I recently finished reading Crucial Conversations, a bestseller that encourages all parties interested in tackling challenging topics to openly seek out information from all angles. Referred to as "adding to the pool of shared knowledge," this process is supposed to allow for intelligent decision making based on the broadest foundation of collective wisdom.
In the spirit of Crucial Conversations, I decided to tackle a recent policy report authored by my favorite public school critic, Jay Greene, and one of his colleagues at the Manhattan Institute. Titled How Much are Public School Teachers Paid, I knew that Greene would likely continue to push his position–started in Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want you to BELIEVE about our SCHOOLS and WHY IT ISN’T SO—that public school teachers are overpaid when compared to other white collar professions.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
From the first paragraph, Greene’s anti-educator position is evident: "Education policy discussions often assume that public school teachers are poorly paid. Typically absent in these discussions about teacher pay, however, is any reference to systematic data on how much public school teachers are actually paid, especially relative to other occupations. Because discussions about teacher pay rarely reference these data, the policy debate on education reform has proceeded without a clear understanding of these issues."
Greene then runs through a collection of statistics comparing the hourly rates of teachers to professionals in other fields, coming to the conclusion that teachers are indeed earning significantly more than comparable professionals in most metropolitan regions (except for mine, interestingly enough).
My favorite Jay Greene finding continues to be those regarding the number of hours that teachers work per week. He argues that, "Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week."
I simply can’t remember the last time that I worked only 36 hours a week and would continue to argue—as I did in a column written for another source last year—that these numbers underestimate the time teachers invest in their own professional growth and responsibilities beyond the classroom. Those arguments, however, would be useless because Mr. Greene doesn’t see their value: "It is possible that teachers, as well as other professionals, put in some hours at home that are not captured in these numbers, but those hours would not be considered required for their jobs and thus are not part of their paid employment."
So instead, I’ll leave you with one logical question:
If teachers are paid a reasonable salary for the job that they are expected to do, then how do we explain the constant shortages that face schools and communities each year? Aren’t those vacancies a clear message that we aren’t compensating teachers fairly for the work we’re asking them to do?
Aren’t they a clear message that there is something inherently dissatisfying about teaching?