blank.gif (51 bytes) Power and Privilege

Are Teachers Really Among the Downtrodden?

by Ralph Heller

arlier this year Research Director Edwin S. Rubenstein of the prestigious Hudson Institute provided the national press with the results of a study on teachers’ salaries in each state. Utilizing wage and salary data from the teachers’ own National Education Association and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rubenstein calculated the percentage by which teachers’ wages exceed other workers’ wages in each state, showing unmistakably that teachers are financially better off than other workers in every state—and much better off financially in all but a handful of states.

Percentages

Pennsylvania 65.2
Rhode Island 59.8
Vermont 53.9
Oregon 53.7
Wisconsin 52.1
Alaska 51.8
Kansas 48.2
Indiana 47.3
Michigan 46.7
Connecticut 43.1
Montana 43.1
Maine 42.2
Iowa 41.5
Maryland 41.3
Wyoming 41.0
Kentucky 40.8
Nebraska 40.8
Ohio 40.8
Delaware 39.2
New Jersey 38.7
Washington 37.9
New York 37.7
California 37.6
South Dakota 37.2
West Virginia 36.9
Illinois 35.9
Arkansas 35.8
South Carolina 35.8
NEVADA 35.7
Idaho 35.3
Florida 34.9
Minnesota 34.9
New Hampshire 34.5
Hawaii 32.7
Tennessee 32.3
South Dakota 32.2
North Dakota 31.6
Mississippi 31.1
Colorado 30.4
Missouri 29.9
Utah 29.5
Virginia 29.4
Georgia 29.3
Alabama 28.4
Arizona 28.3
New Mexico 26.6
Oklahoma 25.3
North Carolina 25.0
Texas 19.0
Louisiana 12.2
Washington, D.C. 2.9

Research by Edwin S. Rubenstein, research director of the Hudson Institute, utilizing data from the NEA and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet by mid-August only Forbes magazine had published the startling percentages (in its issue of July 27), a reminder of how very little the U.S. daily press cares about government accountability.

Instead, the press continues to publish as news the torrents of political propaganda pouring forth from the NEA and its state affiliates. By now everyone is well acquainted with the claims that masquerade in the press as facts: Better paid teachers produce better performing students; smaller class size enhances student academic performance; and, of course, compared to other workers teachers are woefully underpaid. But are any of these claims true?

The truth is that there is no correlation between teachers’ salaries and student performance. Teachers’ salaries are highest where recruiting teachers is difficult. For example, how much might you have to pay a teacher in Washoe County, Nevada—where the teacher turnover rate is below the national average—to give up his job for a teaching position in Fairbanks? What sort of a salary might he demand to justify a move to a teaching position in Harlem?

Similarly, just as there is no correlation between teachers’ wages and student academic performance, there is no demonstrated correlation between class size and student academic performance. Senator Maurice Washington and two or three other Nevada legislators understand this, but the rest of Carson City doesn’t, having been coaxed into spending huge sums to reduce class size by the teachers’ union and Gov. Bob Miller. The goal, transparently, is to enhance the union’s clout with an expanded teacher membership.

But the efficacy of reducing class size has yet to be demonstrated, and in the meantime Nevadans are reminded that in Japan, where students run rings around our students in terms of academic performance, the student-to-teacher ratio is 44-to-1.

And now, thanks to the Hudson Institute and Forbes, we know that the third of the three widely believed myths about teachers is also not true. The figures in the chart on this page speak eloquently for themselves. Note that the wages of teachers and other workers are closest in Washington, D.C., interestingly, where a disproportionate number of workers are on one government payroll or another.

None of this is to suggest that teachers are either underpaid or overpaid, but simply to note that in today’s America they are not numbered among the downtrodden and suffering. It’s worth noting also that the average U.S. teacher works 180 days a year, while the average U.S. worker in other occupations works 239 days a year. So can we dry our tears and begin to investigate the real reasons behind poor student academic performance in America? u

Ralph Heller is senior consulting editor of Nevada Journal.


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