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.