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.