Thursday, August 04, 2011

Are US teachers really overpaid or not?

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This is a question I posted on Yahoo! Answers a short while ago. I figured I would cross-post it here for additional feedback (with some minor formatting edits).

(Additional disclaimer: I absolutely suck at anything regarding economics and wages, so it’s quite possible I’ve stuffed my foot down my esophagus somewhere in this post. If so, I apologize, and please do correct me. Thanks.)

(Note: I am entirely pro-teachers and I think educators have one of the most important roles in society. This question is really just about getting some facts straight.)

It’s no secret that American teachers have come under attack in the last couple of years or so, but what’s less clear is which side is right on the facts (or, at least, moreso). Through all the vitriol and bullshit, I am hearing some decent arguments and statistics from both sides, and I just don’t know which to believe (presumably because I’m too ignorant to tell which arguments are credible or fall flat. Oh, cluelessness).

On the one, generally left-wing “pro-teacher” side, we have statistics showing that the US ranks near the bottom of OECD countries in terms of how teacher pay compares to national GDP, both for starting positions and after 15 years:

This does seem to indicate, to me, that teachers are paid less well compared to teachers in other countries, which may or may not be relevant when talking about the pay of professionals compared to the pay of other experts in the same country.

Then, on the other, generally right-wing/libertarian “anti-teacher” side, we have numbers indicating that US educators are actually making more, on average, than most other professionals, and that their hours are not significantly longer or shorter than anyone else’s:

Now, am I just missing something, here? Or am I misreading the data? From the mere looks of it, it does seem that US teachers are being paid better than other experts, which, if true, means they don’t really have anything to complain about. On the other hand, it’s a common theme that teachers are underpaid for all the work they do, and I’ve heard many a convincing anecdote from actual educators. (I know anecdotes don’t equal evidence, but it does say something, I think, when the majority of teachers are all adamant about not being paid enough. They can’t all be lazy/greedy.)

So … which is it? Are teachers too demanding? Or are they complaining about something that is genuinely problematic?