How Much Do Teachers Make?


As Wisconsin rolls on and other states join the fray, a common diversion from the battles over collective bargaining is that of teacher salaries.

Often the debate touches on the salaries of teachers.  Do public school teachers make the same or not as their private school peers?  It can be hard to tell.  But then I stumbled on this post from Mark Perry over at Carpie Diem.

Here is the money shot:

Amazing isn’t it?

First, let’s take a look at some numbers.

  1. First year teachers are bringing home 42k a year.  Yowza!
  2. Public school teachers NEVER make less than 27% more than private teachers.
  3. A first year public teacher makes the same amount as a 25 year private school teacher.

Look, $42,000 isn’t a lot of money.  And neither is $65,000 after 30 years in.  But it ain’t bad either.  And don’t forget, the public school teachers are gettin’ health insurance, pensions and tenure.

A pretty good gig.

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25 comments
  1. I think this evidence shows that unions certainly aren’t wielding massive power! First, a couple of important points: comparing public vs. private can be misleading. Public school teachers in Maine don’t make near that much. I suspect that public schools in cities where it’s hard to recruit and living costs are high may skew the average. Private schools may be predominately religious and could be in locations where living standards aren’t as high. The private school averages look about like Maine’s numbers for public schools! So I would be very careful using that kind of aggregate data where the variable of difference (public vs. private) isn’t checked by looking at other variables (location, number, type of school, etc.)

    Teachers make a decent living, given what is demanded of them. But they aren’t rolling in the dough. Get other salaries for professions requiring professional college degrees, and you’ll see that majoring in business, nursing, and other professional programs generate usually better earnings. Don’t we want to pay enough to get good people in those positions?

    So I don’t think the numbers point to teachers being vastly overpaid (and compared to other countries, they certainly are not). Do you really think they deserve less?

    • pino said:

      I think this evidence shows that unions certainly aren’t wielding massive power!

      How?

      comparing public vs. private can be misleading.

      Certainly. However, it serves as a very useful broad brush stroke. One group of teachers across the nation are being measured against another group of teachers across the nation. One is typically bargained for work, the other isn’t. At each increment, the premium is never less than 27%. At some point, don’t you think it would get closer?

      Public school teachers in Maine don’t make near that much.

      And neither do private school teachers in Maine make that much. On the other hand, public school teachers in Chicago might make significantly more than that.

      So I would be very careful using that kind of aggregate data where the variable of difference (public vs. private) isn’t checked by looking at other variables (location, number, type of school, etc.)

      Again, I agree. However, this is strengthening my argument, not weakening it. I have tried to point out several times that we ca’t just look at a teacher’s salary. We have to take into account “other variables”. Things like being home when the kids are home. Free health care. No fear of being fired for poor performance. 8 hour work days. Lifetime pensions. No travel. No on-call or cell phone. There’s a WHOLE lot to like about teaching.

      But they aren’t rolling in the dough.

      I admitted as such.

      Get other salaries for professions requiring professional college degrees, and you’ll see that majoring in business, nursing, and other professional programs generate usually better earnings.

      Those other professions demand drastically more from their employees than does teaching.

      Don’t we want to pay enough to get good people in those positions?

      We do. But you won’t let me fire the bad ones.

      So I don’t think the numbers point to teachers being vastly overpaid…Do you really think they deserve less?

      I do think that public teachers are over compensated when compared to private teachers. Yes.

      Do you read the numbers differently?

  2. I don’t think this is conclusive, but I think its useful. You could argue that educators in general (private and public) should get paid more relative to engineers that make bombs or Wall street types who devise toxic derivatives, at least if we could use salary to attract the best and as you say fire those who aren’t the best. Does the difference include the value of pensions and fringes? I suspect the difference might be larger in favor of public teachers if so.

    • pino said:

      I don’t think this is conclusive, but I think its useful.

      Agreed. Baseline only.

      Does the difference include the value of pensions and fringes?

      No. But it does include summer work.

      I suspect the difference might be larger in favor of public teachers if so.

      I agree.

  3. Henry said:

    Numbers definitely vary across the country. Most of the public school teachers I work with are paid over $85,000 PLUS full benefits. The private schools pay less than half as much with minimal additional benefits. I KNOW the pay is beefed up because of Unions. The UAW pushes up the wages of the semi-skilled laborer, then the MEA and AFT push up the wages for their members in the teaching profession. We certainly can not have hard working factory workers without a college degree making more a teacher.

    • pino said:

      I KNOW the pay is beefed up because of Unions. The UAW pushes up the wages of the semi-skilled laborer, then the MEA and AFT push up the wages for their members in the teaching profession.

      It is this reason that we see Unions favor increasing the minimum wage.

  4. This could be seen as an argument in favor of underpaid private sector teachers. Unions are very weak in the private sector, which is one reason the middle class is disappearing and the gap between the wealthiest and poorest is growing. But I am not sure why that difference exists — it’s too broad a statistic.

    • With respect I think unions and teachers are ultimately conflicting entities, and that the main reason why middle class jobs are disappearing is not because of less unions (or union power) but rather because of education and the good work that teachers do.

      Education creates smarter people, and smarter people create technology (computers + networks + robots + etc), both of which reduce the need for middle-class jobs and supervision and increase the need for upper-management and R&D. Companies are also now much bigger and departments are highly specialized, therefore a higher level of education is required to run them, which teachers help to step up and deliver.

      Economically, technology and higher brain power in companies makes companies more efficient and competitive. Unions, on the other hand, devalue education (vs. longevity), and they fight against technology (progress), both of which make companies less competitive and hurts the economy. So because unions essentially fight against and negate the ultimate product that any teacher produces (a highly educated individual) I find it interesting that teachers are so much in support of them across the private sector.

      I think that the unions are the guardian of the middle/working class is the b.s. that unions have been feeding union members drink for years. In modern society education, innovation, and skill are the guardians of the middle-class, and unions fight against all three every step of the way.

      The enemy of unions is not management, it’s the educated, skilled, and innovative worker that gets in the way of protecting a union’s dues, and lining union bosses’ financial and political pockets.

      • pino said:

        The enemy of unions is not management, it’s the educated, skilled, and innovative worker that gets in the way of protecting a union’s dues, and lining union bosses’ financial and political pockets.

        The enemy of the union is the ambitious worker who wants to get ahead.

    • pino said:

      This could be seen as an argument in favor of underpaid private sector teachers.

      It could. However, the point is that independent of how you feel, it’s true that public teachers make more money than private teachers.

      it’s too broad a statistic.

      Scott, at some point it becomes incumbent upon you to provide data that you DO support.

  5. There’s another benefit, although I’m not sure if it applies in every district, which has to do with Short-term and Long-term disability. A friend of ours works in one of the Benefit Plans and says that a phony “whiplash” claim can get you 80% of your wage, indefinitely, and you’re guaranteed a job back within your division upon return. I’ll reserve my opinion of the benefit itself, but instead will comment that “job security” seems to be a very understated factor in the (public) profession – not just in getting fired, but what about with leaves/sabbaticals/etc..?

    That in mind, I’d be curious to see the retention figures for public vs. private, as well as performance scores of the students. I’m sure with all this attention, those will start coming to light if they haven’t already.

    Teachers are paid low on the totem pole, and socially they play a big role but financially it’s too difficult to determine their nominal value versus other professions where there is Revenue Per Employee-type calculations. Salespeople play a far less important role than teachers, but their nominal value is easily calculated therefore they can bargain individually for better positions.

    As a final note, I know of no teachers that actually like their unions, and none who actually got into teaching K-12 as a lucrative profession. Instead, they got their Masters and Doctorates, and either went into college/university or into admin.

  6. Henry said:

    I have no proof, but these things seem true to me:
    1. Good teachers are under paid; poor teachers are over paid.
    2. Educators went into teaching because they were good “test takers” in school. They were able to develop strategies for remembering interrelated facts.
    3. Many Americans believe the sole purpose of an education is to get a good job.
    4. The middle class is losing ground because businesses are increasingly preoccupied with monetizing everything. The days of R & D into uncharted areas with the hopes of possible future profits does not fly in an age of squeezing a .00021 profit from every transaction.
    5. Unions have been able to survive not because they served their members well, but because they learned to evolve and diversify. Example: International Brotherhood of Teamsters, I don’t see many horse drawn delivery wagons anymore.

  7. Unions in the US are extremely weak. Moreover, the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans is exanding, and the former middle class is drifting towards being clearly lower class. This is a very dangerous trend for societal cohesion, and it’s been going on since the late seventies. I think the reason European states have avoided this is the power of their unions is such that workers get a larger share of the pie, while management and owners get a relatively smaller share. There are still large differences in income, but not like the US.

    There are two different models of unions. Vern, you’re talking about adversarial unions, which were the norm in the US and especially the UK. They fought for workers to get more, and didn’t care about the cost or the companies, that wasn’t their concern. That hurt many companies, especially in the UK. In Germany and the Scandinavian countries a sense of social partnership was fostered between unions and business, with models of co-determination. Unions are members of the boards of directors of companies, have a say in company policy, and see themselves as vested in the company. Negotiation is thus is one of trying to find a fair common ground. If workers have to get pay cuts or limit pay increases, pressure is on management to do likewise, for instance. This model has worked well.

    Obviously, Gov. Walker’s move has unified a lot of state workers and teachers, so the idea that they don’t like their union is probably not true. I know many teachers who go in and stay in their profession because they love teaching. In general, I suspect teachers at all levels are motivated less by monetary factors than quality of life/sense of purpose factors.

    Henry, I don’t think there is a public school teacher in my state that earns $85,000, where do teachers earn that much? I work at a public university, and no faculty member, all the way up to full professors who have been here 30 years earn that much. (Though at large research universities and prestigious private schools salaries are a lot higher). I also teach a much larger load (double that of many private and research schools), with fewer resources. Accordingly, the research requirements are less (but they are still there — people get denied tenure or promotion due to lack of research). I love my job and really don’t care that I get paid less than at other schools. But both for me, and for K-12 teachers who work hard and see this as a calling, the disrespect given by many commentators who want to claim somehow that teachers have it soft or are over paid seems out of touch with reality.

    • pino said:

      Unions in the US are extremely weak. Moreover, the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans is exanding, and the former middle class is drifting towards being clearly lower class.

      If you remove the outliers, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, that gap is much MUCH closer than you think.

  8. Hi Scott,

    In both my direct experience and inexperience with unions (telco, auto, rail, food, pipefitters, boilermakers), working on both sides of the table, I found all union-management relationships to be adversarial, and in no instance did I ever find that any union ever truly weighed in the economic circumstances of the time or express any true consideration for the customer. They had a distorted view of both economic reality and customer reality, and I haven’t really seen that much change.

    On the other side, I share the late Peter Drucker’s opinion that executive compensation should be at most 20x average pay, not 200x. The reasons for this were valid, that anything more than that would make it difficult to foster the kind of teamwork that most businesses require to succeed. (http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/sep2008/ca20080912_186533.htm)

    Considering articles like this (Teacher’s Union asking for Viagra for its teachers [http://host.madison.com/news/state_and_regional/article_a4e799cf-71bb-5104-a22a-ef063c54373e.html]) and the fact that any state currently on the verge of bankruptcy is a heavily-unionized state, it’s difficult to accept that they are “weak” and have me believe that they care one bit about the company taking the risk to pay their wages or the State driving itself into financial ruin largely because of their thug tactics around the negotiating table.

    Excessive CEOs have had their day in the spotlight (they need more), unions are now getting it, too. In the meantime, I haven’t had one person give me one good reason as to why a worker should be forced to join a union or pay dues if they want to be paid on the merits of their work. Let unions compete for “customers” in the same way everyone else in the private sector has to as well, and let them suffer some of the market and economic forces that they themselves helped create.

  9. I’ve not seen evidence that unions are the problem in Wisconsin — it’s asserted, but not only have the unions agreed to concessions, but I’ve also read articles asserting that the Governor is misstating the problem (I’ve posted links to those in my own blog: http://scotterb.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/republican-overreach/ (in response to a comment by Pino).

    But beyond that, we agree on a lot. The US has had an adversarial form of unions, much like the UK, and ultimately that leads to self-destructive tendencies. I don’t see how there is thug behavior now. The link on viagra drugs (done because they alleged discrimination against males) shows the union dropping that suit in 2010. I certainly think the union was wrong on that issue (and they apparently came around to see that too), so I don’t think that really is a good example of union over-reach. I do think there should be limits on union activities — I support a ban on public union strikes, and believe that public employees have to be realistic about states in a time of economic trouble.

    I am President of a local campus chapter of a faculty union associated with the NEA. As a union we have good close working relations with the board of trustees and the system Chancellor. I get along very well with my President and Provost, and trust them. We’ve had no wage or benefit increases since the crisis hit, even though we’re lower paid than university faculty in 39 other states on average. I personally don’t even support so called “work to rule” actions (doing only the minimum required work, which is just to teach classes — we’ve not done any of that in the 15 years I’ve been here, though some faculty call out for them now and then) because it could hurt students and the university itself.

    I do believe a union does protect faculty members from unfair treatment through a grievance procedure and a contract clearly defining the rights of faculty. I also believe a decent benefit package helps balance the lack of pay by some security. Given that Maine is a “blue” state which until the last election had Democrats very strong in state government, if our unions aren’t getting a lot more for members, then I’m struggling to accept that other states are truly that much more generous. Public school teachers start at less than $30,000, and average just over $40,000. The benefits are decent, but not super. The assertions of union “thuggery” just don’t seem believable to me. If you factor in education levels, state workers get paid less than their private sector counter parts, even including benefits.

    I also note that in Wisconsin many Republicans are turning on Walker and their own State Senators. One other thing he’s doing wrong is cutting support to local governments. I think actually more power and resources should go local. Ultimately this century may well see the end of the centralized bureaucratic state because more information and power can be used at a local level (and thus less corruption and more sensitivity to context). Even Gov. Brown in California is stressing local control and resources. I think these issues are complex enough — and the world is changing quickly enough — that they defy any clear left/right or conservative/liberal split. The future is going to require compromise and creativity.

    • Hi Scott,

      Appreciate the anecdote – always helps in understanding perspective.

      I’m not as staunch anti-union as many of my conservative counterparts may be. I do see both sides of it, and while my experience with unions from the position of their management has been adversarial, on the other side I do see benefits to the employees that unions provide. I live in Vegas, and know of dozens of examples with friends in the hospitality industry who have to deal with sleazy, cut-throat management who are looking for any and all ways to screw over anyone but themselves. Employees in such a market simply would not survive without a union. Yet, on the other hand, I see low-income housing not being properly taken care of because the state is forced to pay $30/hr for someone to caulk a window (Davis-Bacon).

      The example you give of the relationship between you and your employers is an excellent one that I think needs to be showcased so that other unions can see what a “proper” relationship should look like that keeps both short-term and long-term sustainability in mind.

      As for the thug tactics, there are plenty. Those same union members I mentioned as employees of hotel restaurants and casinos are very much coerced into voting pro-union. I’ll find the link for you re: the leaked emails. You can also check out the union involved with Telus up in Canada when they went on strike about 5 years ago, and the thuggery that went on there for basically data-entry people wanting $25+ an hour. Surrounding someone’s house, putting their SSN#’s, kids’ names and pictures on the Internet, that sort of thing. Again, your relationship with your bosses should be more the norm.

      “The future is going to require compromise and creativity.”
      Couldn’t agree more. 🙂 Thanks for the dialogue.

  10. I was looking for my link to a story that says based on education levels, state workers earn less than their private sector counterparts. I didn’t find it (though I know I read it!), but did find these two about unions NOT being the cause of the problems in Wisconsin:
    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/wisconsin-gov-walker-ginned-up-budget-shortfall-to-undercut-worker-rights.php
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/02/unions_arent_to_blame_for_wisc.html

    I do recognize I may be wrong, so I’ll be happy to read evidence to the contrary.

  11. Check out the graphs here:
    http://gerrycanavan.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/situation-normal-all-fcked-up/

    I can give you more information about how the gap has been growing dramatically. I also posted four more graphs last December on my own blog:
    http://scotterb.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/the-tax-debate/

    There is no way these figures can be caused by just a few outliers. At least I don’t see a way. Again, I’m open to evidence, but so far one thing seems clear: the last thirty years have been very good to the wealthiest Americans, and not so good to the rest. I’m not trying to make a big ideological point here, I really want to figure out what’s true and how to handle things.

  12. Henry said:

    In Southeastern Michigan, public school teachers with 10 – 15 years on the job are earning over $70,000 per year plus benefits. My district pays even more. I am not saying that all teacher are able to find a job, especially with the depressed economy, but the folks that do have the available jobs are paid well. The Detroit News recently ran a story about a few hundred teachers that were extremely lucky. Those teachers managed to get jobs paying over $100,000 per year.

    http://detnews.com/article/20101118/METRO/11180420/High-teacher-salaries-under-scrutiny-in-Michigan

  13. It does sound like those teachers may be relatively overpaid compared to others. But it is hard to make this a broad argument against unions. The average teacher salary in Michigan, according to the article, is $56,000, ranking it 11th in the country. Clearly that district with its high rates pushes up Michigan’s average, and I suspect in the city’s the pay is higher. Still, if that’s 11th in the country, 39 states have lower averages (again, Maine’s is about $40,000, with starting teachers at $26,000). So yes, scrutinize high salaries, and often cuts may be necessary. But if that school district had a government that negotiated a poor contract, that shouldn’t affect unions everywhere. I think the objection comes when people find a few cases of either abuse or overpayment (and it would be impossible in a country this large not to have that happen at times) and then extrapolate that to a broadside against all teachers or public employees. I’m a full professor at a public university with union representation, and I’m well below $100,000, even if you include the cost of benefits. For the record, I don’t consider myself underpaid (or overpaid), I made a choice to turn down a job at a private college and take one in at a public university because of the location (quality of life). I prefer this to earning $40,000 more at a private school in a large city. I do think the union helps faculty overall, and doesn’t weild unfair clout — our last contract had no raises for two years, and benefits were frozen. Most of us realize that budgetary times are tough, and accept that.

  14. pino said:

    Hey guys. Great discussion.

    I’m traveling on business and have been a bit busy. I’ll try to find the information that shows how public employee benefits and pensions are putting states and cities in a bind.

  15. “Most of us realize that budgetary times are tough, and accept that.”

    Amen again, Scott!! 🙂

  16. ignatzz said:

    Those salaries are for people with a Master’s Degree. Doing one of the most important jobs in the country.

    And if private school teachers are making LESS it means they’re underpaid. On what planet is that an indication that unions are a bad idea? This is basically a demonstration of the fact that WITHOUT unions, employees get taken advantage of.

    Budgetary time are tough? Ok. So how come CEOs and head of corporations aren’t offering the cut their salary? How come John Boehner isn’t? How come Scott Walker isn’t?

    • pino said:

      Those salaries are for people with a Master’s Degree.

      I don’t think so.

      And if private school teachers are making LESS it means they’re underpaid.

      I agree with you. Good teachers ARE underpaid. However, the point of this post isn’t to show that. Only that given teachers are underpaid, look at the impact a union has on that pay.

      So how come CEOs and head of corporations aren’t offering the cut their salary?

      If you’ve gotten laid off, been furloughed or taken a pay cut, here’s something that might give you a little solace: Your CEO most likely took a hit, too.

      Despite their reputation for reaping princely sums that seem to rise year after year, CEOs took a pay cut in 2009, and a big one at that.

      SORTABLE LIST: CEOs’ 2009 pay, bonuses, benefits

      And last year’s pay cut in the executive suite came after CEOs saw their total compensation fall in 2008, too. Back-to-back annual pay cuts probably aren’t what CEOs imagined they had to look forward to just a few years ago.

      http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2010-04-02-many-ceos-took-a-pay-cut-in-2009_N.htm

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