Massaging the Numbers on Teacher Compensation
Yesterday, I pointed to a report showing that Rhode Island teachers lead the nation in pay compared with neighbors in similar fields within the state. With a methodology that selects specific occupations that require a comparable amount of education to teaching, the study’s authors found that RI teachers exceed their peers by 12%. Not surprisingly, the NEA’s Pat Crowley prefers a different study, from the Economic Policy Institute, which is funded in part by labor unions:
… in order to be a teacher, a person needs, as a base level, a bachelors degree. So if we are to do a fair comparison, we should compare teacher pay to other college educated professionals. According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers in Rhode Island earn 90.9% of their educated peers. This includes the so called “summers off” idea. Even though a bachelor’s degree will get you hired, in order to keep working or to advance, a teacher needs to earn a Master’s degree (not by law, mind you, yet, but by the nature of the job). In Rhode Island teachers with a Master’s degree fair somewhat better, earning 96.3% of what their peers earn. Said another way, teachers in Rhode Island face a 5-10% wage penalty for working in the profession.
Right off the bat, it should be observed that the class of “college educated” residents includes a very broad range, with significant outliers on the high end. A college-educated entrepreneur who builds a business and nets himself billions of dollars will draw the pool well north of the more standard career path. Moreover, a teacher who reaches such heights through some innovation would have to cease to be a teacher to pursue it.
Secondly, wherever one places the parity line, the report (PDF) still places Rhode Island at an extreme: with the third highest teacher-to-private-sector ratio. Even if public school teachers have a raw deal, Rhode Island doesn’t have the economic health to be unique in combating the inequity.
At bottom, though, Crowley’s statement fundamentally misleading, if not flatly incorrect. The EPI’s measure adjusts for “the so called ‘summers off’ idea” by comparing weekly earnings. At least for some portion of teachers, however, the paychecks are spaced out across the year, not limited to the weeks of actual work. In Tiverton, the contract calls for biweekly paychecks year round, with the option for teachers to take a lump sum for the summer pay. And beyond it all, even the EPI acknowledges the importance of total compensation:
Improvements in the non-wage benefits of K-12 teachers partially offsets these
wage differences, such that the weekly compensation disadvantage facing teachers
[nationwide] in 2006 is about 12%, about 3 percentage points less than the 15% weekly wage
Unfortunately, the EPI (and therefore Crowley) does not offer a state-level comparison of compensation. Perhaps the results were not helpful to the cause.