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Posted at 05:26 PM ET, 11/01/2011

Are teachers paid too much?


(Former) D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee (left) chats with 3rd grade student Charleisha Calder, 8. (Gerald Martineau - For The Washington Post)
I never thought I’d do this, but I’m going to call Michelle Rhee, superstar school reformer who can’t do enough to diminish the role of teachers unions, as an expert witness on the subject of teachers.

Yet another report has been published purporting to tell us something new about the world of education. This one, called “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,” makes the argument that teachers are overpaid.

The authors, Jason Richwine, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, and Andrew Biggs, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, both highly conservative organizations, generally say that:

*Public school teachers earn more money than people with the same skills in the private sector and therefore are overpaid.

*The education teachers receive isn’t good for anything and that advanced degrees aren’t worth additional compensation like, say, a physician or architect would get. “The field of education is less challenging than other academic concentrations,” it says.

There are other points in the paper, which you can read here, but perhaps the most telling is this, my personal favorite: “We should be careful not to draw strong conclusions about the wages of a single occupation from a regression such as this one.” And then the paper proceeds to draw strong conclusions about the wages of a single occupation, teaching.

Actually, according to the Teachers Salary Project, teachers aren’t raking in the dough. The average starting salary for teachers in the United States is $39,000, and the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. Is that overpaid for people who are charging with educating young people?

Even Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor who now spends much of her time advocating for government policies that diminish the role of teachers unions, doesn’t think teachers are overpaid.

While running D.C. schools, she attracted private money from foundations to implement a teacher evaluation scheme that offered merit pay to some teachers that could have elevated salaries to about $130,000.

Here’s what she wrote in The Huffington Post last May, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week:

“The average teacher salary in the United States is estimated to be around $55,000. Surely your favorite teacher is worth more than that. What's more, teachers tend to earn minimal increases in lockstep with each other and without regard to how well they are actually doing. Excellence goes unrewarded.”

And here’s part of a statement Rhee gave to Politico about the new report:

“No, we do not agree that teachers are overpaid. Under the status quo in most school districts, good classroom teachers are not only undervalued in pay, but as professionals generally.”

We will not dwell on the irony in the statement by Rhee that the teaching profession is undervalued and simply say that if you can’t believe Michelle Rhee about how much to pay teachers, who can you believe?

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By  |  05:26 PM ET, 11/01/2011

 
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