Lost in the debate about collective bargaining rights and the related issues of pay, pensions, and health care coverage is the dialogue about a core issue. There is no clear correlation that better paid teachers produce better educated students.
Wisconsin teachers are among the most vocal opponents of Gov. Scott Walker's plan to curtail some collective bargaining rights. Though there is little doubt that good teachers improve student achievement, the evidence that well-compensated educators produce better prepared students is mixed. Wisconsin is a case in point.
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Teachers in Wisconsin fare slightly worse than the national average with starting salaries of $32,642 and a maximum with a master's degree of $60,036. The Tax Foundation says its tax burden is the fourth worst in the U.S., and its QualityCounts ("QC") rating was a C+, about average. What the state underscores is how a dysfunctional system of teacher pay rewards educators with little emphasis on merit. Throwing more money at teachers, however, is not the answer to the myriad of problems affecting the nation's schools.
Data reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. from the National Education Association, The American Federation of Teachers, and PayScale.com, along with discussions with experts from Education Trust, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute, found that there are states with well-paid teachers and superior student achievement such as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But in others, such as Connecticut and California, teachers are paid well and the educational results are average, as measured by the QualityCounts survey issued by Education Week. Florida is an example of a state that did well in QuallityCounts even though its teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. Moreover, its average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading scores ranked 34th and 30th, respectively. All these states, except Florida, rank among the highest among state and local tax burdens, according to the Tax Foundation. The Sunshine State ranked 31st.
The National Education Association, the largest teacher's union, estimates starting salaries for teachers averaging $35,139 with a bachelor's degree. Educators with a master's degree earn as much as $64,883. Of course, teacher's salaries vary widely depending on the tax revenue available, cost of living, and the strength of the local union. They are largely funded by local property taxes. Moreover, their salaries far exceed the wages paid to their counterparts at non-union private schools, according to Reason magazine. Most teachers also received defined benefit pension plans and other benefits not provided to their counterparts in private industry. Some districts are pushing the idea of merit pay, which the teacher's unions have fought.
"I would love to say dramatically raise their pay," says Richard Lemons of the Education Trust, in an interview. He adds that there is no evidence yet that dramatically boosting a mediocre teachers' pay will inspire them to become better at their jobs. In theory, higher teacher pay will entice higher quality candidates into the professions, though there is little evidence that shows these people will be any more successful than current teachers.
Though money won't solve the myriad of woes affecting our nation's schools, it certainly helps. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), many people are turned off by the profession because of its low starting salary, which trails the pay of educators around the world. Teachers have also been "losing ground" to other professions for years, EPI says. A 2008 EPI report argues that teachers with bachelor's degrees earned about 12.2 percent less than their peers in 2006, while the gap between teachers and non-teachers with a master's degree was 11.3 percent. The implications are stark.