June 27, 2019

Are Teachers Actually Underpaid?

“Are public-school teachers really underpaid? It’s a claim often made during teacher pay disputes, but the same data and statistical methods that produce the “teacher salary gap” lead to some ridiculous conclusions—such as that nurses and firefighters are dramatically overpaid, while telemarketers deserve better compensation.

Take the annual reports on public-school teacher pay produced by the Economic Policy Institute—a Washington think tank whose board includes the president of the American Federation of Teachers. The 2019 edition claims the nation’s public-school teachers were underpaid by a record 21.4% in 2018, with state-level teacher-pay penalties ranging from 0.2% in Wyoming to 32.6% in Arizona. The think tank’s figures have been mentioned hundreds of times in media coverage of disputes over teacher pay in states such as Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

To measure the teacher pay gap, EPI researchers compare teacher salaries with the salaries of people who have the same number of years of education and the same demographic characteristics. This model assumes that education is interchangeable—that a bachelor’s degree in education has the same market value as a bachelor’s in engineering, and a master’s in education is worth the same as a master’s in business administration.”

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