Study: Public school teachers aren’t underpaid

Lauren Chooljian Contributor
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Despite Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s consistent calls for increased teacher salaries, a new study says that most public school teachers aren’t actually being underpaid.

The new research from The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute suggests a majority of public school teachers are making more than they likely would in the private sector.

The co-authors of the study said they hope their work reverses the widespread perception that teachers aren’t earning high enough wages.

“The idea that teachers are constantly tempted by the promised pay in the private sector and that its very difficult for them to remain as teachers,” said Jason Richwine, co-author from The Heritage Foundation, “that is true for some teachers, but for average teacher it’s not true.”

The study is already facing criticism from education groups. Kim Anderson, advocacy director for the National Education Association, a labor union representing over three million public school employees, said she questions the reliability of the research.

“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,” Anderson said. “Does AEI honestly purport that paying teachers even less will help raise the quality of teaching in American’s schools?”

According to the study, workers who become teachers see a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who switch to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by about 3 percent. Public school teachers, the research says, also earn higher wages than private school teachers.

“This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid,” Richwine and co-author Andrew Biggs, of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote.

The authors argue that public school teachers have greater job security and more generous benefits than other workers of their caliber, bringing even greater value to their jobs.

“If the private sector worker wanted to receive the same benefits for retirement that a teacher received, he or she would have to save much, much larger percentage of their salary to get it,” Biggs said.

These ideas are in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s beliefs. Duncan announced during recent visits to Illinois and Michigan that teachers are so underpaid that their wages should be doubled.

The authors chalk up their surprising findings to misconstrued data by academics before them. Instead of comparing teachers and non-teachers by their years of higher education, they compared them based on their cognitive abilities — giving what they say is a more accurate measure.