noting that people who covet her summers off could be teachers if they so choose. “I just say, ‘Well, you could go back to school and be a teacher yourself. It’s got its trade-offs.'”

If only we told prospective teachers about how attractive the job could be, we’d almost certainly draw more of them, including more of our best and brightest.  Why should all those kids go to business school when they could be preparing to be teachers?

The problem is that people fear that advertising the pecuniary benefits of teaching would undermine the appropriate motivation for teachers.  Balderdash!  Do you think the brilliant heart surgeon is undermined in her motivation by the attractive pay?

And teacher unions cultivate a false sense of poverty among teachers in order to keep them and the general public mobilized for the next demand for increased pay or benefits.  Let them try.  We should launch our own campaign in ed schools of telling the world about how rewarding, both personally and financially, teaching can be.

(edited for typos)


One More Brummett Update

July 16, 2009

Arkansas columnist John Brummett responds to my most recent blog post.  (See also yesterday’s related post here)

 Unfortunately, he continues to change the subject.  The issue is not whether a summer literacy program in Fayetteville is a good program or not.  As I’ve said before, I’m willing to believe that it is.

The issue is whether doubling (or tripling) teacher pay for that program was a good use of additional stimulus dollars.  If it really is a great program, wouldn’t it be better to use those funds to double the number of students who could participate and hire twice as many teachers?  Or how about making the program run twice as long?

Only right-wing zealots would favor halving the number of students or halving the number of days for a beneficial program. 

And one small point — name-calling can be done with adjectives.  Ugly and smelly are adjectives.


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