Toward the end of a post on a largely-unrelated matter, Kris Vilamaa writes:

we still don’t have enough teachers and they still aren’t paid enough

One hears this quite frequently but it’s not something I understand. Yes, I get the “but the CHILDREN are our future!” argument and recognize the importance of education. But the idea that schoolteachers are underpaid or that we’d have better ones if we jacked up the salaries doesn’t make much sense to me.

Kris is writing from Alabama, which is convenient since I have some knowledge of the educational system there, having both graduated high school, gone to college, and taught college there. The last figures I saw–a few years ago now–had the median (or was that mean?) schoolteacher in Alabama making $35,000 a year. At the time, I was an assistant professor at Troy State, with a PhD, earning $32,000 a year.

We pay college professors very poorly, yet have people falling all over themselves–willing to move virtually anywhere in the country–to get a job. The barriers to entry are enormous, requiring a PhD as a minimum for most fields. That’s a four year degree plus an average of seven years of graduate school, including the writing of an original book. And, despite decrying of liberal professors and the ivory tower, the US higher ed system is universally acknowledged as the best in the world.

Schoolteachers, on the other hand, have to get a four year degree that most in the academy acknowledge to have one of the least challenging curricula. Most then graduate unable to pass a simple competency test. And, unlike college professors–who have to do research during their summers in order to keep their jobs, hoping to get tenure after six or seven years–schoolteachers get three months off in the summer (plus another couple weeks of vacation that most folks don’t get) with no responsibility.
And, of course, we’ve known for at least 20 years now that the public school system is, on the main, horrid.

So, paying schoolteachers more seems like a bad idea to me.

Update: In response to some reader comments, I’ll post more here rather than burying it in the comments sections.

It’s true that the school year is getting longer in some places, although I think the average is still in the 180 day range. I don’t teach college anymore, so only get two weeks paid vacation. But when I did teach college, I spent most of the summer doing research or designing new courses. In most places, schoolteachers don’t really design courses, because they don’t have much control.

Most professors will tell you that education and CJ majors are, on the main, the dumbest kids they teach. As Thomas Sowell and others continually point out, education majors have among the lowest SAT scores of all entering freshmen, too. Smart students tend to be driven out by the insipid nature of teacher training, which is mainly PC propaganda and pedagogy rather than subject training. While the latter makes a lot of sense for elementary education and special education, it is insane for those teaching middle school or high school, where one teaches a single subject area.

NEA consistently lobbies against competency testing. The states that do institute such tests have horrendous failure rates, at least in the beginning.

Summers off is relevant because most people work 12 months a year. One would expect a 3/4 time job to pay less. Clearly, there is variance among states in their certification programs. Most colleges of education, though, offer ridiculously easy “graduate” courses in the evenings and summers. And it’s not like the teachers have to take courses all the time.

My prof pay comparison is that, in the case I’m familiar with, average teachers make more than PhD-holding professors. I’d contend the latter are markedly more qualified. It would be like having nurses make more than surgeons. And, sure, the jobs are different. But my argument is that college teaching attracts highly intelligent, motivated people to the profession despite high barriers to entry and modest salaries.

I’ve often remarked that it’s really amazing that we have as many competent, dedicated public school teachers as we do. I’d estimate their proportion as only 20-25% of the total, but given that we have a system that conspires against smart people undertaking that line of work, that’s a high percentage.

(12:43): My argument is mainly an economic one. I agree with Bill Bennett that the bad teachers are overpaid. The others are earning what the market will bear. And, remember, teachers are union labor whereas most college professors are on their own.

Teaching can be a very stressful job–or not. A lot of teachers–certainly, a large percentage of those I had –just sat on their butts the whole time and had students answering the questions at the end of each chapter. Then, in the last few minutes of “class,” we’d pass our papers to the student on the left and the teacher would call out the answers from her key. And, generally, if the key contradicted the book and this was pointed out, the teacher was dumbfounded because they knew phenomenally little about their subject matter.

And low wage jobs are low wage because they can find people to fill them at that wage. The economics of the situation will take care of itself.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kristopher says:


    I also have experience, being married to a schoolteacher and experiencing the problems of our schools on a daily basis. I’ll tell you that my wife doesn’t make a salary in the mid 30’s, even with tenure.

    College professors are underpaid as well (no argument from me there). We have zero chance of retaining competent professionals if we don’t raise the salary threshold for all teachers (including professors).

    As far as school teachers are concerned, the average salary may be in the mid-30’s, but if you take into account that most teachers start above $25,000 and never advance past $40,000 in their entire career, no matter what their education, where is the incentive to perform well? Especially, since school teachers get zero credit for continuing education unless they attain an advanced degree.

    Also, in case you haven’t noticed, a four-year degree from most Alabama colleges is not going to get a new teacher a job. A master’s degree is the easiest path to becoming “highly qualified” as the Education legislation now requires. So, in effect, the federal and state governments are now requiring a master’s degree.

    And finally, Summers off? If the school system requires them to be somewhere over the summer, the teachers have to be there. My wife’s summer was about 8 weeks. Yes, that’s more vacation then most people get, but she’ll spend almost half of that preparing for next year.

    Obviously both of us have a personal stake in this, but I have sympathy for your position and I hope you could find some sympathy for mine.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I do, Kris. The problem is a chicken-egg one, really. Frankly, a good chunk of schoolteachers are incompetents who got the job because it was the path of least resistance and because it affords a lot of time off to be with their kids. So, it isn’t viewed as a profession by most of society. I’d agree that higher salaries would be warranted if we could have subject-matter experts (and I’m not talking PhD’s–just well educated people with a passion for their subject matter) teaching in schools.

    And, while I certainly would like to see pay for college profs go up (even though I’m not employed in that capacity these days), I’m not sure there’s any economic logic for that. Right now, there are a ton of highly qualified people fighting for too few jobs. And people keep going to grad school to get in line.

  3. Kristopher says:

    I also challenge your statement about most teachers being “unable to pass a simple competency test”. As I recall a majority did, and most could pass a tougher test. The “dumbing down” had to do with certain universities having inferior programs, who then challenged the tests as racist and sending the test back for a court-supervised revision that took eight years. Only to come back and have the products of the same inferior programs fail the tests.

  4. Scipio says:

    In Mississippi, we spend 62% of our state’s yearly budget on education. But we don’t require our teachers to have bachelor’s degrees in the area they want to teach in. This is not good.

    How can someone without a structured education in the subject matter that they are going to teach teach child x any better than child x’s parent? A teaching degree is a place holder; like a law degree, it’s a pass to join a special club; unlike a law degree, all you have to learn is process.

    I shudder to think what will happen in another four years when the next governor of Mississippi looks at our education stats, finds we’re still among the worst in the country, and decides that 70% of our state’s yearly budget should go to education.

  5. Paul says:

    Thank you James! Thank you James! Thank you James! Thank you James! Thank you James! Thank you James!

    Finally, somebody gets it.

    (Most) Teachers are like (most) reporters. They have their jobs because they have no other marketable skills.

    I am sick and tired of hearing about how 35K a year with almost 4 months paid vacation (and they get off at 3pm) is such a bad deal.

    OK Quit!

    This B.S. We have zero chance of retaining competent professionals if we don’t raise the salary is just wrong.

    You want to see a shortage of employees??? Check the nursing profession.

    When was the last time you saw a story on the news saying we had too few teachers?

    If the teachers feel they are so much more quailified than we (taxpayers) are willing to pay, QUIT. Leave your comfortable union job and get your ass out in the private sector and get a real job. THEN come tell me how life is.

    Ok I’ll get off my soapbox before I dizzy from the height but we the taxpayers are getting screwed by the government education scam.


    Having said that… I think the teachers get too little of the money we spend on eduation. ie We spend 5000 per year per kid and the teacher gets 25%. BUT we need to reduce the amount we spend on education AND pass more of that money to teachers. See- I’m not a complete ogre

  6. Chris says:

    My wife teaches in Maryland. I can tell you she’s topped out her salary rises after about 12 years. She can never get another step increase; only poitically based merit pay. Where we live, the assumption seems to be teachers are mere hobbyists, and that their well paid spouse will pick up the slack.

    My experience with college professors, of course being limited to my experience as an undergraduate and graduate student, and the fact that my father is a veteran prof, is similar to what you state. I will add that, in my field at least (and I will not speak to other fields) I can count on one finger profs who had any clue, any clue, about the real world in which the purport to hold expertise. So, perhaps some people, seeing this, make a rational choice not to work in LA LA land.

  7. bryan says:

    James, are you trolling today? This post is riddled with generalizations and half-truths.

    1. three months off: In many states, this is really two months now, since school years have grown longer. But I suppose college teachers wouldn’t know about summers off, now would we James? Further, the statement about “no responsibilities” is stretching it, as I point out below.

    2. Most in the academy “acknowledge to have the least challenging curricula”? As opposed to sports management? Or Art? Or Theatre? Or, for that matter, communications?
    Most states now require a bachelor’s degree in the subject field with additional teacher training for upper level (high school) subjects. How is that “one of the least challenging curricula?”

    You may be confusing that with elementary education. I ask you what subject matter you would have someone major in when they are going to be teaching science, social studies, reading, writing, math, spelling, and – in some cases – music, art, and p.e.?

    3. “most then graduate unable to pass a simple competency test.” Citation please? Competency in what? How much is “most.”

    4. School teachers in the two states where my wife has taught are required by state law to attend a certain number of continuing education courses to maintain their certification. In other states, teachers are required to have their masters by their fifth year teaching in order to maintain certification. When do you think they attend those classes, James? Right. Summer.

    5. The summer off thing is a bogus argument anyway. We don’t moan about firefighters who work 3 on, 4 off shifts, even if there aren’t any fires happening while they are on duty. The teachers are there when the kids are there. If the kids were there more, I’m sure the teachers were there more. Don’t blame the teachers for that situation. Finally, not all college professors spend their summers doing original research. And if they do teach during the summer, they are paid extra to do so.

    6. Professor pay is likewise disingenuous. A good average of professors (speaking of full-time now, leaving aside the horrendous treatment of adjuncts) make well above 32,000 per year. Also, professors teach fewer hours than an average school teacher, they deal with fewer disciplinary problems, higher student motivation (for the most part), and have a higher standing intellectually than school teachers in the eyes of the public.

    Economically, professors in some subjects play the lucrative consulting game in addition to their role in the academy. Professors publish books and are sometimes remunerated for those books. I don’t see much demand for elementary ed consultants, unless tutoring counts as consulting.

    7. People are falling all over themselves for the professorate for different reasons, I believe, than people go into public school teaching. I believe professors do want to engage students, but that’s not the main passion. The main passion is the subject matter, and pursuing knowledge (and getting summers off and teaching one or two courses a semester – I know, it’s not reality, but I think people still hold this idea). Such *cannot* be the case with, for instance, an elementary school teacher, although it *could* be the case with a high school teacher. there are no graduate assistants or work-study students. Teachers teach 5-6 courses per day, every day.

    I don’t think paying school teachers more is necessarily a bad idea in some areas. But I don’t think taking cheap shots like this is going to help make education any better.


  8. Larry says:

    I live near Huntsville, Alabama. We have thousands of highly qualified technical people in Madison County. I know of several people with MS and PhD degrees who have finished scientific careers and who would like to finish their working lives as teachers. The system will not allow them to do so unless they go back to school and take “education courses”. One friend with and MS in Chemistry applied to several Alabama school systems to teach physics, math or chemistry. He was refused even an interview because he does not have an Alabama teaching certificate. He does have a Tennessee certificate, but it is not good enough for Alabama. So a man with 7 years teaching experience and 25 years experience running a chemistry lab for industry is moving to Tennessee to teach while one of the jobs he applied for in Alabama has been filled by a football coach who will teach chemistry on the side.

    Another friend, who is a Principal in a rural HS, told me he had 100 applications for every teaching opening. Doesn’t seem to be any reason to raise the pay.

  9. College prof pay is so poor because it’s unskilled labor. You should have taken that shop class…

  10. bryan says:

    I think I should clarify something here. I think a lot of teachers are paid well for what they do. My wife makes in the mid-30s for teaching a class of second graders. She’s been at it for 10 years. I challenge you, James, to put the rigors of academic research up against 10 years of teaching 2nd graders.

    I think she’s paid pretty good, especially if you add in the time off. But what I often hear in the arguments about teacher pay is that teachers are paid *too much* for what they do. Maybe I’m just reading into it, but that seems to be the gist of most complaints. I don’t think teachers are paid too much for what they do. And sorry, working a desk job at some giant corporation is *not* the same as teaching, so I think teachers should be paid accordingly.

    As much as i think my wife makes a decent living, it takes its toll on her emotionally and physically. The myth of 7 hour work days is just that, a myth, at least for elementary teachers.

    I also have a particular beef with the summer off argument, as it always rears its head. The argument smacks of jealousy. It’s not “fair” that they get two months off in the summer, while I have to keep slaving away at my job. To which I reply, tough. The teaching profession is open to you, go to it. I would note that a large percentage of teachers quit the profession within the first five years, never to return. It seems to me that if the argument that teachers have it so great was valid, there would be fewer teachers leaving the profession.

    Also, anecdotes like the rural h.s. principal who has 100 applicants are not presenting a clear picture of the scope of hiring. That rural principal probably has 100 applicants because his school is in a stable community with low crime, low poverty or, dare I say it, low minority enrollment (hey, it’s the rural south. I grew up near Vidor, Texas. don’t tell me it doesn’t happen). Ask a principal in inner city Dallas, for instance, or Compton, and see if they have the same number of applicants.

    As for the guy who has to take “education courses,” is that any different than other fields? Is it really such an inconvenience for him to take additional courses? I don’t know about Alabama, but in SC and TX, you can work under an emergency certificate until you take the classes, and we’re not talking about a full degree. Most states have reciprocity agreements with other states related to certificates.

    Basically, it sounds like the gentleman in question wanted the system to just skirt all the rules because he wanted to teach. Sorry if I don’t shed a tear.

    So I’ll throw down the gauntlet I always do: If you think teaching public school is such an elysian field of dream employment, be my guest. Teachers certificates are not *that* hard to obtain, despite what some seem to think. And when the bureaucracy, lazy unsupportive parents and problem kids make you want to scream, don’t come crying to me.

  11. Kristopher says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not standing alone on this one. There are a lot of myths out there, and all of you have done a very effective job of debunking them. As James stated, this all started from an off-hand remark in a one of my posts.

    Let me say, you couldn’t pay me enough to deal with a roomful of kids all day long. One poster was right in saying they made that choice and they have the right to choose something different. Yet, the education system is never going to work if we have that constant turnover.

    Another point, how do you test whether someone is a good teacher? You can test for knowledge, but you can’t test for teaching ability. Smart people who test well are not necessarily going to make good teachers. What we really need is in classroom evaluation with teeth. In Alabama, teachers are evaluated every year until they achieve tenure, and are then monitored and scored every three years. These reviews need to be held every year for every teacher, and there need to be consequences if that teacher is not doing their job effectively. Maybe it means we need to have a professional evaluator for every school district, or every school. A written test is never going to tell us whether that teacher can connect with those kids. That’s the only time good teaching can happen.

  12. bryan says:

    James, I’m amazed that you were ever able to *see* graduate school considering the pissy education you apparently received. To have gained the Post Hole Digger degree, well, that’s a feat of Olympian proportions.

    But I digress. You seem to make the common mistake of people who want to slam education: relying on anecdotal evidence supplied by personal experience. “most” “a lot” “a large percentage of those I had.”

    Further, you originally state that “Most then graduate unable to pass a simple competency test,” then you admit that no such figures exist because the “NEA lobies against competency testing.”

    Finally, it still sounds like sour grapes. The fact is, the bar for the PhD was lowered in the last quarter of the 20th century because people believed that higher ed was going to keep expanding the professoriate. But the professoriate, locked away in their ivory towers, didn’t bother to organize to protect full-time tenure-track positions, and so they are left with a shredded tatters of a job market, at least in the humanities.

    As much as I have qualms with the NEA, they are doing their job just as any labor union does. Sounds like the professoriate could learn a thing or two.

    It’s really ironic that you compare the higher ed professor with the regular school teacher. In many ways, the (full-time, tenured) professor has it much better: better working conditions, an office with a desk, summers off (ostensibly for research: not everyone is as dedicated as you James) – and hey, if you want a little extra money there’s always a summer course or two, paid overload hours, graduate assistants, 2-3 classes per semester (fewer if you can get a grant). Depending on the department, you may never have a class more than 20, sometimes as few as 5.

    It’s a weird sort of economic argument to make.

  13. James Joyner says:


    As is typical in the American public schools, my elementary education was mediocre but adequate–I learned to read and the basics of mathematics. From 7th grade through 12th, I had a handful of very good teachers, a few mediocre ones, and a lot of crappy ones. I had the same English course, essentially, five years in a row: half a year of grammar, which was the same diagramming sentences, noun vs. verb, etc. crap every year; then half a semester of “literature”–which consisted of reading anthologies to ourselves or aloud in class with little useful feedback from the teachers.

    Because I was brighter than average and curious about many things, I largely self taught by reading a lot. That’s how most people who do well despite lousy public education systems do it.

    We all rely on anecdotal evidence supplied by personal experience; that’s how we make judgments. Pretty much everything I’ve ever read in newspapers, magazines, The Chronicle, or elsewhere says the same thing. We’ve been in a self-acknowledged “crisis” for 20 plus years now in our public schools.

    NEA opposes testing teachers and allowing well educated specialists without idiotic teaching degrees in the classroom. They’re a labor union posing as a professional association. Still, in some states, legislatures have mandated teacher testing anyway. The results haven’t been very encouraging.

    I’m not sure what to make of this one: “The fact is, the bar for the PhD was lowered in the last quarter of the 20th century because people believed that higher ed was going to keep expanding the professoriate.”

    Your description of college teaching reflects the life of tenured full professors at elite research institutions. PhDs with numerous publications and in their late 40s or older. It isn’t reality for the vast majority of professors. In most “teaching schools,” loads of four classes per term, often with larger enrollments than the 25-30 typical in secondary schools, no TA’s, etc.

    That the working conditions are better than a schoolteacher’s is probably still true; professionals tend to have better working conditions than tradesmen. Not necessarily higher pay, of course.

  14. bryan says:


    re: “The fact is, the bar for the PhD was lowered in the last quarter of the 20th century because people believed that higher ed was going to keep expanding the professoriate.” I would point you to at least two books that discuss this topic at length: “Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary” and “Crisis in the Academy.” They are not the only ones to mention the fact that PhD programs swelled their ranks late in the 20th century based in part on bad predictions of future employment prospects. One need only read the horror stories of English PhDs at the MLA to get an idea of what a disastrous effect that decision had on the “market” in higher education (humanities specifically).

    Now, those same programs keep pulling in new PhD candidates at high numbers at least in part to maintain an adequate supply of teaching assistants for lower level classes. This is not something I pulled out of my hat.

    Even at a 4/4 teaching load, most of those professors maintain their own offices and have staggered class periods (2-MWF, 2 T-TH or some such). They get *longer* breaks between semesters than do teachers in public schools, and they do receive additional compensation for “overload” hours. They usually have a great degree of latitude in choosing the material, textbooks and structure of their courses (this isn’t *always* the case, obviously).

    Contrast this with the life of an elementary school teacher who teaches 5-6 courses a day, may not even have a desk (since desks are frowned upon in today’s educational establishment), is required by state law to teach to a rigidly structured curriculum, and faces emotionally challenged students, petty bureaucratic minutiae and often uncooperative parents. These teachers are sometimes required by administrators to submit detailed lesson plans for their classes on a weekly basis. Imagine a college professor having to do that.

    The comment about “professionals” and “tradesmen” is really beneath you.

    I have sat in classes in higher education that were led by professors who were barely able to engage students in the subject matter. Their presentations were tragic, their tests unpredictable and their demeanor ill-suited for the task of teaching. These were hardly what I would consider “professionals,” no matter what letters appeared after their name.

    As to the NEA, I certainly don’t support all their aims. I agree that they are a union. But as I mentioned earlier, there are alternative certification routes available to professionals who wish to enter teaching. But they do involve taking some classes on pedagogy. I don’t think that is an unreasonable expectation. After all, not everyone who has a master’s degree in chemistry knows what Bloom’s taxonomy is.

    “NEA opposes testing teachers and allowing well educated specialists without idiotic teaching degrees in the classroom.”

    Again, whether the NEA opposes it or not (and I don’t think they do), states have moved away from the “education degree” for middle and high school teachers. In Texas and SC (the only two states I know for certain where this is done, but if SC – at the bottom of most state rankings in education – is doing it, I’m pretty sure it’s being done many other places) students who want to teach in middle or high school are required to have a degree in the subject area (biology, for instance) and attain a teaching certificate that requires them to take courses *in addition to* their regular degree program. This is not an “idiotic teaching degree” program. It was for a long time, but times have changed since you and I went to school.

    Regarding the “testing” of teachers, I have to pose the question: What should be the criteria? Are you prepared to apply a similar criteria to college professors? Why or why not?

    The “crisis” in public education is not really at issue here. I think bad teaching is a part of the equation in some instances. But it is not the sole part. For instance, in numerous instances, students are passed to the next grade level despite not gaining the required knowledge on the previous level. Is it *always* bad teaching? I don’t think so. But the students are passed on by a *system* that doesn’t want to make difficult choices and keep kids back, or provide additional resources to bring them up to speed.

  15. James Joyner says:


    I don’t deny that there’s an oversupply of PhDs chasing jobs; that was in my initial post. Although I’m not sure I blame departments for letting in qualified candidates who apply to grad school.

    The comment about “professionals” and “tradesmen” is really beneath you.
    But this distinction explains the dichotomy of the lifestyles of the two occupations. Professors are considered subject-matter experts–and professionals–and wouldn’t brook interference in their text selection, etc. Schoolteachers aren’t accorded this deferrence because of much lower barriers to entry and a general perception by the legislature, school boards, and superintendents that they aren’t capable of independence.

    I grant that there is substantial state-to-state variance in teacher certification and, indeed, educational achievement of students. I’m speaking mainly of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, where I’ve taught at the college level and observed education majors first hand as well as reading the local papers and generally being aware of the situation. Not to mention teaching entering freshmen who were products of the local schools.

    One point where we’re clearly talking past each other is elementary vs. secondary education. Most of us decrying the education establishment are mainly talking about high schools. Most indicators, notably the international student comparisons, see a marked change at the higher level–with American kids holding their own in the early grades and dropping precipitously later. Part of that has to do with case selection (European tracking vs. a single track system here) but a lot has to do with the quality of teachers and nature of the curricula.

    I don’t deny that there is a system in place that passes on incompetents. Indeed, it’s filtering into higher ed at this point.

  16. bryan says:

    James, I don’t want to nitpick, but all three of the states you list currently have alternative certification programs. Each seems to have a first-year intensive training program on teaching methodology, along with close supervision, that substitutes for more in-depth teaching certification.

    Tennessee: “Alternative preparation for licensure will consist of a pre-service preparation program, support of trained teacher mentors and higher education faculty during the first year of teaching, ongoing professional development during the year, and a seminar at the end of the year.
    The program of study for certain endorsement areas, such as early childhood education, elementary education, middle grades education, and special education, may continue during the summer following the first year of teaching.”


    found at: http://www.state.tn.us/sbe/tech_licens.html

    Alabama: “An individual who has earned a bachelor’s degree and meets the appropriate experience or coursework and other requirements may be issued an Alternative Baccalaureate-Level Certificate based on the following eligibility requirements:

    1. Recommendation by the employing superintendent or headmaster prior to October 1.
    2. At least a bachelor’s degree earned from a regionally accredited college or university.
    3. Documentation of one of the following: ? ?
    Written evidence of at least 24 months of professional and/or other experience in the field or related fields for which certification is sought (two years of full-time teaching experience in the field or related field for which certification is sought meets this requirement)
    At least 24 months of study (48 semester) in the field or related fields for which certification is sought as indicated on the official transcript(s).


    Georgia: The Geogia alternative certification program is
    an alternative option for individuals who hold a bachelor?s degree or higher but who did not complete teacher education requirements as part of their degree programs.”


    As I noted, the national trend is to move away from “teaching degrees” in secondary education toward subject area specific degrees with additional teaching credentials.

    I would also note that everyone who tries to get teacher certification in Texas has to take a fairly extensive examination to get their certification. There is one test for elementary level teachers and (IIRC) subject area tests for secondary teachers. (my wife’s certification was reciprocally approved in SC, so she didn’t have to take a test here, but students who graduate from the ed dept. at our school do have to take such a test) From looking at the Tenn and Alabama sites, they seem to have similar requirements.

  17. bryan says:

    As my final note, the fact that you earned $32,000 as an assistant professor as compared to the average (or median?) wage of a school teacher is an apples to oranges comparison. You would make your point better if you compared the average (or median) salary of all professors in the state of Alabama to the similar number for school teachers. Or, alternatively, you could compare your salary based on years of experience teaching (not including years spent in graduate school) to the salary of a public school teacher with the same number of years teaching experience.

    For instance, in Texas, a beginning school teacher in a small rural school district would start out at the minimum state-mandated salary: 24,240 for a 10 month contract (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/school.finance/salary/sal04exp.html) A teacher with 10 years experience has a minimum salary set by the state at 33,730. Now, that does not seem that far out of line with your salary of $32,000 (since I don’t know how many years teaching experience you had at that time).

  18. James Joyner says:


    I would submit that the median assistant professor with a Ph.D. is markedly more qualified than someone with a BA in Education and some follow-on courses. The amount of time spent doing the BA-level job strikes me as irrelevant. That’s like saying an experienced dental hygienist should make more than a newly-minted dentist. Apples and oranges indeed.

    Also, you have to realize that a schoolteacher gets a seven or more year head start on their occupation given that they don’t go on to professional school after their basic degree. While many go on to grad school, they tend to be filler courses that can be taken in the evenings and vacations.

    It is true that a lot of states have alternative certification programs but the barriers to entry are rather arbitrary and high. Step 1 in the Alabama sequence is getting a superintendent to say he needs you. Plus, the alternative certification argument was raised by Scipio and others. My argument is that it’s phenomenally easy to become a schoolteacher.

  19. Red Ruffansore says:

    Here’s a simple solution to our increased cost of living and the abyssmal state of our education system. Let’s all start paying Teachers like lawyers. At a flat yearly rate. With huge incentives for the number of students successfully educated to say, a level of early 1960’s High School Standards. While at the same time, begin paying and treating lawyers like the teachers of today! With NO incentives! Thus getting rid of frivolous, Nanny-State lawsuits and the gross penalties passed on to comsumers!

  20. bryan says:



    Your comparison was apples to oranges. What *you* make as an assistant professor is not at all related to the average for assistant professors, and yet you compare it to the average for teachers. How is that relevant.

    the median assistant professor with a PhD is markedly more qualified to do what? Teach? Not necessarily, guy. The only thing the PhD actually guarantees is that a person is a) insane enough to devote a large quantity of his/her life to know a small slice of knowledge very deeply, b) capable of doing sustained independent research, and c) capable of phenomenal endurance.

    The median assistant professor with a PhD is very well not “markedly more qualified” to teach 2nd graders, or even middle schoolers.

    I don’t think the dental hygienist/dentist analogy, or the nurse/doctor analogy is quite right either. Without the school teacher, the holier-than-thou assistant professor has no material to work with. A dentist can clean teeth. A doctor can check blood pressure. An assistant professor can not generally take over a classroom full of snot-nosed kids and teach them much.

    “they tend to be filler courses that can be taken in the evenings and vacations.” Filler courses? How pompous. People who are already working in a career not dropping everything and going back to get the full-on college experience. MBAs do that all the time. I have a pharmacist friend who got his MBA at night. Does that make it a “filler” degree.

    re: certification: Arbitrary and high? Please. First you deny that they are available, now they are “arbitrary and high.” Are they any more arbitrary and high than the requirements for the PhD? I think not.

    “it’s phenomenally easy to become a school teacher.” Yes, it is easier to become a school teacher than become a college professor. But I don’t know that I would call it “phenomenally” easy. No one has to pass an exit exam to get most bachelor’s degrees, yet teacher candidates must do so.

  21. James Joyner says:


    I was comparing what I was making as an Asst Prof at a state school in Alabama with what schoolteachers in Alabama were making at the same time. The pay for asst profs in Alabama has to float within a pretty small range.

    Going back to take courses one at a time may or may not be filler; it depends on the program. It often winds up that way because they become degree mills meeting consumer demand. What I am saying is that courses in “Education” tend to be filler courses.

    And, no, PhDs aren’t training to teach 2nd graders. That’s true. For like the fourth time now, I’m comparing college profs to high school teachers who teach subject specific courses. I agree that there is a place for pedagogical training for elementary and special ed. You don’t have to know a lot of math to teach 2nd graders; you have to know how to teach 2nd graders. Definitely a different thing.

    I’ve never denied that certification was available; that was someone else. All I said even related to that was that I would prefer to have people knowledgeable about their subject matter teaching their subjects in high school (and jr. high/middle school, for that matter). You point out that a lot of states are moving in that direction already, which I would agree is a good thing.

    Education degrees and colleges of education are notoriously easy. Going back to anecdote land here, but it was an experience with a lot of repetition and verification with dozens of other profs who had similar experience, education majors tend not to be on par with students in other fields. They are taught rote memorization rather than critical thinking. They color in the boxes instead of writing essays. They have among the lowest SAT scores of any major. Etc.

  22. bryan says:


    I’m pooped, and this seems to be a two-man wrestling match, so I’m giving up.

    I agree with you on most of your last post. I think education degrees are going the way of the dinosaur in secondary education (despite, apparently, Mississippi, but that’s not surprising). I think that’s a good thing. And standards are going up for exiting teachers. I suspect we’ll see some form of competency tests for current teachers at some point in the near future if things don’t change. And I don’t see them changing. Too bad we can’t have competency exams for parents and administrators too. 🙂