Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former First Lady Laura Bush, and plenty of other U.S. leaders have insisted for years that teacher salaries are far too low. But in a new report, two conservative think tanks say that teachers' paychecks are actually just as generous as those received by private-sector workers with comparable qualifications. And when you factor in public school teachers' total compensation, including benefits, teachers receive as much as 52 percent more than the "fair market levels" for their skills warrant, say Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Are teachers really overpaid?
You can't argue with these numbers: Finally, somebody has dispelled "the underpaid teachers myth," says Rob Port at Say Anything. Public school salaries are obviously high enough to attract enough applicants for these jobs, so by the laws of economics, the pay is perfectly adequate. Teachers are no different than the rest of us — "who doesn't think they're worth every penny of what they're paid and more?"
"Shocker: Teachers make 50 percent more than private sector workers"
Actually, this "defies common sense": If teachers are overpaid, "why aren't more "1 percenters" banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession?" asks American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten at Politico. These conservatives used "misleading statistics and questionable research" to make this case. No wonder "many Americans pay no heed to what goes on in Washington." The truth is, teaching is such a grueling, demanding job that half of the people who try it leave within five years. That attrition costs school districts $7 billion annually, so raising teacher pay to keep them around longer could actually save money.
"Unions, reformers hit 'overpaid' study"
If we want better teachers, we have to pay them more: One way the authors justify their conclusions is by pointing out that the teaching profession draws from "the lower ranks of college graduates," says Jonathan Chait at New York. That's true — because entry-level pay is so low that "the best and the brightest" graduates typically choose other professions. So maybe teacher salaries really are commensurate with educators' skill levels. But it's still true that "if we paid teachers more, we'd get better teachers."
"You get the teachers you pay for"
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