Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Do teachers deserve to make 31% less than everyone else?

The graph from NY Times Economix blog shows that middle school teachers in the US earn about 69 percent of the salary of a average college-educated worker in the United States. The comparable figure is 82 percent in the rest of the developed world:

So tell me: Given the opportunity costs of becoming a teacher instead of using your college degree to enter another, more remunerative field, are the psychic rewards of teaching great enough to convince America’s best and brightest to become educators?


  1. Tough to get a real apples to apples here. Most middle school teachers get the summers off and get full pensions when they retire. Unclear whether or not those are accounted for in this discount analysis. Also, the average college-educated worker pool is likely misleading (includes physicians and other uber-educated workers, professional athletes, hedge fund managers, etc.), I'd think median might be more useful. Don't know how these adjustments would impact the analysis, but I'd be curious.

  2. Summers off is one explanation as noted by Lamar for the discount relative to the average college-educated worker.

    You could probably cherry pick some other occupation where the numbers would go the same way relative to other developed countries.

    Among the gamut of reasons given for American students not performing as well as students in other developed countries one is that we don't pay our teachers as well. That gets to Luke's question. Would we attract and retain better teachers if salaries were higher? In theory it should improve the quality of the pool to hire from. Efficiency wages could also come into play assuming you can fire teachers for poor performance. But I suspect teachers in other developed countries have even greater protections than in the US. So we're back to the theory that higher wages improve the average quality of the pool, supplemented with the possibility that principals are good at picking the best out of that pool.

  3. We can't ignore the role of the education degree as the degree of last resort. It has an impact on these numbers. Certainly, the level of rigor is an offsetting 31% below the expectations in the other programs.

  4. Something to consider about this pay delta and U.S. teachers; if the rest of the developed world (read Europe mostly) is so great, why don't American teachers flock to Europe, perhaps they are not indifferent...

  5. I believe teachers are underpaid for the job they are expected to do. They do have benefits like a full pension and summers off, holidays and spring and fall breaks, but to accept a low paying position must be a tough choice to decide between getting a degree in a high paying job and going after their passion of teaching and developing young minds. Many teachers I have spoken with work long hours, staying late and coming in early to help students, they buy many supplies for their classrooms with their own money, and even spend hours at home each night and on weekends grading and working on lesson plans. Some people who already have the degree feel they need to stay in the profession whether they like it or not, but in my experience many teachers I know do it because they have a passion for teaching and changing lives and would do it for any salary amount, although they would definitely be happier with more.