In the private sector, people with SAT and GRE scores comparable to those of education majors earn less than teachers do. Does that mean teachers are overpaid? Or that public schools should pay more to attract top applicants who tend to go into higher-paying professions?
I'd argue that this is the wrong question. If current teachers earn more than similarly achieving (as measured by the SAT and GRE) private sector employees, that means they must earn the same as private sector employees who are higher achieving.
Given the recent focus on teacher quality, shouldn't the question then be why these higher-achieving graduates choose to do something other than teach despite earning no more than current teachers earn?
One answer is that many people have no idea how much teachers make. All we ever hear is how underpaid teachers are. I recently discovered that the average teacher in my kids' district makes $12K more than I do even though I work year-round - and I've got a BS and an MS in engineering from a highly competitive institution and have been in the job market since the mid-80's. Perhaps I chose the wrong profession.
Certainly, some teachers are overpaid. Champions.net - a watchdog in Illinois - posted the top teachers salaries in the state. A PE teacher in Leyton School District with 30 years experience is pulling in $203K/yr. He has a base salary of $180K. The average teacher salary in Lake Forest is more than $100K. Hundreds of teachers in the Chicago area are pulling in $150+K. Granted, these are affluent suburbs which support the salaries. The problem, of course, is when they retire at 55 and draw $100+K pensions for thirty years. Of course, the converse is most of the rest of the teachers in the state whose scales top out at about $75K. There is a lot of disparity and skewed data in this under/overpaid debate.
The NY Times is inappropriately equating "education majors" with teachers. In my experience, having taught at the middle school and high school level, most upper school teachers were NOT education majors -- they majored in the subject they taught (e.g., history, biology, etc.). I'd be willing to bet that most biology, math, English, etc. teachers who did NOT major in education earn LESS than their non-teaching counterparts. Where's the data on that comparison?
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