From The Atlantic by Jordan Weissmann:
What do you think? I say they are underpaid in the cities, well paid in the suburbs, and woefully underpaid in the smaller communities outside the suburbs, that is, in more rural communities.
American public school teachers are paid far more than their smarts are worth.
That’s the provocative conclusion of a new study from two high-profile conservative think tanks. Researchers from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute found that public school teachers take home total compensation that’s 52% higher than “fair market levels” for professionals with similar cognitive abilities.
Unsurprisingly, their findings have riled the education world. “No, we do not agree that teachers are overpaid,” public school reform advocate Michelle Rhee told Politico. “Under the status quo in most school districts, good classroom teachers are not only undervalued in pay, but as professionals generally.”
Of course, this isn’t the final word on teacher pay. It’s just the latest word. Big sweeping statements about teachers being overpaid or underpaid are perennial in the think tank world. Here are four of the biggest.
This from Heritage AEI:
Heritage-AEI: Overpaid! Teachers earn too much for their level of smarts.
The Study: The Heritage-AEI study seeks to correct what it sees as a major flaw in past assessments of teacher pay. Ordinarily, researchers like compare teacher salaries to what other similarly educated professionals make. Jason Richwine and Andrew Briggs think that’s foolish. Years of research has shown that education degrees are among the least challenging, they write, and higher levels of education don’t necessarily correlate to better teacher performance. It’s more effective to compare teachers to other professionals who have the same objective cognitive abilities. In other words, break out the IQ tests.
The Conclusions: What they find isn’t exactly complimentary. “Although teachers as a group score above the national average on intelligence tests, their scores fall below the average for other college graduates,” the pair write. Teachers, they find, also score lower on their SAT and ACT. Finally, they break out data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to analyze the effects of both education and IQ. When education is taken into account, teachers salaries are more than 12% lower than their peers. But when measured based on cognitive skills, the salary gap evaporates. Once you factor in benefits such as retiree healthcare and pensions, total teacher compensation starts to eclipse what others in their cohort make. To top it all off, teachers tend to take a pay cut when they move to other professions.
The Big Criticisms: Richwine and Briggs paint with a broad brush, lumping teachers together from across geographic regions and subject area expertise. It may be that math and science teachers are underpaid while gym teachers are making a steal. But their study can’t tell. The two researchers acknowledge that problem. Of course, there’s also some controversy about whether “objective measures of cognitive ability” such as IQ and the SAT scores are really all that objective. But let’s not get into the weeds.
Even if America’s best and the brightest aren’t becoming teachers, Richwine and Briggs’ concede that there’s a good argument for paying teachers more. As they note: “We have shown that existing teachers are paid above market rates, but recruiting highly effective teachers into the profession may require present levels of compensation or perhaps even higher levels.” In the end, they just want to see pay-for-performance policies. That puts them on the same wavelength as, well, Michelle Rhee.