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Providence Journal


Teachers Are Better Paid Than You Think

February 09, 2007

By Jay P. Greene, Marcus A. Winters

PUBLIC-SCHOOL TEACHERS in Providence and nationwide are probably paid better than you think. You don’t have to believe us, you can look it up yourself in data collected by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics at

What you’ll find is that the average public-school teacher in metro Providence made $38.92 per hour in 2004. That is 45 percent more than the average white-collar worker and 24 percent more than the average professional specialty and technical worker, the occupational group in which BLS puts teachers.

That is also more than the average public-school teacher makes nationwide, which according to the BLS is $34.06 an hour in 2005 — 36 percent more than the average white- collar and 11 percent more than the average professional worker.

How could these numbers be right given how often we hear about the terrible pay teachers receive?

Some of those claims are based on comparisons of annual salaries. We should keep in mind that teacher compensation looks less attractive when viewed on an annual basis, but that is not an appropriate way to assess how well they are paid.

Teachers work considerably fewer hours per year than do other professionals. And that time off during summer, winter and spring breaks allows teachers more than other professionals to spend time with their families, engage in other activities they enjoy, or earn additional money from other employment. If the shorter work year for teachers were irrelevant, then why would teacher advocacy groups oppose switching to year-round employment without receiving additional pay?

Clearly the best way to compare apples to apples is to look at hourly pay.

Critics of the BLS numbers might complain that they are distorted by failing to capture all of the hours that teachers work outside of school, grading papers and preparing lessons. But the BLS survey is designed to capture all hours worked. Besides, we shouldn’t forget that many other professionals also take work home.

If we still doubt the hourly comparisons, we could look at teacher pay on a weekly basis, which would be unaffected by any miscounting of hours worked. When we do that, we still find that teachers are better paid than the average white-collar and professional worker. The finding that teachers are better paid cannot simply be a function of undercounting the hours they work.

Do these results mean that teachers are overpaid? It is certainly the case that teachers are better paid than most of us would think, but that doesn’t mean that we should oppose raising teacher pay further.

But if we are interested in raising teacher pay we should also be aware that areas with higher teacher pay, controlling for student demographic characteristics and other factors, do not have higher student achievement. This suggests that simply raising the average level of pay is not a very promising strategy for improving student performance.

Instead, if we are interested in raising teacher pay we should consider ways of doing so that might be more effective. For example, we should consider merit pay, where teachers are rewarded for contributing to greater gains in student achievement. We might also consider differential pay, where teachers in areas with greater shortages — such as in math and science — receive higher pay. Initial research suggests that these may be more promising ways to get better results for the money we spend on teacher compensation.

But whatever we decide to do about teacher pay, we should make those decisions bearing in mind the basic facts about how much they already receive. Rather than being paid like fast-food workers, the average teacher in Providence and nationwide is much better paid than the average professional.

Original Source:



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