Economy

Should teachers be paid more? No.

Recently, I made same comment to my fellow Scrogues and got some, ummm, disagreement.

They then trotted out arguments about it being teachers that are entrusted with our most precious resource, our children, that the value they provide is incalculable, that it was kindly Miss McCutcheon in second grade that germinated my love of poetry with her passionate reading of Dr. Seuss. To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Blah blah, woof woof.”

The value argument is absurd on its face. First of all, relatively few professions are remunerated on value—perhaps professional athletes, some entertainers, commission-based salesmen, and arguably CEO’s whose pay package is tied to stock options. The reason is that to pay someone based on value creation, it’s first necessary that it be possible to calculate value. Sorry, but that’s how it works.

Calculating the value of instruction to hundreds of children that will pay off at some undetermined point in the future is simply impossible. It would require an ability to estimate what value each child will provide to society over his or her lifetime, what that value would have been without the contribution of each particular teacher absent the effects of parents, friends, and other teachers, and the ability to discount that back to the present. Even were it possible, I suspect most teachers would be wary about signing up for that pay program, because they wouldn’t want to see their annual bonus docked because Little Johnny will grow up to be meth dealer in twelve years.

Come on, folks, everybody thinks they’re paid under their true value, from CEO’s that make fifty mil a year (really, I know a couple) to garbage collectors.

Now that we’ve dismissed that silly value argument and made poor Miss McCutcheon cry, let’s talk about how most jobs are really remunerated, supply and demand. Teachers don’t like it that they are paid according to the laws of economics. Welcome to the club. People love economics when it comes out in their favor, and hate it when it doesn’t. The same folks who go to WalMart are the ones who see their jobs being outsourced. Wall Street tycoons who piously talk about the free market are the first to grovel and beg for government hand-outs when things go south.  People don’t like economics because the market is ruthlessly rational. It may not be fair, but it’s rational.

It’s a bit like global warming. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, it’s still getting warmer. It doesn’t matter if you believe in supply and demand or not, that’s still the way most of the world, including labor markets, works.  Even centrally planned economies are subject to the laws of supply and demand—that’s why gray markets exist.

Now labor markets aren’t completely pure for a variety of reasons—unions, restrictions on immigration, Hay systems, licensing boards, racism, etc, etc.  but for all intents and purposes we can think of the job market facing an average person entering the job market as being subject to the laws of economics, specifically supply and demand.

The way that works is this.  The demand for how many of each profession is determined by the economy. For example, in the U.S., we have jobs for 8,374,910 educators, trainers and librarians. We have jobs for 641,020 lawyers, 3,456,000 computer scientists, and 61,140 tax preparers. These are the number of current people in those jobs at current wages. (The math gets very complicated very fast, and this simplified version is close enough.)

The wages for each profession is determined by how much the economy needs to pay to get  a supply of 641,020 qualified people to be lawyers. For example, 641,020 people are able and willing to be lawyers. For $130,880, they will undergo the years of training necessary, face the uncertainty of the profession, and do boring work.

People are willing to work as social workers for $44,200 per year and as teachers for $51,120. People will be sales reps for $68,580 and computer programmers for $80,200. If nobody is willing to be a social worker and the economy needs more, it will raise the wages until it gets the number it needs. If it needs fewer, it will lower the wages until some leave the profession and go do other jobs.

So why don’t teachers get paid more? Simply put, because 8,374,910 people, exactly what the economy needs, are willing to do it for $51,120 each. Could we as a society decide to pay them $60,000 each? Of  course we could, but why would we? It’s a bit like if a washing machine repairman fixed your dryer for $200, but because dry clothes are important to you, you insisted on giving him or her $500. And the same for the grocer, doctor, hair dresser, etc. Would any rational person do that? Of course not. Remember, at the end of the day, teacher salaries don’t come from some magical pot of money in the sky, but from people’s taxes, and most people don’t want to pay any more than they have to.

The real question is why so many people are willing to be teachers for $51,120. I admit, I don’t get it. I tried a little college teaching and hated it. Yes, it has low barriers to entry, the hours are good,  it has a certain shabby chic status and job security, but it’s tedious, you spend your time around unhappy peers who bitch all the time, and you don’t make any money.  I went into business, which had no job security, but paid well and was interesting. Still some people find teaching a desirable job, 8,374,910 to be exact, and as long as they do and are willing to do it for $51,120, then that’s what they’ll get paid.

They’re not alone. As a rule, jobs that people want to do (teacher, writer, pastry chef, antiques store owner, diving instructor) always pay less than jobs people don’t want to do (tax preparer, salesperson, etc.) It’s not necessary that teachers like their work (although I think they do. Two of the people who weighed in have told me they love teaching.) It means that as long as they like it better than their alternatives, they will be willing to work for less to do it.

When I made this point, my fellow Scrogues stopped hurling insults and picked up stones.  One comment was especially interesting. A teacher explained why she taught instead of other professions. She said

I REALLY hated the 2 months I worked in higher ed tech sales after the company I worked for shut the training department I led.  Cold-calling made me feel unclean.  I was lucky they didn’t cut my salary for those 2 months from what I had been making as head of training to commission only.

Exactly. That’s exactly my point. And as long as people like to teach, or at least like it more than they like selling, sales reps will always make $68,580 and teachers will always make $51,120.

Don’t get pissed at me. Go throw eggs at the home of an economics professor.

P.S. What could dedicated, competent, passionate teachers do to raise their wages? It’s simple really. De-unionize and embrace standardized testing. That would create a market between various school systems for the best teachers, and while average wages might stay the same, you’d see wages shoot up for the best. Indeed, top suburban school systems already pay more than their rural and inner city counterparts, but it’s still within a relatively narrow band. If teachers could prove their abilities, e.g., with their students test scores before and after they got them, then they’d get paid. But I haven’t heard any teachers arguing for this.

Next post: Message to Adjuncts: Administrators aren’t the enemy, tenured professors are.

Categories: Economy, Education

36 replies »

  1. “….embrace standardized testing.” I have a family member, and not the one you know, who has taught in the public school system for the past 10 years. All the teachers do, or are allowed to do, is ‘teach to the test’. Their support and pay is based on how well their students perform at answering standard questions with the accepted answers. I just had a brief discussion with a friend on this very matter based on a quote he shared on FB. The quote was: “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but not what to see.” – Alexandra K. Trenfor

    I’m not sure who she is but the quote strikes right at what you say, and I disagree with, about standardized testing. If all we do is teach children to be able to be successful on tests we are missing the entire point of education. I my opinion, as I told my friend, it’s not the answer that’s really key (so stop trying to break everything down into a standardized test question) it’s the search for the answer…..make that an answer. Knowledge is something that cannot be taken away from us nor can it be assigned a ‘market value’ unless the goal is to only have specialized, task-oriented jobs.

    I worked in a specialized portion of the financial services industry and a great deal of what I was paid for was based on what I knew…..and how well I was able to expand that knowledge to the people I led and taught. Yes, one of my specialties was performance improvement but my goal in that realm, and I was very, very successful at it, was to help people understand the ‘why’ of what they were doing not just tell them this is ‘how’ you do it. Standardized testing teaches only ‘how’ not the more important issues of being able to discern the ‘whys’.

  2. By the way, looks like your next topic is going to strike at educators who spend their lives dedicated to improving the collective knowledge of society.

    Perhaps you would like to see what’s happening in our great state….which is the laughing stock of the nation right now because of it’s insane legislative changes. Essentially, make teachers work on a year-to-year contract basis. And what do you think the likelihood of their speaking freely will be then?

    http://dianeravitch.net/2013/07/21/breaking-news-nc-legislature-approves-vouchers-ends-teacher-tenure/

    • all unions and guilds, and tenure track is de facto a union-like mechanism, start out doing worlds of good and end up doing worlds of harm. labor unions started out doing great good in terms of safety, etc. now, for the most part they are moribund, corrupt, and their primary purpose is to impede productivity so that their member’s wages remain high but the jobs themselves disappear. tenure track academia started out to protect freedom of thought, but has now become a two tier wage system that disadvantages adjuncts.

      the reason is simple. management always figures out a way to work around organization of labor. want to call strikes on me when i can least afford them, holding me hostage? want to tie up my managers over picayune grievances? I’ll underinvest in this plant and move the jobs to a nonunion plant or form a nonunion subsidiary to compete with myself.

      the managers of the academic world, administrators, are doing the same thing to tenured profs–hiring adjuncts, etc. and of course tenure track professors are enthusiastically participating in their own marginalization. more to come.

      • Well, we agree on one thing….the management teams, and the consultants they hire to assist them, can always figure out a way to undermine the workers that contribute to the success of the CEO’s stock-option based salaries.

        You seem to think I’m all for unions even though I never mentioned them in my reply.. I grew up in a household where the father was a union employee and I despised unions and believed as you do that they had outlived their time and usefulness. However, given the fast track towards the 1940’s and 1950’s in our country it might be that they will be needed again.

        • not really, i was saying that union and tenure have some of the same effects on hte labor market.

          i think the future of unions, if they have one, is not in manufacturing where jobs can be moved, but rahter geographically based service jobs which cant be moved. in other words, i’d like to see unions make sure hotel maids get paid more.

  3. Interesting Otherwise. Picayunish point, Wicki and the American Bar Association both say 1,225,000+ lawyers but maybe half of them aren’t practicing.

    Can’t argue market forces defining pay scales although a recent S&R post showing the highest university wages in each state going to sports coaches points out an interesting discrepancy in our society. We preach the value of education while rewarding those accomplished at games.

    I think a more germane question is, should children be educated more and to that I would reply with a resounding “YES!” If we’re ever going to reduce the ghettoification of America we need to pay a lot more attention to our lost children. Grab them early and educate the crap out of them and don’t let them wander off until we’ve given them the skill set they need to become functioning productive citizens.

    Yeah, I know, pipe dream but I’m nothing if not an optimist.

    • No but it’s not surprising Otherwise. I said from the beginning he’s a wannabe cop with a bad attitude and in a just society he would have been convicted of manslaughter, done some time, and lost all rights to own firearms.

      My only beef with your posts on the subject was using a hispanic as poster boy for white race crimes. Zimmerman is a twisted little puppy and he’s going to kill someone _again_ if society doesn’t incarcerate him first.

  4. Otherwise:

    You’ve taken me to task, before, for approaching what you write on a meta basis, or even tangentially, so rather than endure another tongue lashing, I’ll address the main point, first, and follow up with some objections to the evidence you presented at the end.

    Like you, I agree entirely that this is a market-based issue, and I feel that if it weren’t for the NEA, teacher’s pay would float even lower than it is, now. I would go a step father, though, in pointing out that this is a service industry, and that a 5% increase in teacher pay means a 3.5% to 4% increase in taxes, depending on the cost structures of individual districts. Eventually, taxpayers won’t pay more the same way customers won’t pay more for various products and services sold in the open marketplace.

    Having said that, I disagree with your remedy, and think it wouldn’t help in the slightest. No, I don’t take the position of leasartwork, above, who seems to think there’s something wrong with evaluating teachers based on what their charges actually learn (knowledge and skills). Now, if the tests are bad ones, fix the tests. That can and should be done so that “teaching to the test” is a good thing. But I’m not against testing any more than I’m against testing in the actual classroom by the teacher in charge.

    The main issue with teaching is productivity. Because it’s a service business and most of the outlays are tied up in payroll-related costs, the old solution for improving education — decreasing class size — is entirely unrealistic. In essence, teachers are telling the public that they need to be paid more to handle less work. They would counter, of course, by saying that productivity should be measured by results over inputs, and I would agree if not for their insistence that results go unmeasured in favor of some sort of nebulous — something — that apparently can’t be measured.

    Imagine, for a moment, a classroom of 80 children, divided into pods for privacy and noise suppression. A teacher sits in the middle of these pods, evaluating data on her charges as it becomes available. Sarah is reading books at a level too high for her to comprehend, and her reading progress is suffering because of that. Drilling down, she lacks specific reading skills in four areas, three of which can be addressed by one classroom aide, and another that falls within the expertise of a second aide. The teacher schedules time for these aides to work with Sarah one on one, or in a small group with other kids who have the same issues, and enters that into her classroom management software. She then goes through all her other children, one by one, designing and scheduling lesson plans and interventions for many subjects, as needed, along with general lectures given by her and her sub-teachers in smaller groups.

    Not surprisingly, with excellent classroom management, tracking student activities and results to determine if they are working efficiently, devoting resources and interventions of exactly the right kind at exactly the right time for her students, etc., this teacher’s results for her class are off the charts by today’s standards.

    Better for her, she is now in a job paying well into six figures because it is along a career track in which jobs with more responsibility, accountability, and requiring a higher level of skill pay better, and the total cost is no more because productivity has improved. Her sub-teachers and aides are paid less, but so are licensed practical nurses and aides compared with a college-educated RN who runs a floor. In total, more children are served with better services because the classroom is more productive.

    A facsimile of this classroom exists in a school district close to mine, though it has yet to be taken to the next step by restructuring classrooms. But there are classrooms in existence, today (at least for reading), where individual interventions are data-driven and delivered at the right time to the right children. Not surprisingly, reading, writing, and comprehension scores are soaring.

    The reason test results won’t work is that they’re too subject to internal manipulation by other teachers, and because they tend to drive unwanted behavior by principals. The internal manipulation is a function of class makeup. Every teacher at the elementary level (which is where it all happens, IMO) understands that his/her class makeup for a given year depends entirely on the teachers in the grade below who make up these assignments. And every teacher knows that this is highly, highly political. Teachers with fast friends in the grade below get easy classes that could teach themselves. The other teachers often get horror classes full of kids with behavioral and/or learning issues. Test scores will make the first teacher look great, and the others look terrible.

    Principals will sometimes make things even worse. A principal will try to assign the toughest kids to teach to a teacher who is good at that, meaning that the better you are at teaching the hard-to-teach, the more likely you are to be punished with low test scores.

    On to some of my objections to the evidence you presented.

    1. CEOs and stock options: I can tell you, having designed a number of executive compensation plans for companies as small as $300 million in revenues and as large as RJR Nabisco, that executive comp consultants and the compensation committees of boards find the process of really trying to tie pay to performance endlessly frustrating. I have seen stock option plans pay out tens of millions of dollars, and compensation greatly in excess of average market pay, to CEOs who produced below-sector results. Usually, this happens because of stock volatility (options are granted at the low end and redeemed at the high end), but it sometimes happens because of a booming economy or booming market sector that is entirely outside the CEO’s control (and the reverse often happens, as well).

    2. Same with commission-based salespeople. One’s success can have a great deal to do with time and territory. Any salesperson who has ever been given a vast territory with very few prospects in it knows this in a very painful way.

    3. The Hay System: The Hay System doesn’t distort market pay, at least not if it’s the modified one that’s adjusted constantly to reflect real-world conditions (I wouldn’t want to depend on the one from the 1950s). There are other statistical systems — some using custom multi-variate analysis and some using more off-the-shelf, factor analysis, but all are tested against market surveys to check their accuracy. I have seen multi-variate systems that produced an R-squared of .99, which as you know, is damn near as perfect as it gets. The issue with both the Hay System and these other analyses isn’t the systems, but the internal politics. A .99 R-squared will still yield 32% of jobs one or more standard deviations from the predicted market point, as all statistical systems will. Those jobs need to be adjusted, usually by a compensation team made up of line managers, after the initial analysis is done. It’s known that 16% of those rated jobs would fall one or more standard deviations BELOW the predicted market point, but I can’t remember ever seeing a job drop in value from the prediction, whereas I’ve seen many, many jobs bumped up a level or two. Naturally, this distorts pay upwards. But it’s not the statistical system’s fault.

    4. “Come on, folks, everybody thinks they’re paid under their true value, from CEO’s that make fifty mil a year (really, I know a couple) to garbage collectors.”

    Yes, I’ve heard this from CEOs, but hardly all. I don’t know any garbage collectors, and have never done any focus groups or interviews with them, but what you say is OFTEN true of employees in badly managed companies, at least on the human element side of things. Like “history is written by the victors,” though, this is a cliche that is absolutely untrue in organizations that handle it right. I have personally seen employees’ sense that they are paid unfairly go from 90%+ to around 28% after a single intervention in a large, well-known financial services firm. Organizations that stay on top of it can lower this perception to around 15%, though I’ve never seen a question about job performance being evaluated fairly go much above 50% (the national average is around 33% or so).

    As for CEOs, I knew one CEO who argued vociferously against a 50% raise, only to be voted it, anyway, for fear that his low pay was depressing pay of the execs below him, putting them at risk of leaving the company for higher-paying pastures. I knew another (great guy, BTW) who saw the data on his job, and that he was dead on the middle, and offered nothing but support for me. And, yes, I’ve seen hustlers at that level who wanted me to compare their jobs with the CEOs of companies twice the size of the ones they managed.

    So, it ain’t “everybody.”

    • you make my life harder when you say stuff i agree with. 🙂

      0. fine, test results wont work. i can buy that. here in indiana a crony of the last republican governor got fired for manipulating test results for a private school run by political contributor. however, the key is MEASURED. you said it much better than i though. “their insistence that results go unmeasured in favor of some sort of nebulous — something — that apparently can’t be measured.” if teachers want to be paid more, they should eagerly embrace testing so they can prove how much value they deliver. when they refuse to be measured, it does nothing except make others distrust them. just like the commercial, when a car salesman wont show us the carfax, we suspect something is wrong.
      1 and 2. yes, ceo and sales pay are both subject to luck and manipulation. that’s why i jammed that sentence full of conditionals, e.g., “perhaps” and “arguably.” i’m not sure there’s any such thing as true value-based remuneration, or even “expected-value remuneration.”
      3. The Hay System absolutely distorts. First it bands jobs, bringing poor performers and high performers closer together. Second, redlining and the like makes wages sticky. Third, Hay tends to act as a ratchet since employers often use Hay comparisons with other companies as a benchmark. However, it doesnt distort enough to make my basic argument untrue.
      4. i actually have only known (an acquaintance really) one garbage collector, but i have heard a fifty million dollar ceo complain because another ceo made a hundred. and i’ve heard similar stuff more than once.

      no idea how you can argue that taxpayers wont pay more. of course they will. if teachers get higher salaries, taxes will go up. now, having said that, i don’t really have a problem with it. i’ve paid for private schools before, so clearly i am willing to allocate a relatively high percentage of my income to education when i feel i’m getting results for it. i’m fine with people paying more taxes for schools, even though i have no kids in school anymore. however, most people are not nearly as sanguine about taxation as i am. my wife foams at the mouth every time she writes a check to pay taxes. i suspect she’s more the norm than me.

      sheesh, taken to task? sorry about that. i tend to dish it out and i try to take it when it’s given back. i came up in white-shoe strategy consulting where it was off limits to attack the person, but it was expected you’d go after ideas as savagely as you could. you’re a thoughtful and useful commenter. not trying to flog you.

    • jstepenobrien,
      I didn’t say testing wasn’t valuable. I said standardized testing creates an environment that leads to teaching to the test instead of testing the actual needed knowledge and skills at each grade level. I worked in a large corporation for over twenty years and many times had to coach staff members on grammar in their communications.
      I agree fully with pay for performance as long as the evaluations are based on employee skill sets and job requirements. Teacher evaluations can be done in more ways than just on whether their students are passing tests. Unbiased observation of the teacher in the classroom by seasoned professionals would be a meaningful addition (if they are not still doing that as they did when I was in school). And I personally am so weary of teachers being blamed/credited for the failure/success of students. ‘We’ want to ignore the impact that home environments play in a person’s growth and success in their studies. I grew up in a household where no TV, no riding your bike, no hanging out with friends was allowed until all of your homework was done. I had a mother that played an active role in our learning – reviewing our homework, calling out spelling questions, and making sure, that until we were old enough to do so on our own, our time spent on our studies came before distractions.
      Other than hoping my relative continues to be able to earn a living doing what she loves and is exceptionally good at, I have no connection to these issues. I have no children. But when I see someone being paid $16,000/year to give their all (including lesson plans on their own time, research on their own time, trying to figure out how to reach each child based on their learning styles) all I can say is….so this is how much our society values their childrens’ educations?

  5. Paying more in taxes: I was imprecise. I should have said, “Eventually, there is a limit where taxpayers won’t pay more.” Same as customers. In some places, that limit has already been reached. It hasn’t been reached in my district, but I am seeing pushback on education bond issues that aren’t passing, sometimes. One can argue that those are specific cases and can’t be generalized, but I think it’s instructive that those things always passed, before, but aren’t necessarily passing now.

    Hay System: Sorry, man, you’re just wrong. I’m not saying this as opinion, but because this was part of my business for 2.5 decades (Hay was a not-so-feared competitor). Hay bands nothing. Banding was foisted on us by Hewitt, mostly, though I can’t be sure if you’re talking about banding or about salary ranges tied to salary grades. They’re not exactly the same thing, and banding can, in fact, come without minimums and maximums (I assume that “redlining” is your word for “maximum”?). I know this because I have seen such systems and was subject to one, once. Most banding systems that don’t have defined maximums and minimums, though, have market points that control the relative size of salary increases for any given level of performance. This is a rational approach for businesses that need to pay competitively, but can’t afford to pay enormous premiums over market without getting costs and product prices out of line to cover those costs. Without these controls, you might have mail clerks earning $250,000 just because they’ve been with the company for 40 years. There has to be a limit to what even the world’s best mail clerk is worth. Organizations make this determination. It’s not part of the pure Hay System.

    Hay systems do not bring poor performers and high performers closer together than they would be in an entirely market-based system. In an entirely market-based system, jobs would be paid based on what the market pays, and no more or less, regardless of performance (unless performance in all jobs can be tired directly to value, but you’ve already pointed out that it can’t be done). But even that’s not necessarily all that important. Hay (and other statistical systems) do not specify salary ranges. They are statistical systems that predict market rates when little or no market data are available. What’s built around those market rates is a salary structure that is entirely up to the organization in question, and they can go about these things in very different ways. A broad generalization is that a top performer can earn up to a 25% premium over market rate, and a low performer can earn 25% under market rate, though that rarely happens because firing comes first. And, in fact, really superior performers tend to be promoted long before they reach the top amount over market that a company is willing to pay. There are some people who do reach maximum for a job, of course, but that’s because they have a very long time in grade, and they have a boss or bosses who are too cowardly to limit their raises because they just aren’t all that good.

    But that has nothing to do with Hay or any other statistical system. That’s salary management — not statistical market prediction.

    As for “Hay comparisons,” there are a wealth of salary/pay surveys out there for every market and every job imaginable, and only a few are put out by Hay. There may have been companies that relied only on Hay two decades ago, but no longer. In fact, statistical systems like Hay’s have taken a nosedive because of that availability. Companies with a large number of very unusual jobs that are tough to match to any recognizable market still use statistical systems, but they’re becoming rarer. And I fail to understand how measuring the market inflates anything. I’ve seen jobs decrease in value over time in these surveys as the demand for certain skills decays.

  6. Perhaps I should have specified that I never made the $51,120 as a teacher or the $68,580 as a salesperson. My salary as director of training was in the low 40s and that carried over to the sales position. So much for making more for doing what I hated.

    While cold calling did make me feel unclean, there were plenty of teaching situations that made me feel ill.

    Parents gaming the ADHD system to get “extra time” for their AP students to take exams. Bully parents filling up the voicemail with multiple rants because their kids and spouses wouldn’t deliver bad news and they found out accidentally about Junior being in danger of flunking my class. Mom the drunk bring her McDonald’s sippy cup full of spiked cola to a disciplinary meeting. Parents of the cheaters questioning everything from your eyesight to motivation for pursuing the charge. Mother of the cheerleader who didn’t turn in an assignment on time accusing me of hating her beautiful daughter because “she’s everything you’ll never be.”

    Oh, yeah, we deserve the low pay.

    Don’t know if your stats took into account the average 2-3 hours of grading and prep work that teachers do at night. Or the weeks that most teachers spend during the “Summer Off” prepping for the next year.

    Most states have done away with permanent certification, so teachers have ongoing commitments to graduate work, workshops, or other professional development for the bulk of their careers. Some schools and districts reimburse, some do not.

    Except for one year, my career has been spent in private schools. You make less (20-50%) but “don’t have to deal with all the problems of the public schools.” Yeah, like drugs, pregnancies, suicide attempts, high-stakes testing. Right.

    The argument for low pay they gave me at the Catholic high school I taught at was that, “Teaching is a vocation. Besides, you knew what the pay was when you signed on.” And, “No you can’t argue that your low wages are a source of stress for you.” Right. I was teaching high school full-time, drama director, and an adjunct instructor at the University of Akron (just one class then). I was not working the extra jobs (because I wanted to. Directing got my foot in the door. I had been cashiering at Handy Andy (a local precursor to Home Depot) for over a year before I got the adjunct position. I certainly did not do it because I liked it.

    Teachers should be well-paid because they are skilled, educated professionals who do something important for a living.

    • how much time you spend doing it isn’t really part of the discussion. a person choosing between cars doesn’t care if it cost one manufacturer a hundred hours to make and another a million hours to make. they’ll pay what they will pay.

      how much you personally make isn’t either. those bls nums are averages.

      lots of things should be. people should drive sensible cars. men should treat women decently. everyone should have equal opportunity. we don’t live in a world of “should.” we live in a world determined by a set of rules beyond our control–gravity, evolution, and economics.

      i have lots of friends who are profs, teachers, and librarians. i genuinely wish they all made tons of money. but my point is that i dont get to determine that. supply and demand does, and that says on average they will make about fifty k a year. and yes, the answer for any individual facing that situation and not happy with it is to change professions. the nuns might have been obnoxious, but they were right in their understanding of labor market economics.

      but believe me, i’m not saying i think low pay for teachers is a good thing. i’m just saying i think that is the situation.

      • “but believe me, i’m not saying i think low pay for teachers is a good thing. i’m just saying i think that is the situation.” – “Should teachers be paid more? No.”…….

        • no because of the laws of economics, not because of my personal opinions about teaching or teachers. sorry for not making distinction clearer.

  7. leasartwork:

    On testing: I’m sure there are bad tests out there. I know there are good ones. For instance, in my state, math standardized testing doesn’t allow you to work the problems, only; you have to write the reasons for doing what you did. The idea is to ensure that you actually understand the math instead of just being able to manipulate some numbers. I think that’s a pretty good test, and I know a local math teacher who agrees, adamantly.

    I believe that the solution to bad tests is to make good ones until “teaching to the test” means teaching skills and knowledge that actually matter in the world. Testing is. Teachers give tests designed to see if who learned and who didn’t. Some of them give good, useful tests. Some give ridiculous, awful tests (I think anyone who has gone through school knows both types). So, I would say, “Don’t blame the idea of testing. Testing is good. Fix the damn tests.”

    You’ll note that I didn’t say that it is a good idea to evaluate teachers based on raw test scores, but evaluating them on growth seems fair, assuming that growth is measured well (see above).

    As for earning $16,000 per year, that’s the lowest pay I’ve ever heard of for teaching. Whoever has that job needs to move and teach in a different district. Or get a different job. What I don’t understand is why he/she took that job in the first place. But this comes back to Otherwise’s very important point: As long as people are willing to take that job for $16,000, it will continue to pay $16,000. Only when you can’t fill a job at a particular price will the prices increase.

    • “As for earning $16,000 per year, that’s the lowest pay I’ve ever heard of for teaching. Whoever has that job needs to move and teach in a different district. Or get a different job. What I don’t understand is why he/she took that job in the first place.”

      She took the job because she was tired of the red-tape bureaucracy in a previous job at a home for children at risk and with serious mental health issues. She was making a real difference in the lives of those children and their families but due to regulatory changes ended up spending more time filling out forms than doing the work.

      She took the job because she cares about, and understands, the nuances and critical stages of early childhood development. Could she take a job making more? Certainly. Would someone else take the job she’s doing? Absolutely. Her leaving to have someone likely less qualified and dedicated to take that low-paying position would not help those children. Sometimes it’s about more than just the money. My point is I want her to be able to do those things and think she deserves better pay than she’s getting. Running away from the reality of her situation is not the answer and she has the courage and fortitude (not to mention thriftiness) to survive and still do what she loves. That doesn’t make it right for her pay to be what it is.

      We all make decisions based on our value systems. A great deal of our society appears to value money more than anything else. I could have gone into higher-paid, higher-up-the-food-chain positions in my career but specifically chose to stay where I believed I could make the biggest difference. I stayed in low-middle management because I wanted to be able to help people learn more, figure out ways to do work more efficiently and accurately, to coach staff on developing soft skills as well as hard. I turned down positions that would have taken me away from the people who I felt needed the most support and good leadership. I was able to assist many individuals on my teams in getting better jobs (if that’s was their goal) and worked with them to identify strengths as well as areas for improvement where others before me had simply gone through the motions of evaluating their competencies,

      My point in all of this…..It’s not always about money….but where there are truly capable, qualified, and dedicated professionals they should be paid accordingly. The example I’ve given shows that isn’t always happening. She is happy in her work but should she have to live in poverty to do work that is fulfilling and valuable?

  8. mentalbookmark:

    I keep telling my teacher friends (and I generally like and admire teachers) to please, please stop talking about the frustrations of their jobs or the number of hours worked outside a normal school day. Frustrations and long hours are part of practically every professional’s life, and it seems like whining when teachers do it. Now, if someone says to you,”You only work six hours per day and you get the whole summer off,” then it’s perfectly appropriate to respond by talking about the hours you work as refutation, but it’s counterproductive for you to do it in other situations. It just makes people feel that teachers don’t understand what’s required in the real world, or worse, that teachers have a blue-collar, union mindset about their jobs.

  9. As much as I’d like to take this line by line, addressing the problems with it in the detail they deserve, there simply isn’t time. Fortunately others have weighed in on some key points. Instead, what I’ll do is try and get at some of the core flaws in the assumptions and ideologies driving your argument, since if you can cure the disease the symptoms will take care of themselves.

    Before diving in, though, I do want to comment on a few specific tactical things.

    You said: Calculating the value of instruction to hundreds of children that will pay off at some undetermined point in the future is simply impossible.

    Let’s do a little thought experiment. You and I are kings of two adjacent nations that are pretty much identical in every way. Let’s call them Samistan and Otherland (see, already you’re winning because you have the cooler name). You choose to run your kingdom’s ed system the way the US runs its system and for the same general reasons.

    I, on the other hand, choose to dedicate triple the resources to ed that you do, and in particular I double teacher salaries.

    Now, you’re a smart, well-compensated analyst that major companies pay to think through problems for them. What would you predict about the long-term implications of our ed policies for our two nations?

    I ask because you appear to be suggesting a couple things that I find interesting. One is that there’s no point spending on teaching since you can’t really predict outcomes. This is certainly true on a case by case basis, but do you really believe that education outcomes can’t be generally predicted in the aggregate?

    If so, it’s a very short hop, skip and jump to arguing that there’s no point in having education at all. I think most of us believe that

    a)     education enhances a child’s ability to realize his/her intellectual and/or professional potential;

    b)     if you do not educate a population, the number of accomplished intelligences that will emerge to exert a positive impact on society will be depressed;

    c)     ed helps the truly special refine their mental acuity;

    d)     ed helps the normal mind develop practical skills that are of benefit to society.

    For starters. Again, if we do not believe these things then the question isn’t should we pay teachers more, it’s why the fuck are we paying them at all?

    Second, you base your entire premise on the well-known laws of the market. More on this later, but for now, why are you (and pretty much every “reformer” I seem to trip across) so adamant about pretending the lessons of that first day of Econ 101 never happened?

    To wit, another thought experiment. Other, Inc. is hiring a couple of new marketing directors. It rates the jobs at $120K per year. Samco coincidentally is hiring the same two positions, and the only difference in the packages is that I’m paying $150k.

    Again, what would you predict?

    For those who didn’t take Econ, you’d predict a couple of things. First, Samco is going to land the two best candidates while Other, Inc. will settle for the third and fourth best. The rest of the equation predicts that I’ll gain a competitive advantage from hiring better candidates.

    Nothing vaguely controversial so far.

    Now, ‘splain to me why the laws of economics don’t apply to teaching? Are you arguing that there is no such thing as a teacher who is better than others? Are you arguing that teachers, unlike other people, are somehow immune to the laws of economics and, presented with two similar jobs, would for some od reason opt for the lower paying one? Or is there some other dynamic at work that would explain why paying more wouldn’t attract better teachers?

    Once we parse this, the next question becomes which is better: a great teacher or a bad teacher? You have kids, so I know you can speak from experience here.

    I’m not dumb enough to suggest that there aren’t bad teachers. Sweet hell, I can introduce you to more butt-stupid stumps and coach/science teachers than you can shake a stick at. There are lots of teachers who are not only overpaid, they ought not be working at any job more intellectually demanding than dog walker. And they have jobs. Because all those people who’d love to teach, but aren’t willing to deal with the hassle:poverty ratio, decided to go work in corporate America so they could afford to eat.

    And this condition has grave implications for our nation, which produces in great numbers people who vote for neo-feudalist overlords, who are looking to fuck them even more than they’re already fucked, and people who think Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback.

    We’re a stupid nation and we didn’t get here for reasons that are especially difficult to understand.

    I tried a little college teaching and hated it. Yes, it has low barriers to entry, the hours are good…

    You’re trying to establish your credibility. You’re doing fine here up until you allow that the hours are good, at which point everyone who knows anything about teaching falls off the couch laughing. This is like saying that the great thing about running a kindergarten is that there aren’t any screaming five year-olds.

    The hours teaching are the worst of any job I have ever had. By far. In the last year, as I pondered going back into academic and actually pursued one job (and contemplated a second), thinking about the hours was one of the major negatives I had to confront.

    If the hours were good, I really need to know your secret.

    And as long as people like to teach, or at least like it more than they like selling, sales reps will always make $68,580 and teachers will always make $51,120.

    You make some hay with this idea that people like to teach. I don’t think you intended any misdirection in the argument, but your lack of familiarity with the terrain led into an inadvertent failure to state the case accurately.

    In brief, there is a difference between teaching and being a teacher. Teaching is an activity, teacher is a job, and these days teaching comprises a small (and diminishing) percentage of a teacher’s time.

    If I’m a prof at a teaching university I’m probably pulling a four-course load each semester. That adds up to roughly 10 hours a week in the classroom. And I probably work 50 hours a week, maybe more. Some of those extra hours are on-point: grading assignments, class prep, office hours, etc. But more and more and more an instructor’s time is occupied by bullshit concocted by the administrative overlords. It not only eats time, it saps energy and serves to demoralize once-committed, enthusiastic educators. There is a much, much larger conversation to be had here about political control and the deeper partisan motivations underneath it all, and next time we’re together you buy me a beer and I’ll lay it all out. In the meantime, take my word for it when I say that if we drew the lines right now, you’d be on the side of George Bush. I’m guessing you wouldn’t like that, but this is what happens when we unwittingly buy some of the slop that’s being sold in the marketplace of ideas these days.

    All of which is to say that I LOVE TEACHING, but HATE BEING A TEACHER.

    Now, the brief tactical stuff out of the way, I want to get at the nut of the problem. You’re making acute observations about ed in America, but you’re doing so from within an ideological context. No sin – we’re all ideological. We all have values that guide us, but that cannot in any meaningful sense be proven objectively. Argued for persuasively, yes, but that’s about it.

    In your case, you’re driven by (I fought off the urge to say “captive to”) the ideology of capitalism. And hey, most Americans are. With each passing day, this, the most successful ideology since Judeo-Christianity, gains more traction around the globe.

    And the thing to understand about capitalism is this: its ultimate, nay its ONLY logic, is money. A thing is worth precisely what someone will pay for it. No one deserves a penny more than they get. The word “deserve” doesn’t exist in this vocabulary, in fact.

    This assumption reminds me of that thing Alexander Pope once wrote: “Whatever is, is right.” He was on about God’s will, and the structure of the belief is identical.

    In fact, in the vocabulary of capitalism, strictly applied, there is no such thing as right or wrong, good or evil, etc.

    If I buy this worldview, then not only do I not disagree with a word you’ve written, I might actually jump in accusing of you of pussyfooting on a few things here and there. Of course I don’t buy this worldview.

    Let me give an example or two. Who is the greatest musician alive? The answer is easy – it’s Avenged Sevenfold. They’re number one on the charts right now. Robin Thicke is tearing it up, too. What’s the best album of all time? Don’t give me that Beatles shit, okay – they’re not in the top ten.

    Best writer alive? Well, that has to be JK Rowling, doesn’t it? No diss to her – I read her books and enjoyed them – but “greatest”?

    Yep. In a culture where the only logic is cash, great=sales. There is no defensible concept of worth or value apart from what it will fetch. Which means we have to get Joyce out of those university curricula and replace him with Danielle Steel.

    Call it the Britney Spearsization of the canon, I guess.

    Now, you have this powerful argument in the quiver. It’s a meme you use in the post and one I’ve heard from you in other discussions. In short, you lay out the data and conclude with something along the lines of “like it or not, this is how it is.”

    Because…you don’t think I know how it is? I don’t need you or anyone else to explain how capitalism works to me. If I hadn’t known it already, my doc program inflicted plenty of examination on the subject on me. More than I was interested in. I know how it is.

    More importantly, though, I (and some of our S&R colleagues) know why it is. The issue isn’t that we don’t understand capitalism’s mechanisms and values, it’s that we reject them. We recognize them for the corrupting force that they can be when allowed to run amok. Not overstating it here – the market system represents a great deal of value. It has driven unprecedented innovation in some sectors and on the whole free market competition has helped us out in many important ways. Far, far better an option than any kind of pure command economy, that’s for certain.

    But like most philosophies, it has issues when its implementation gets a little too pure. Capitalism has historically, in the US, been tempered by other values that allowed it to be good at what it was good at without overrunning everything else with rampant amoral Darwinism. For more, I highly recommend de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (something I was introduced to by a really talented tenured professor).

    And finally, a request. Tonally, you do a nice job of presenting this as an argument between the rational and the emotional. You have facts, we get offended and throw stones because you have blasphemed our dogma. While this might make for entertaining reading, and it certainly works to give you a leg up in your attempt to pre-dismiss any rebuttals, it’s a transparent rhetorical trick that a) undercuts your seriousness and b) potentially annoys those who disagree with you in good faith. I have a closet full of debate trophies, so I know a thing or two about rhetorical strategy. But I wouldn’t feel right using it against you, even if I thought you wouldn’t call me on it the second I tried.

    In truth, this isn’t a case of you with the rational and the facts on your side vs. me and Booth and whoever with strong passions and little else. No, we’re the ones with years and years and years of on-point experience navigating the realities of the very issues you’re concerned with. You can say there are teachers who deserve less money. We WORKED WITH THOSE TEACHERS and they drove us batshit crazy. For a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is that you periodically get to teach students who had there classes and you spend half the semester cleaning up the mess before you can start teaching it the right way.

    You believe there are problems with education. We agree. Boy fucking howdy, do we agree. The thing is, there are more problems with ed than you know, more than you possibly COULD know if you hadn’t sat in our position and seen it day in and day out.

    The problem is that you have set your sights on the wrong things, or maybe you have identified legit problem areas but not grasped the complex dynamics underlying them.

    I guess the good news about your post, flawed thought it may be, is that it forces people like me to dive in and address the real issues from a position of deep, and deeply tortured, experience.

    I loved teaching. But I walked away. I walked away for real, systemic reasons. So again, I agree that there are problems. I’d just rather we talked about the real ones than the fake problems that conservative ideologymongers have strewn about the public sphere.

    • Sigh.

      1. We’re not talking about calculating the value of education to a nation. That’s been done many times. But just for fun, let’s run with it. Let’s say we should invest more in education for reasons of international competitiveness. (It’s not really true, since there’s no corrletion at all between spending on education and competitiveness. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TERT.PC.ZS?page=2. Also, the amount the U.S. spends in both absolute dollars and as a percent of GDP has gone up from 4.8 to 5.6% over the last twenty years. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS) How would we spend it? Not on teacher salaries. We’d spend it on better classrooms, better books, laptops, by giving each child more education, e.g., pre-K and post grad degrees. It could even be spent on more administrators. And that’s where it would be spent. If we doubled the amount we spend on education, that would have no effect whatsever on teacher salaries because people are willing to be teachers for $51,210 dollars a year. If you doubled it to $100,000, within no time at all it would be back down to $51K because that’s the market equilibrium. The price of a teacher is $51K and you cant change that because anything you do, the market will counteract. (It’s called displacement.) If you had the federal govt, or whomever you plan to have fund this, write checks for $50K to each teacher, then local school districts would pay them $1K. If you had the federal government agree to pay matching funds up to $50K, then local school districts would split the difference and pay $25.5. If you created a teacher minimum wage of $100K, entire school districts would privatize or go out of busines altogether.

      2. The problem with your value argument comes when you try to determine who’s a good teacher and who’s a bad one. There’s no reliable way to do it today, and teachers oppose most efforts to try, e.g., measurement.

      3. I strongly suspect you’re right and teaching is losing smarter, more ambitious people to other professions that pay more (a practical interpretation of your Samco argument.) That certainly is what econ would predict would happen. Again, that is not to say that all teachers are stupid, just that on average smarter people who could teach or do something else, choose something else.

      4. No amount of spending on education will reduce stupidity. It may reduce ignorance, but not if that spending goes to Liberty University or Patrick Henry University or that ilk.

      5. The hours in teaching are very attractive for some demographics. Let’s pretend for a moment that teachers work 80 hours a week. It’s not the total hours, but the structure of those hours. The reason teaching hours are attractive is because they occur from 8 to 3, and not in the summer, which if you have children yourself means you don’t have to pay for child care. To quote Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, When I first started teaching, I thought that I was doing it for all the right reasons — shorter hours, summers off, no accountability…

      6. The rest of your rant is simply irrelevant.
      -No idea how Alan Thicke and JK Rowling got into this, but the true answer to that is I don’t know. Dickens was reviled as a declasse hack in his day. History will decide greatness. Not our perogative.
      -If you love teaching but hate being a teacher, volunteer at the Y. This discussion is about people who teach for a profession, e.g., teachers. I’m assuming they like it because otherwise they’re fucking idiots to do that instead of a comparable job that pays $11k more.
      -As I said with global warming and evolution, it really doesnt matter if you believe in supply and demand or not, it still determines labor markets.
      -You can paint me as a free market fanatic all you want, but it’s not accurate. I don’t think markets price everything correctly, e.g., pollution, and I don’t believe in winner take all capitalism or small government. And even if I were a Randian tool, character assassination is a cheap and illegitimate response to my arguments. I thought we had a comment policy that precluded personal attacks in argumentation? I could fire back, but I won’t–because it’s not fair, because it would be mean, and because it’s just wrong to attack an argument by attacking the person making the argument. I am disappointed.
      -OK, OK, I get it. Only teachers can criticize teachers and the education system. I’m not a Phd, so I’m not allowed to say education is fucked up. Boy howdy. Fine with me. I wasn’t trying to critique the education system anyway. I never said that we as a country shouldn’t spend more on education. I was just trying to point out that impassioned woolly arguments about raising teacher pay are just plain silly. But you’ve done that for me, I think.

      Enough of that. Let’s get serious again. As anyone who has studied it will tell you, salaries by profession are largely determined by supply and demand.

      If you want to raise the pay of teachers as a group, you have to reduce the number of people who want to be teachers, i.e., shift the supply curve. You can do that by raising barriers to entry (e.g., requiring Phd’s) or by making the job less attractive in some way, e.g., making the hours inconvenient or reducing job security, etc.

      If you want to raise the pay of teachers as individuals, then you have to support a system that allows teachers to demonstrably prove their superiority, e.g., measurement.

      • Let’s say we should invest more in education for reasons of international competitiveness. (It’s not really true, since there’s no corrletion at all between spending on education and competitiveness.http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TERT.PC.ZS?page=2.

        Hmmm. I’d have to examine this closer. Even if you gave me a massive budget I don’t how I could control for all the confounds that occur to me off the top of my head, let alone the ones I’m sure I can’t think of right now. But I’d also acknowledge that this very issue makes the argument plausible in concept.

        Also, the amount the U.S. spends in both absolute dollars and as a percent of GDP has gone up from 4.8 to 5.6% over the last twenty years.http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS)

        This explicitly includes administration, which is perfectly in line with what I have argued is happening here. I’d be more interested in analysis on money spent on student contact hours, or more broadly, spending on direct ad contact, which could include things like advanced tech for teaching reading.

        Still, I agree completely on the underlying point. despite the way I framed my earlier argument, you’re right in that the issue is not how much you spend, per se. It’s more about how you spend, and that’s an area where we could be doing a LOT better. I’m even open, in theory, to the argument that we can spend better without touching teacher salaries. Back to my example above, there may be tech solutions for teaching reading that are more effective than teacher-led, hypothetically. In that case, more teacher salary and more teacher contact might be a bad thing. Not saying that IS the case, but I’m open to the possibility.

        How would we spend it? Not on teacher salaries. We’d spend it on better classrooms, better books, laptops, by giving each child more education, e.g., pre-K and post grad degrees.

        I would not argue with any of this as stated. These things are all important and would be expected to have a meaningful impact on outcomes.

        It could even be spent on more administrators. And that’s where it would be spent.

        Here’s where I’d drop the gloves. I have personally never encountered a school system at any level that doesn’t have plenty of administration. As I have noted before, much of the flab in university costs these days traces to marketing, which includes things like facilities development aimed at attracting kids who like shiny new student ceters.

        If we doubled the amount we spend on education, that would have no effect whatsever on teacher salaries because people are willing to be teachers for $51,210 dollars a year. If you doubled it to $100,000, within no time at all it would be back down to $51K because that’s the market equilibrium.

        This is back to the capitalist system driving the assumptions you make. Yes, if you continued to allow market dynamic to drive salaries, this is precisely what would happen. If, on the other hand, you dedicated yourself to sustaining “above-market” salary structures – which the capitalist assumption would call “over-paying” – this would NOT be the case. Yes, I am explicitly advocating a policy that would ignore market pressures on that equilibrium-seeking function. Best I can tell, the rest of the dynamic from there would work as expected.

        The price of a teacher is $51K and you cant change that because anything you do, the market will counteract. (It’s called displacement.) If you had the federal govt, or whomever you plan to have fund this, write checks for $50K to each teacher, then local school districts would pay them $1K.

        No, because that would be illegal. A teacher’s salary would be, pick a number, $75K or whatever. Where the dollars come from is irrelevant to the market function of attracting talented teachers.

        2. The problem with your value argument comes when you try to determine who’s a good teacher and who’s a bad one. There’s no reliable way to do it today, and teachers oppose most efforts to try, e.g., measurement.

        Here I admit that things get sticky. Yes, measurement can be tough. But a lot of that hinges on the fact that while America has always been a society that loved the scientistic, our rage for quantification has gone nigh-on pathological in the past generation or so.

        There is much you can do quantitatively, yes, but I’d argue that there is also a need for qualitative, master-educator evaluation. We can slug this out another time, because it really is a massive and somewhat separate issue. Still, for now know that I acknowledge – and wholeheartedly embrace – you sense that we have to make sure we know what the term “good teacher” means.

        3. I strongly suspect you’re right and teaching is losing smarter, more ambitious people to other professions that pay more (a practical interpretation of your Samco argument.) That certainly is what econ would predict would happen. Again, that is not to say that all teachers are stupid, just that on average smarter people who could teach or do something else, choose something else.

        This, I think, is the least problematic issue in the whole discussion.

        4. No amount of spending on education will reduce stupidity. It may reduce ignorance, but not if that spending goes to Liberty University or Patrick Henry University or that ilk.

        True, and the grand question of “stupid nation” involves cultural issues that even the best ed program would have fits dealing with. If you look at my recent New Constitution series, you can see attempts to deal with some of that in a larger context. But on this point, yes, you’re correct. Still, what would it mean for the country if you could, on average, make everyone just 5% smarter?

        5. The hours in teaching are very attractive for some demographics. Let’s pretend for a moment that teachers work 80 hours a week. It’s not the total hours, but the structure of those hours. The reason teaching hours are attractive is because they occur from 8 to 3, and not in the summer, which if you have children yourself means you don’t have to pay for child care. To quote Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, When I first started teaching, I thought that I was doing it for all the right reasons — shorter hours, summers off, no accountability…

        That “summers off” thing is partly a yes, partly a no. A lot of teachers work during those months because they need to. I did – I picked up every summer school course I could lay hands on.

        -No idea how Alan Thicke and JK Rowling got into this, but the true answer to that is I don’t know. Dickens was reviled as a declasse hack in his day. History will decide greatness. Not our perogative.

        You’re missing the point. History decides your greatness if, and only if, your culture tolerates criteria beyond the capitalist assumption of monetary value. This is what I was saying about the dynamics that have historically tempered the capitalist excess in the US.

        -If you love teaching but hate being a teacher, volunteer at the Y. This discussion is about people who teach for a profession, e.g., teachers. I’m assuming they like it because otherwise they’re fucking idiots to do that instead of a comparable job that pays $11k more.

        Well, some people stay in things for reasons that aren’t, in the sense we’re discussing, rational. “It’s all I know.” Or “what else would I do?” (I know that person personally. The answer is that she’d be a world-beating corp project manager, but she has no knowledge of that world. Also, we know how HR/staffing types are when faced with a resume they don’t fully grok). Still, no, I won’t defend those who could get out and stay anyway. On the contrary – people like that quickly become disillusioned and it isn’t long before they aren’t good teachers anymore.

        -As I said with global warming and evolution, it really doesnt matter if you believe in supply and demand or not, it still determines labor markets.

        I think I addressed. I “believe in” supply and demand in the sense that I know it’s real. I don’t buy the entire framework from what I guess we’ll call an idealistic perspective. To exaggerate for effect, I “believe in” robbery. It happens every day. But I don’t “believe in” it in a sense that I think it’s a bad thing. Make sense?

        -You can paint me as a free market fanatic all you want, but it’s not accurate.

        That is NOT what I said. This IS an area where your faith in the market is perhaps stronger than others, but I also know you to be a rigorously critical thinker. I just believe that you have encountered some market-driven ideas on ed that made sense to you for a variety of reasons, and whereas I believe in the market in many contexts, I do NOT believe it is the appropriate approach to ALL contexts. This is one of them.

        And even if I were a Randian tool, character assassination is a cheap and illegitimate response to my arguments. I thought we had a comment policy that precluded personal attacks in argumentation?

        Whoa whoa whoa. I have NEVER attacked your character and unless you have something in you that I have never seen I never would. I believe you’re approaching the issue in good faith and proposing ideas that you believe fairly address an area where you see problems. I disagree with you, and strongly, but I hardly think you’re a bad person in any way.

        Whatever I did or said to make you think this was a personal attack, I apologize for.

        -OK, OK, I get it. Only teachers can criticize teachers and the education system. I’m not a Phd, so I’m not allowed to say education is fucked up. Boy howdy. Fine with me. I wasn’t trying to critique the education system anyway. I never said that we as a country shouldn’t spend more on education. I was just trying to point out that impassioned woolly arguments about raising teacher pay are just plain silly. But you’ve done that for me, I think.

        Stop it. You surely know that nobody is saying only insiders can criticize something. What I’m saying is that insiders sometimes see things that outsiders don’t.

        Look, you’re an extremely big dog guy in your field. I have done some work that’s similar in some ways to what you have done, but we both know that a) I have not done as much, and that b) you work much higher up the food chain than I do. This means that while there is some shared expertise generally in our careers, I don’t begin to know a lot of what you do. If I posted something making assertions about senior leadership tendencies in industry X, and you had extensive experience in that industry and I didn’t, you’d point that out. You have, in fact, in conversations with me, made clear where I don’t know X or Y. You’re not telling me to shut the fuck up, but you are acknowledging where you have more relevant experience than I do.

        From there, we can work toward ground where we can both talk. All I’m saying is that you’re dismissing things that I know about. I don’t think I’m being unfair in insisting on my credibility where I have some, and again, I apologize if I somehow framed that in a way you found personally insulting.

        If you want to raise the pay of teachers as a group, you have to reduce the number of people who want to be teachers, i.e., shift the supply curve. You can do that by raising barriers to entry (e.g., requiring Phd’s) or by making the job less attractive in some way, e.g., making the hours inconvenient or reducing job security, etc.

        Again, yes – if I agree to play by the rules of a free market. I may instead opt for what we’d call a subsidy structure re: ed professionals (or programs, or technologies, or whatever was discovered to be the best way of producing optimal results).

        If you want to raise the pay of teachers as individuals, then you have to support a system that allows teachers to demonstrably prove their superiority, e.g., measurement.

        I certainly support such a system, although as noted above, I resist the idea that this is a purely quant challenge.

        Also, I’d certainly acknowledge that the teachers unions of the world are a bit intransigent on this question. I believe there are two reasons/constituencies. First, yes, there are no-talents protecting their asses. But there are also very talented people who simply don’t trust administration. And I don’t blame them

        You have argued that unions start out doing good and then wind up going to hell. I can’t really argue this in general. But they continue to exist because corporate leadership is, well, the Koch brothers. Not uniformly, but plenty. I think a lot of blue collar types would be happy to work with a leadership cadre that was trustworthy, but in an age of rampant neo-feudalism, surely you can understand the distrust.

        I mean, if you were a line machinist and your CEO was one of Art Pope’s puppets, would YOU abandon the union?

      • “Recently, I made same comment to my fellow Scrogues and got some, ummm, disagreement.

        They then trotted out arguments about it being teachers that are entrusted with our most precious resource, our children, that the value they provide is incalculable, that it was kindly Miss McCutcheon in second grade that germinated my love of poetry with her passionate reading of Dr. Seuss. To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Blah blah, woof woof.”’……”When I made this point, my fellow Scrogues stopped hurling insults and picked up stones. One comment was especially interesting. A teacher explained why she taught instead of other professions. She said

        I REALLY hated the 2 months I worked in higher ed tech sales after the company I worked for shut the training department I led. Cold-calling made me feel unclean. I was lucky they didn’t cut my salary for those 2 months from what I had been making as head of training to commission only.”……

        “And even if I were a Randian tool, character assassination is a cheap and illegitimate response to my arguments. I thought we had a comment policy that precluded personal attacks in argumentation? I could fire back, but I won’t–because it’s not fair, because it would be mean, and because it’s just wrong to attack an argument by attacking the person making the argument. I am disappointed.”

        I just want to ask where did ‘making it personal’ start? I don’t know what the comment policies are for S&R but perhaps they are different than the blog content policies.

  10. There is so much wrong (and/or misguided) with this that it’s hard to know where to start, and like Sam, I simply don’t have the time to do it all justice. So I’ll make a few brief points instead.

    1. Supply and demand are both manipulated all the time. So saying that economics is somehow a system of rules that are beyond our control is flat out wrong. Hell, just look at the difference between capitalism in the US vs. the UK vs. Sweden vs. China – economic systems are absolutely within our control.

    2. Markets may be rational, but they fundamentally cannot handle two things that are both critical to your argument – values and externalities. Both values and externalities require a force outside the market to define and enforce, and that’s usually a strong government regulatory system (although labor unions, religion, and other institutions may also qualify).

    Truly valuing education (instead of giving it lip service) would enable us collectively to guide the supply and demand for teachers, and as a result supply and demand would produce higher paid, better qualified teachers.

    3. Markets are also extremely good about creating efficiencies, but the most efficient systems are also very fragile. Supply and demand may have created a system where teachers are paid $51k or so on average, but also one where a tiny push could cause very non-linear behaviors – masses of teachers quitting, an inability to adjust to natural changes in class sizes, overwork leading to violence, and so on. In this kind of a situation, it again takes an outside force to build resiliency into the efficient system created by a market.

    4. As a question of values, do we really want education to be treated as a market? Because you’re essentially making a value judgement that it’s OK for education to be treated as a market.

    • Thank you for the snotty, patronizing intro. I’m not stupid, just misguided. I’m getting a little tired of this personal bullshit, guys.

      1. Yes, supply and demand are manipulated, e.g., the silver market in the sixties and the California power markets in the nineties. However, manipulation tends to be short term and requires tremendous forces to keep it going. It’s a bit like the Atchafala Basin River project. Yes, we can force the natural flow of the Atchafalaya into the Mississippi Rivers, but it takes a tremendous system of levees, pumps and dredging to make it work. It takes a tremendous amount of concerted force to artificially force a market. To the extent that the labor market for teachers is manipulated, it is probably manipulated UP, through union wage bargaining. As Mental said, she gets paid less because she teaches in a non-union environment, so without unions, the average would probably be lower.

      2. True, but see my comment to Sammy. The govt can say we value education more and should spend more on it, but that won’t raise teacher salaries except in the very short term.

      2A. Give me an example of a country that has successfully “guided” markets with the result it’s people are better off. It’s that hubris that has created North Korea.

      3. No. The strength of markets is that they are robust. They correct instantly. The problem is we don’t like corrections.

      4. It doesn’t matter what we want. Education IS a market. A degree from Harvard costs more than a degree from Mississippi. People who graduate from Harvard get paid more than people who graduate from Mississippi. Universities compete for talent. Teachers get paid according to labor market dynamics.

      • Otherwise, if you didn’t want it to get personal, you shouldn’t have written your OP in a way that made it personal. However, I’ll back off because there’s more interesting and productive things to argue about.

        First, I was a bit loose in my terminology, as you fairly latched onto the difference between “manipulated,” as in Enron-style manipulation of the market, and “distortion.” What I should have said is that supply and demand are distorted all the time. And you clearly agree, as you yourself pointed out with respect to the labor union likely having distorted teacher pay upward rather than down.

        Marketplace distortions are rampant. The tax code alone is filled with intentional distortions of markets, from tax credits for small businesses or children to tax deductions for home ownership and student loans. Direct subsidies and grants also distort markets, as do tariffs, as does direct government regulation. Organized labor has the ability to distort markets, as do professional organizations like the AMA. We could certainly debate about whether this or that distortion is good or bad for the country or the world, but there’s no question that it’s reasonably easy to distort the market.

        If we truly valued education, then it would be easy enough to use such entities and approaches as those I list above to distort the marketplace in a way that would result in higher pay for teachers.

        Second, nearly every developed country with single-payer health care is one where the government has guided its market in a way that has produced better results for its people. And every time a government forces a market to account for a new externality, that’s an example of a government guiding a market for the betterment of its people. Two fantastic examples here in the US: the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

        Third, when I’m talking about a market, I’m talking the exchange of actual goods and services and the systems that exist to enable that exchange. I’m not talking about some nebulous mental space where prices are determined, and your response seems to suggest to me that perhaps you’re talking about the latter.

        When I was writing my comment about fragility, I was thinking specifically about manufacturing and Just In Time inventory control systems. They were created in part as a result of market pressure to cut costs via outsourcing/offshoring. However, as the tsunami in Japan illustrated, these systems are also amazingly fragile because the most efficient systems have no redundancy built into them – no spare inventory, no schedule slack. In this case, unfettered markets created a system that cracked when it was hit by something it couldn’t handle.

        Now, as a result supply went down, demand stayed constant, and so prices for what was available went up. Companies who hadn’t planned ahead or were borderline profitable to start with went out of business or were gobbled up by other companies. In these respects, the market worked robustly. But the market was also responsible for creating some of the very conditions that resulted in the price spike, et al.

        Now, it’s fair to ask whether or not this analogy can be applied to teachers. After sleeping on it, I’m no longer convinced that my analogy is applicable to teachers.

        I disagree that markets respond instantly. Some certainly respond very quickly, but some respond quite slowly. The annual hiring/firing cycle in education means that the market in education doesn’t generally respond faster than annually. Other markets have different rates at which they can respond, and I’d guess that most respond on the order of hours to a few days, but that very few are fast enough to qualify as being effectively instantaneous.

        Fourth, I disagree that having teachers paid according to market dynamics is inherent. Or perhaps, if you’d prefer, I think that we as a culture can choose to distort the marketplace responsible for determining teacher pay sufficiently that teaching as a profession can be made more appealing to intelligent, competent people who might otherwise choose a different profession instead.

        Now, I would like to comment on something you wrote in your response to Sam, namely that “there’s no correlation at all between spending on education and competitiveness.” This is such a counter-intuitive statement that I looked at your World Bank link to verify the data for myself. What I found was that the information at that link doesn’t support your statement. It’s a list, by country, of spending on tertiary education (college, grad school, that sort of education) per person and normalized for GNP. Without running correlations of that kind of data against some sort of competitiveness index, the World Bank data can’t support your statement – it’s only half of what you need.

        Did you perhaps paste the wrong link?

  11. Thanks for the discussion guys. I’m dropping off now.

    Basically, I argued that teachers get paid what they get paid for economic reasons and that raising those salaries is unlikely.

    Fundamentally, all the counter-arguments boil down to “well, that shouldn’t be the case.”

    Perhaps it shouldn’t be. You can argue all they want to that the laws of supply and demand shouldn’t govern labor markets, but there’s ample evidence they do, and so far, no one has suggested a way to get around that.

    Because there isn’t one.

    I encourage you to keep at it. Good luck.

    P.S. I’ve decided that climate disruption isn’t real because I dont want it to be.

    • Maybe we’re just talking past each other. I don’t see anyone arguing that things aren’t the way you say they are. Even those of us who hate the situation the worst wouldn’t argue your analysis of things like salary/market equilibrium. You’re right. Of course you’re right. As noted before you, not only do we not disagree with that, that’s what we’re mad about.

      And you’re right, my argument can be boiled down to “it shouldn’t be that way.” I’m not in love with the futility of things, but I certainly recognize it for what it is. I think I make a fair case as to why, but no, not for a damned second do I think there are realistic mechanisms by which my idealistic ideas might be implemented.

      The question, I think, is to what extent you believe that (to quote Pope again) whatever is, is right. Is “this is how the system works” all there is to it for you? Or are you sympathetic to the response, idealistic and doomed though it may be, that it OUGHT to be different?

      • Let me amend a tad. I said: I don’t see anyone arguing that things aren’t the way you say they are. You and Brian have some points of disagreement about the nuances of market function, and I think that’s interesting. Gavin might also have some interesting input, too, although how schooled he is on US ed policy I can’t say.

        My point is more to the question of the whole salary equilibrium issue.

  12. Otherwise: Sorry to see you go on this one, but I understand. I once walked away from this site for a year or so because after many of these same people, complaining that they couldn’t get 100% of what they wanted, politically, were quite happy to get the *opposite* of what the wanted instead of settling for 60% or 70%. They thought that would “send a message.”

    On the other hand, it seems to me that this fight is worth fighting, and on many different fronts. Let’s take the “if you pay more, they will come” front.

    I’m very well acquainted with a young man who spent two years with the organization that the NEA and many, many teachers love to hate: Teach for America. In his first year teaching, he took the number of kids passing California’s STAR test for geometry from 24% the year befoe to 64%. He did it by dividing the classroom into groups and making group leaders responsible for the performance of the people in their groups, structuring classroom time so that not a second was wasted and so that it was impossible for kids to lose attention, holding evening and weekend tutoring sessions, engaging with parents on other evenings by holding meetings and visiting homes, and just generally working his butt off. In his second year, he started a pre-calc course that he taught in what would have been his only free period, attracting a number of students when the administration told him he wouldn’t get even one. The results in his geometry class improved to around 72% passing in his second year. The student evaluations he insisted they write to help him improve his classes said things like, “You changed my life,” and “I thought I was nothing, but now I know I’m not,” and “I learned from you never to give up on anything, and especially never to give up on myself.”

    After two years, he decided he didn’t want to be a teacher. Was it the money? No. He went overseas for a job that paid less than 1/3 of what he was earning as a teacher. Was the work too hard? No. He worked harder in his new job than in his old one. So why? There were two main reasons: (1) the other teachers kept saying things to him like, “They can’t make you work that hard, so stop it,” and ” if you produce those kinds of results, they’ll come to expect them, and then you can never back off,” and (2) he found the work repetitive and, therefore, boring.

    Very bright people don’t necessarily enjoy explaining, for the 10th time, the difference between a quadrilateral and a rectangle over and over again for the rest of their lives. Airlines will often reject candidates for pilot with IQs in excess of 120 because the work drives people with higher IQs to leave. It’s just tedious.

    Couple that with a teaching staff (and he was quick to point out that it wasn’t everyone on that staff, but was a slight majority) that has, in many cases, just given up and is punching the clock, and he decided that he didn’t want to work in that environment.

    So, the idea that paying a great deal more for teachers will suddenly produce an influx of extremely motivated, intelligent, and hard-working teachers is not necessarily true. Quality might go up a bit, but so might turnover.

  13. Here’s another thesis being put forth here, implied if not stated: The teacher as utterly competent, selfless altruist fighting the good fight against daunting odds and barriers erected by uncaring administrators and insane parents. In fact, all of these things exist, but so do lazy, uncaring, incompetent teachers, administrators fighting the union to get to replace these people, and parents trying very hard to help in any way they can, only to be rebuffed by teachers who see their classrooms as private fiefdoms.

    For example, I’m closely connected with someone who spends a great deal of time in a large, local school system. This system has a number of schools with large numbers of struggling, at-risk students. The resistance among some teachers to implementing proven approaches to improving reading comprehension is simply staggering — and we’re talking about techniques that have proven to work in schools exactly like theirs, in the same school district, with exactly the same kinds of kids. I know of teachers who have refused to send books home with kids who want them, even though those books are funded from an outside source that makes it clear that losing said book doesn’t matter because it will be replaced. I know of teachers who have been given (GIVEN) $10,000 to buy books and three months to make a list, only to miss the deadline for submitting the order, losing the grant. But most of all, I know of many, many teachers who consistently cheat their charges by producing terrible readers when teachers at other schools are using easily transferred techniques that produce far, far better results with exactly the same kinds of kids.

    Will these teachers suddenly become good teachers because we double or triple their salaries? I rather doubt it.

    First of all, they would have to know how, and it’s clear to me that many, many teachers will resist, with might and main, any technique that isn’t what they’ve always done so that they can follow their old lesson plans with minimum new work. Second, they, they would have to want to be better at their jobs, and many simply don’t care about their jobs or their students.

    As long as the union protects these people, I think you can expect taxpayers to be very, very leery about paying more to pay teachers.

  14. If you can write, read, follow this long and learned and controversial discussion – you should probably thank a teacher/professor.

    If you have already described college teaching as a profession with “low barriers to entry” and with “good hours”, then I suspect that teacher you offer thanks to will treat your gratitude as crocodile tears.

    The high appreciation of teaching’s value (incalculable though it is) has a long history. Academic gowns were adopted by teachers in the Middle Ages because they were easily identified by highway robbers – who would leave their wearers alone because they knew they had nothing of value.

    Allow me to close by quoting Marx – Groucho Marx – who replied in a letter to “Variety” to an editorial encouraging the Marx Brothers to reunite because of the big payday they could get from a major film studio: “You seem to think that the only thing that matters in life is money – you would be right.”

    Thanks, everyone, for a reminder of the wisdom of Marx.

  15. Pay is such an emotional issue, Jim. Years ago, I did some employee research at what used to be Conoco Chemical. There had been an LBO and management had bought the Conoco assets. Later, there was an IPO that made everyone who owned stock quite wealthy. Practically, this meant that employees with the title of “director” and above became pretty much millionaires, and those at “manager” and below pounded sand. Naturally, these new-minted millionaires all went out and bought luxury cars that they parked in their reserved spaces next to the building so that all the peons got to see them as they walked into the building every morning.

    When I did the qualitative portion of my research, I found that employees were just ripshit angry about pay, and there was no question that it was having a negative impact on productivity, as evidenced by both real numbers and management’s perception. When I asked “what factors should management consider when determining pay,” is was like lancing a particularly swollen boil. What I heard was pretty much what I expected to hear. Factors included such things as length of service, performance, showing up on time, education level, being paid because they were better than people at other companies (this was a Wall Street darling at the time, even though there were making only feedstock), age, family responsibilities and commitments, etc.

    As always, there was the argument, “Well, the company couldn’t run if I didn’t do my job,” which was often true, but largely irrelevant. I mean, for want of a nail, the battle was lost (and I won’t go through that whole piece of doggerel because I’m sure you know it), but it doesn’t mean that we should pay the same amount fora nail that we do for an entire army, eh? Or the same for a crankshaft that we pay for a head gasket, even though both are important to having a properly operating vehicle.

    I knew that no argument about market-determined pay could work in this environment. It would be like standing up in front of a Tea Party group to discuss why government sometimes does good things. So, I shot a film (I think it’s still around here, somewhere) doing interviews with people who answered such questions as, “What is fair pay?,” and “How much is enough?” I then cut it together so we could go out to employee groups, show it, and ask those groups the question, “What does this tell you about fair pay?” Invariably, the answer was, “That people disagree, so there can never be a system that everyone thinks is fair.” From that point, we could explain the rationale behind how this company paid people without causing a fire storm.

    Not surprisingly, I see a lot of the same arguments in this thread. All I can say is that there will never, ever be a way to compensate people that everyone thinks is fair. There can only be the market.

  16. There’s a lot of mental horsepower here being used to beat the poor messenger like a red headed step child with not much thought given to solutions.

    My complaint, voiced as a wish above, is that we’re not doing a very good job educating our children and it shows in many areas of our society. Mouth breathers making poor voting choices is one small example. Prisons overflowing with dropouts another.

    We can do better, we have done better in the past. Bend the market, make the pay and perks commensurate with the task. What possible excuse is there paying district administrators 10 or 20 times what the line teacher is making? Why do we need Taj Mahal district offices while classrooms still sport decaying asbestos ceiling tiles?

    Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Focus on basics, keep the kids engaged and for God’s sake don’t try to model our education system on some bullshit for profit Fortune 500 corporate model. Most of the big outfits I deal with are profitable in _spite_ of their leadership not because of it.

    Some random stats here that firmly suggest we are falling further behind with each new generation.

    http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/03/how-u-s-graduation-rates-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-world/