For as long as I can remember, teachers have complained about their pay. The recent statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia and the threat of another in Oklahoma are the latest examples. Whether teachers are indeed underpaid depends to a large extent on regional differences in the cost of living (“The Fight Over Teacher Salaries: A Look At The Numbers,” npr.com, Mar. 16).
Consider Indiana and California. The average salary in the former is $50,715, while in the latter it is $72,842. But when the cost of living is factored in, the two states’ salaries are within $100. The Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for my entire 28-year career, has increased salaries over the last decade, with the maximum salary now $80,116. But housing eats up a disproportionate portion of that. For example, the rent for a typical one-bedroom apartment in West Los Angeles is $1,900.
Nevertheless, there are those who argue that teachers are not underpaid. They say that total compensation amounts to about $1.50 for every $1 their skills could garner in a private sector job. Put differently, a teacher earning $51,000 would receive another $51,480 in present or future fringe benefits. In contrast, an employee in the private sector with the same salary would receive only about $22,185 in fringe benefits. In short, salaries alone are a misleading gauge. Fringe benefits and job security need to be taken into account.
Then there is the old argument that teachers teach fewer days and shorter hours than workers in the private sector. They see teachers leaving school at 3:00 and assume that their day is over. They forget that teachers need to prepare lessons and correct papers even if they don’t do so on school grounds. Summer vacations are often spent taking classes or working a second job.
But I think the strongest rebuttal to the charge that teachers aren’t underpaid is the growing shortage. If teaching is such a plum, then why aren’t more college graduates entering the field and making it a career? In a real marketplace, supply and demand find a balance. Somehow, that law doesn’t apply to teaching.
(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)