Teacher v. Private Sector Pay: Don’t Buy the Lie


Man, am I getting sick of hearing how badly teachers are fleecing us. Non-stop on Fox, echoed throughout the corporate media, teachers and public employees are crooks.  Especially those college-educated members of the “liberal elite,” the teachers…these socialistic slackers work just 9-months a year, yet get subsidized pensions, partially-subsidized health care, “Cadillac” benefit plans, all on the back of the taxpayer.

These bastards have it made.  For an average minimum six-figure investment in their 6 or so years of education, teachers command a whopping starting salary from $25-53k, depending on location.  The average new math teacher makes $38,211.  Most public (resident) liberal arts undergraduate-level programs now take 5 years to complete. In many states, regardless of level taught, public schoolteachers must have a Master’s degree.  That adds another two years of training and expense.  It’s cheaper to train to become an engineer, an MBA, a Public Affairs Director, a CPA, an IT professional as well as numerous other careers that return far greater immediate and long-term monetary reward than teaching.  So why would anyone train to be a teacher?

The “pat” answer is that teaching is a vocation rather than a mere career and this can indeed be true. If one doesn’t love to teach, chances are that they’ll find out early and choose another path. But that’s also true of many career options. To suggest that because teachers are “called” they should be paid less than comparably trained business professionals, for instance, is absurd.  I must ask, “Why?”

Next, critics claim that teachers work only 9 months (but get paid for 12). While it’s true that teachers contract for designated hours in a predetermined school year, that doesn’t mean their work is confined to that schedule.  It rarely is.  Ask the spouse of any teacher. And the school year has gotten longer.  Summer break is now closer to 2 months–in schools that don’t already go year-round.

That’s not to say salaried workers in business don’t burn the candle at both ends, they do–and most don’t get anything near 3 months off.  Even so, if one annualizes teacher salaries before comparing them to the yearly compensation of similarly schooled and seasoned business professionals, any disparity vanishes.  Further, annual raises in business are typically larger and there’s a possibility of promotion in business v. education.  Negotiated raises in teaching are small and wage increases occur at much slower rates.

Teachers have no profit sharing. Stock options after many years of service for senior teachers? Fat chance.  Business travel?  Nope.  No frequent flier miles or travel perks, no corporate credit cards…no commissions, no incentives…no celebratory junkets to reward sales goals, no expense accounts.  No annual conferences, no hospitality suites…no business lunches. Lunch “hours” are 30-minutes, and no longer.  Oh, and if ever a lunch is provided, lucky them, it’s pizza from the PTA. Teachers get kicked, scratched, punched, molested, spat upon, sued and much worse.

If a teacher is the sole wage earner in a household, many find it impossible to get past accrued college debt to afford starter homes.  Working just 9-10 months a year, many just can’t make ends meet. They take summer jobs or teach all year (and still earn less than their corporate counterparts).

Eric Bolling, Fox "Bus." News

On Fox Business News, during a report on Scott Walker and the controversial new Union-Busting Wisconsin  Labor Law, this schmuck said, “Wisconsin teachers make a salary of $51,000…Benefits $38,000 per year, that comes to a whopping 89,000 bucks, while the rest of us, all workers in the United States, union, non-union, etc., $38,000 is your average salary…there, $10,000 in benefits, a quarter of what you make, that you would make if you were a Wisconsin teacher, to 48 grand, almost half the amount. Yet collective bargaining says that is OK. That’s not anti-free market?”
This typifies the bullshit that’s passing for journalism by Fox and their corporate minions. Not only are their facts wrong, their assumptions draw conclusions from inadequate comparisons.
Politifact ran a “Truth-Meter” on this claim and finds it to be spurious.  Unfortunately, such unmitigated crap often goes unchallenged, then it’s repeated. While Bolling got the salary figure close to right, ($51k) he’s way off on the benefits cost. ($38k).  The actual median benefits cost is about $25k.

How about pay for private sector “Joe Schmoe”?  The Bureau of Labor and Statistics report it at $58k ($41,000 for salary; $17,000 for benefits).

Bolling amended his numbers the following night. “Our math was off a bit,” he said. 

A new graphic, he said, showed the unweighted average for Wisconsin teachers for the 2010 school year: a $51,000 salary, plus $30,000 worth of benefits (for a total of $81,000 worth of compensation). For an average private sector worker, he said, the salary in 2010 was $46,000 with $20,000 worth of benefits (total compensation $66,000).

Those revised numbers are much closer to the ones we found.

Still, this fails to take into account the difference in the backgrounds of each group. The teachers have much more education than those represented in this private sector quote.

In order to be a teacher in Wisconsin, you’ve got to have a 4-year college degree. And 52 percent of Wisconsin teachers also have a master’s degree. That’s much, much higher than the average education level for workers in the private sector. People with higher degrees in education typically get paid more.

We found two studies that factored in such things as education level, years of experience, race, gender, etc. and found that public employees tend to make a little less than people with similar backgrounds in the private sector.

As a result, any conclusion drawn from comparing these cohorts is at best, conjecture. It’s just not “apples to apples”.

Like I said, I’m sick of this.  The media lies because its owners have an agenda. Those lies spread like wildfire and fuel political operatives, who use them as strategic communications upon which they base unified action, in turn covered and reinforced by the same media that created the “Buzz”. In the process, innocent, gullible people are sucked in and our social fabric is torn as the GOP and its oligarchic backers laugh all the way to their banks.

If you can read this, thank a teacher.  And stop being so disrespectful…or it’s “head down on your desk.”

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2 Responses to Teacher v. Private Sector Pay: Don’t Buy the Lie

  1. John says:

    Get over yourself, sir. Teachers work 190 days @ 7 hrs per day (which includes a ‘planning period’) and guaranteed holidays off work to spend with their families. Once a teacher becomes tenured, short of molesting a student, they have a job for life.

    I think teachers have it pretty good considering many could not compete in the private sector ( you know the old saying). Teachers made a choice to teach walking into it with eyes wide open.

    Given the product they produce, ignorant graduates, I say many incompetent teachers are free riding the system. Private sector professionals are measured against results- why should you not be treated the same?

  2. Paul Sonderman says:

    John,

    Your comments reprise the same, tired, inaccurate stereotypes right-wingers have trotted out for years to berate and besmirch teachers. While some once may have been loosely supported by fact decades age, that’s no longer the case.

    The school schedule is longer, as are the days. Teachers work at home and on weekends, as much as 2-3 hours a night. Teachers subsidize meager to non-existent supply budgets by going into their own (and family) pockets for things students need but that school systems don’t provide.

    Many teachers have advanced degrees. This was once a requirement for which certain of their employers didn’t provide additional compensation or reimbursement to acquire; one that required working teachers to attend night classes and do homework assignments on evenings and weekends. Many senior teachers have more education than their counterparts in the private sector. They paid more for their degrees. And get far less in return.

    In frequently over-populated classes, teachers supervise students mere hours in a given day. The still popular practice of mainstreaming has kids with special needs intertwined with the general population. This reduces individual student-to-teacher rations. As does discipline problems, which continue to escalate both in frequency and degree.

    Today’s classrooms are full if kids that lack basic needs and suffer untreated medical problems. Parents, if in the home at all, provide little to no follow-up or reinforcement. Education isn’t stressed in the home. It’s simply not a priority. Parents don’t work with their kids on homework. Teachers become little more than day care workers. Students ignore required coursework only to find there is no parental consequence. Parents skip out on meetings to discuss problems affecting his or her child.

    Teachers can’t get fired? Do you realize how anachronistic tenure has become–especially in primary and secondary school? A teacher can get fired for something as simple as a questionable picture on a social media site. The burgeoning trend (flavor of the month) of Charter schools provide no protection for teachers and can terminate staff without cause. They acquire grants to start up, incur catastrophic debt, close, only to reopen under a new name to repeat the process. Some charters have long days with few to no breaks, no planning time and require staff to do supervisory students when not teaching.

    Finally, the schedule you describe is nearly extinct. Many schools go all year. And others extend the school year by starting sooner, ending later and trimming holiday breaks.

    Preparing students for mandatory testing robs classes of active learning to produce rote regurgitation for the sole purpose of satisfying funding requirements. The efficacy of these time-consuming additions is proving dubious at best.

    Teachers today are expected to teach much more than a curriculum. And the students are theirs for only a portion of each day. On top of that, societal, social, family, economic and health factors must be considered to accurately and thoroughly evaluate student progress.

    Teachers are not the parasites you describe. And students aren’t mere commodities one can extrude and measure against some model that meets or exceeds targets to garner an approval seal. Qualitative aspects of learning and teaching go well beyond any quantitative analysis that can effectively measure the effectiveness of many private sector professionals.

    I disagree with every statement you make above but thanks for stopping by…

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