|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 stateand much better off financially in all but a handful of states.
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, Nevadawhere the teacher turnover rate is below the national averageto 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 doesnt, 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 unions 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 todays America they are not numbered among the downtrodden and suffering. Its 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.