The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal strikes again
with another column that is not only blatantly biased, not only full of data twisted to suit the authors' conclusions, but also inaccurate to boot. How this stuff gets into the nation's premier business newspaper is beyond me.
Jay Greene and Marcus Winters take aim at public school teachers, specifically at the way in which they are getting rich off the public's money. They are not underpaid, claim Messrs. Greene and Winters, because their hourly wage is actually higher than that for white-collar workers!
The reason that they want to focus on hourly wages is because teachers are contracted to work an average of 185 days a year, compared to 260 days for other workers. Greene and Winters don't mention this, perhaps because just saying "teachers tend to work fewer hours per year, with breaks during the summer, winter and spring" makes it sound like a lot fewer hours than the reality. Teachers' salaries should not be compared with those who work at their jobs all year.
Fair enough. Greene and Winters cite numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
, a handy little resource that our federal government provides. Unfortunately, from what I can see, their numbers are all wrong. They claim that teachers make $34.06/hr, while white-collar workers in general make - well, they don't say exactly, but the math works out to $21.80/hr. My Public Data Query says differently, with $31.51/hr for teachers and $22.96/hr for white-collar workers. Perhaps there's a good reason for the discrepancy, but it's interesting that my figures show a lower
rate for teachers and a higher
rate for white-collar workers.
Beyond the wrong numbers, Greene and Winters also seek to twist the data and ignore relevant data that contradicts their conclusions. First, national averages are almost useless. Teachers in Rancho Santa Fe, California are not paid $34.06 ($31.51). Neither are the teachers in Elida, NM. Further, when they move to more specific areas, they still overly generalize when convenient and get specific when that is convenient.
They claim that urban areas with higher salaries don't have any better results than areas with lower salaries. Ignoring the difference in cost of living in an urban setting vs. small town or rural, the fact that they wish to use the Detroit Metro's
$47.28/hr ($43.57) to further indict the Detroit School District's
approach to its problems is disingenuous at best. The BLS includes Detroit, Ann Arbor and Flint - along with other suburbs - in its figures. Presumably the various school districts have different graduation rates, test scores and salaries, though my searching didn't find a published salary schedule. I can tell you that the Kansas City, MO school district pays 1st-year teachers with a BA $5,000/year less than school districts in Kansas. This means that while the BLS provides an average of $29.52/hr for the KC metro area, these teachers in KCMO make $20.27. I know I'm not taking into account increases for advanced degrees and years of experience, but I think my point stands.
Speaking of salary increases for advanced degrees and years of experience, Greene and Winters try to make that sound like some sort of scandal in our educational system, as if such things do not exist in other occupations. Are we to believe that a person with 15 years of experience and an MBA will be offered the same salary as a person with 5 years and a BA?
Winters and Greene go on to approvingly cite a test program in Little Rock that tied teachers' bonuses to test scores. The test scores improved, they say, in the areas of the tests that were linked to bonuses! Wow. Color me impressed and quite surprised. Tests are important, and I do believe in not only quantifying what our children are learning but also holding teachers and administrators accountable for that. However, when teachers' salary is entwined with certain test results, they become overpaid, oversupplied and glorified test-prep tutors. Sylvan and Kaplan have that covered, thank you very much. Test-prep will help students memorize multiplication tables, spelling words, vocabulary lists and the like. It will improve their penmanship, I suppose, and perhaps even raise their reading rate. These are good things, but they are far from all that school is supposed to be.
A tutor is someone who helps students to overcome obstacles in certain subject areas, or who helps them prepare for a specific test. A teacher can do all of this, and can help to teach the students how to actually learn. A teacher can help a student discover her passion for physics or his ability to write fiction. A teacher can inspire, can provide needed encouragement and discipline, can identify and draw out abilities that many children don't know they have.
They do this for 185 days a year, and when they are off-contract they take mandated
graduate classes. They buy materials for their classrooms. And all of them are tasked with preparing our children for not only their jobs, but for their lives. They are responsible for teaching our children with integrity, and for the most part they do a damn fine job.
Perhaps that's why lightweights such as Greene and Winters can only attack them and their pay with half-truths and distorted statistics. I wonder what their teachers would think of that?