Putting Education Reform To The Test

Researchers Defend Study Concluding Teachers Are Overpaid

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan is one high-profile critic of a teacher salary study from conservative researchers.

Remember that study from two conservative think tanks that argued teachers were overpaid by 50 percent?

The study concluded that taxpayers were “overcharged” by $120 billion each year. That’s the difference between what teachers are paid in salary and benefits and what they would earn in a comparable private sector job.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan rebuked the study, writing in U.S. News and World Report that it “asks the wrong question,” “ignores facts that conflict with its conclusions” and “insults teachers and demeans the profession.”

The study’s authors, Jason Richwine and Andrew C. Biggs, fired back this week in an op-ed published by Education Week:

Instead of relying on paper educational credentials, our study analyzed salaries using more-objective measures of ability, such as SAT and GRE scores, and we found that teachers are paid salaries right around where we’d expect, given their skills as measured by these metrics. Moreover, teachers receive pensions, retiree health benefits, and vacation time far exceeding private-sector averages. This makes their total benefits roughly twice as generous as those found in private-sector jobs.

“What will not improve teacher quality are across-the-board increases in teacher pay.”

In response to this evidence, critics have raised three types of objections. The first involves emotional statements about teachers. We have received hundreds of calls and emails from teachers who detail the rigors of their workday, challenge us to join them in their classrooms, and suggest that scholars at think tanks are the people who really are overpaid.

In contrast to these emotional reactions, our report is a sober, data-driven contribution to an ongoing policy discussion. Of course, the teaching profession is crucial to our society and economy. However, teachers should still receive no more and no less than fair-market compensation for their skills. Only the data can tell us whether that is happening.

The authors write that critics misstated their methodology in an effort to support a silver bullet solution: That paying teachers more will improve schools. If teachers are already paid more than jobs with skills deemed more valuable, how will more money improve the quality of teachers?

Their response does ignore the most common criticism of their study — and one raised by Duncan — their inclusion of an 8.6 percent job security premium for teachers. Those jobs are no longer as secure as they once were due to the Great Recession, Duncan wrote.

“The researchers from AEI and Heritage appeared to create out of thin air an 8.6 percent “job security” salary premium for teachers–despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of education jobswere lost in the recession and teachers continue to face layoffs,” Duncan wrote in U.S. News and World Report.

We got a lot of criticism for writing about this study the first time. What’s your response to the authors’ defense?

You can check out our interactive map of Florida teacher salaries here. And The Atlantic compares the canon of teacher pay studies here.


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