Are School Teachers Overpaid?

I found a very interesting study on the pay of school teachers, and I think it’s relevant because I’ve been discussing the high pay of the Milwaukee Public School teachers, but the low performance of the district.

Take a look at this study:

How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?

by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters

Executive Summary

Education policy discussions often assume that public school teachers are poorly paid. Typically absent in these discussions about teacher pay, however, is any reference to systematic data on how much public school teachers are actually paid, especially relative to other occupations. Because discussions about teacher pay rarely reference these data, the policy debate on education reform has proceeded without a clear understanding of these issues.

This report compiles information on the hourly pay of public school teachers nationally and in 66 metropolitan areas, as collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey. We also compare the reported hourly income of public school teachers with that of workers in similar professions, as defined by the BLS. This report goes on to use the BLS data to analyze whether there is a relationship between higher relative pay for public school teachers and higher student achievement as measured by high school graduation rates.

Among the key findings of this report:

  • According to the BLS, the average public school teacher in the United States earned $34.06 per hour in 2005.
  • The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker.
  • Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week.
  • Compared with public school teachers, editors and reporters earn 24% less; architects, 11% less; psychologists, 9% less; chemists, 5% less; mechanical engineers, 6% less; and economists, 1% less.
  • Compared with public school teachers, airplane pilots earn 186% more; physicians, 80% more; lawyers, 49% more; nuclear engineers, 17% more; actuaries, 9% more; and physicists, 3% more.
  • Public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide.
  • The Detroit metropolitan area has the highest average public school teacher pay among metropolitan areas for which data are available, at $47.28 per hour, followed by the San Francisco metropolitan area at $46.70 per hour, and the New York metropolitan area at $45.79 per hour.
  • We find no evidence that average teacher pay relative to that of other white-collar or professional specialty workers is related to high school graduation rates in the metropolitan area.

To reiterate interesting points of the study: Teachers work 30 to 40 hours per week, and this figure includes lunch time, rest periods, preparation, and grading time. (i.e. It includes all possible time worked, and probably also includes time spent not working.) The average public school teacher earns $34.06 per hour, and there is no correlation between rates of pay and graduation rates. (i.e. Higher pay doesn’t mean better education.)


  1. Michael Goode

    The question I would like to answer is this: does paying teachers for performance (or paying for greater education) lead to increased performance? Of course the study finds that compensation is not correlated with performance. There are a couple reasons why it is not:

    1. Bimodal distribution: on average, Catholic schools and other private schools are better than public schools, yet their pay is significantly less. This leads to a bimodal distribution of income and outcome, which prevents any correlation in the overall data.

    2. Poor performance leads to greater compensation on a citywide / statewide basis because of the fallacy of greater compensation leading to better teaching. This means that the best paid are in effect rewarded for poor performance of their students.

    3. The single greatest predictor of school performance is the socio-economic status of the parents of the students. This is not generally correlated with teacher pay and would make it hard to see any relationship between pay and student performance.

    The key to educational reform is to destroy the teacher’s union (while we are at it, let’s destroy the doctor’s union too …) so that districts have greater ability to hire and fire and can reward high-performing teachers with high pay. Allowing highly-educated non-teachers to get a teacher’s certificate with minimal fuss would also help and would make the teaching field more competitive.

  2. Tracy Coenen

    Ah yes… you raise a point that isn’t clear in my comments. The current system does not have a cause/effect relationship between pay and performance. Getting rid of the unions, I believe WOULD create a situation in which greater pay causes better performance. Teachers should ABSOLUTELY be judged on their performance and whether or not their students learn. (Of course, the unions won’t let that happen.)

    I was once told by a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher that 40% of the teachers were really bad, and the other 60% ranged from average to outstanding. I believe the union’s main purpose is to protect the jobs of the 40%. Why? If they’re terrible, let them go. (This is an especially important issue now that MPS is losing students rapidly and therefore teachers are being laid off solely based upon seniority.) The 60% needs to get rid of their union to reform the district as a whole.

    Michael – Can you link to a study on your point #3? I am interested in this issue, because we are seeing that here that low income children are doing very well in our voucher program.You have to be at low income to even get a voucher, so that makes me curious about that point you make. I do imagine that the parents who care enough to send their children to voucher schools are also more likely to be involved in their children’s lives and are more likely to emphasize education.

  3. Michael Goode

    Ask and ye shall receive:

    The thing with SES (socio-economic status) is that it is really a proxy for other things. In the case of education, it is likely a proxy for the important latent variables:

    1. opportunity to learn (books in house, ability to take educational trips, parents likely to have more academic discussions and larger vocabularies)
    2. encouragement from parents to learn
    3. encouragement of peer group to learn (John Ogbu–cf. Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb–argued that considering academic success to be “white” and therefore bad is an important factor in the lack of academic success of African Americans)
    4. genetic and perinatal factors that predispose the children to be smarter and more successful

    The first three can all be changed via good schools and involvement of parents.

  4. This is an interesting discussion. I am curious as to whether the above figures are straight salary or include benefits. My guess is that it is probably straight salary. This leads to another point – many of these teachers have benefits that far exceed the benefits of individuals working in the “private” sector. I have a client who retired before age 50 from teaching high school math and is basically getting paid for the rest of his life. There are not too many private companies offering these types of benefits these days.

  5. kay

    Well said Chad – my husband when he retires at 65 or older will get zero. How many ways can you say “Wal-Mart Greeter”! We have tried to save as much as we can for retirement – we do without alot of things. My family that is full of teachers have lake homes because they have a nice pension and have insurance packages … we will have none of that!

  6. Maurice Peugh

    I wish that I lived where you live. The benefits for teachers in Texas are pathetic, and the pay is not great either. In fact, my family was eligible for Chips last year and are eligible for food stamps this year. Teachers are not paid well here. Public school teachers here are not allowed to go on strike assuming that they are even in a union because of the state laws. We are one of the two thirds of people who cannot afford dental insurance described on the news about a week ago. I am certified now in two subject areas: mathematics (6-12) and composite science (8-12). There is no additional pay for a master’s degree or for additional qualifications. Most teachers here in Texas would love the so called 36 hour work week, because most teachers at my school work in excess of 60 hours per week and get paid only for about 40 weeks. In order to get a clearer picture, why doesn’t someone go sit in with a few teachers for a few weeks and see what teachers actually do. Otherwise, you don’t have a clue. Unfortunately, some things can’t be learned from sitting behind a computer or just looking at books and articles. By the way, Tracy, I scored very high on my Science Certification test!

  7. Tracy Coenen

    Maurice – Why don’t you get another job if it’s so horrible? If your family is on food stamps, then you also need a second job and your wife needs to get a job too. It is your responsibility to feed your family.

  8. Diane

    I am a public school teacher and spend countless hours outside of the required 39 doing work for the students to help them in achieving greater performance on standardized tests and dual enrollment (college) classes. I am in a great school division, I work very hard, and I find the career quite rewarding in spite of all of the work involved – above and beyond most jobs.

    The country was founded on the free enterprise system. Anyone in the country is free to go into this profession if it appears to be a “piece of cake job”. There is no guarantee that greater pay equates to greater performance by the students. It is a career that an individual must pursue because they are genuinely interested in the young people of this country and they want to “make a difference”.

  9. Maurice Peugh

    If there is not a raise in the next year in Texas, I will leave the teaching profession next year. I will have no choice. You have a nice day. Highly qualified people can always leave a job when the pay is poor leaving the mediocre people that the policymakers deserve.

  10. Bruce

    Teachers are highly overpaid for a such a non technical profession. Easy hours and tons of holidays, I honestly with I had followed that route when I was younger. I think though that modern technology will pretty much render the profession useless in the future.

  11. Juanler

    Another teacher bashing article poorly supported by anything but a little piece of data. What you’ve done is not find any actual evidence that proves a claim, you’ve simply found the one piece that supports your personal view. You had your opinion first then went to find something to support it. Real articles/posts are created by first finding evidence and facts, understanding it, then creating an opinion based off it. And when I say evidence, I mean all evidence. Like this article.

    He didn’t just look at one thing. He actually collected evidence from several different areas and constructed an opinion based on it.

    So far, most of the people here have done nothing but run around yelling “Look! I have the proof I’m right!! It’s all right here!” At the same time you ignore anything else out there that might suggest something different.

    I’m pretty sure not a single person who has posted here, saying teachers are overpaid, actually knows what it is to teach. What teachers actually have to do. If I thought the same way I could say accountants have it easy, they just plug numbers into a calculator. Farmers have it easy, they just sit and drive machines around. Doctors have it easy they just look at someone, write down some notes, and charge a fee. Police have it easy, they sit and pull people over all day, not a very tough job. Of course, I’m not that ignorant.

    A completely worthless blog post based off a competely unclear view of reality.

  12. Tracy Coenen

    Juanler – You say this is based on “a completely unclear view of reality.” Are you saying that the facts put out by MPS about teacher pay and benefits are not true? Are you saying the research in this report I’ve cited was less extensive than the research done for the article you’ve cited? The article you’ve cited probably took about 1 hour to research, while the report I cite here probably took a hundred hours or more. But your article is more credible? I think not.

    And not that it matters… But I’ve been teaching for the last 9 years, so I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp on what the job entails.

  13. Juanler

    “And not that it matters… But I’ve been teaching for the last 9 years, so I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp on what the job entails.”

    I don’t see an education degree or listed employment in any school on your “About Tracy” page. You must have accidentally left that out.

  14. Juanler

    I guess I should also be clear as to what I was referring to. I was talking specifically about your post. You found one piece of information and ran with it. You didn’t look for any other information. You saw this and stopped. The other people who have posted here did the same thing. They saw one piece of information and based an entire opinion off it. The link I pasted shows someone who looked for more than one piece of information to form an opinion. Finding one study, no matter how well or how long it was done, will never provide a clear picture of the reality of anything. I’m not questioning the article you cited. I’m questioning the idea that one piece of information can be strong enough evidence to support an entire opinion of something, whether it’s positive or negative.

  15. Tracy Coenen

    If you can’t find the information on my website, it’s not my problem. And you’re right in that I found a very credible research paper that I cited. And yes, I formed an opinion based on their research. This research is far more credible than the article you’ve cited, so I think it’s a great piece of information to consider. And incidentally, I’ve cited many other things on this topic on this site, so there goes your argument about “one piece of information.”

  16. Juanler

    You said you have taught for 9 years yet have nothing to back that claim up with. That’s like me saying I know about the tax system and fraud and that I can make opinions about what you do without backing up my claim with any supporting education or actual experience.

    This entire discussion is based off one single piece of information.
    How can any opinion be formed on something when there has only been a single clue presented. What I cited was not research, it was another opinion. An opinion like yours. But they used more than one source to base it off of. My point is not the relevence of the article you cited. My point is how you and others are making an entire one sided opinion on something without looking beyond one single source.

  17. Tracy Coenen

    Of course I can back it up, even though I don’t need to prove anything to you. Again, the fact that you can’t find the information about this on my site is not my problem. And again, there is plenty on this site about the educational system, the issue on this page, other sources of information, and my opinions. If you’re too ignorant to look around and read and comprehend, that’s not really my fault.

  18. Juanler

    I think you should have to back it up. You’re making a claim that you know what a profession is like and that you did it for 9 years. So here is a simple yes or no question. Did you teach children, K-12, in a public or private school for 9 years? Just so I’m clear I’m not asking if you lectured at a university or talked to a group of people to inform them about fraud or taxes. I’m asking about the actual teaching profession that you are questioning with this post.

    As far as other supporting articles, I haven’t another single article cited by you on any of your other posts addressing teacher pay. This post is about teacher salary. It’s the only post you’ve made about it and the article you cited is the only information you used. You call me ignorant yet you can’t answer any of my questions or even follow what I post. I have read your other posts and they have nothing to do with this issue. Most of your posts involve you ranting over some issue while you call people idiots and stupid. Many times, like this post, you find one single article to support what you’re talking about. Many of your sources don’t exist anymore. You keep talking as though you are completely informed on this subject yet most of your posts are simply an opinion you toss out and rave on about. If you walked into a court room for a case on fraud with a single piece of paper to support your claim, they’d throw your case out.

    I’m sorry, but you rant and rave about the educational system where you are at and how horrible and bad the teachers, administration, and other people are. They might be. But you lack anything that actually helps people understand the problem or even any suggestions on how to fix it. Most of your supporting information is shallow or non-existant. I can understand being angry with a school district. But don’t claim things as fact about a whole profession. Don’t look at things through such a narrow view. You clearly aren’t finding all the information to make a just and sound opinion. I think you’ve already made up your mind about education, teachers, and schools. Now you’re just trying to find information to support your opinion.

  19. Tracy Coenen

    Hi again Juanler! No, I don’t have to prove anything to you. Yes, I have taught for 9 years. Yes, it is on this website. Again, the issue of teacher pay is discussed many times on this site, so if you think this article is the only mention of teacher pay, then you’ve just proven how ignorant you are.

    You said: “If you walked into a court room for a case on fraud with a single piece of paper to support your claim, they’d throw your case out.”

    Really? How do you draw that conclusion? How could you know if one piece of paper is or is not enough to support an allegation of fraud? In my experience, a piece of paper can be enough to prove fraud. Yes, one piece of paper.

    You are really out of your league here with your criticisms. You have no basis whatsoever for claiming I’m not making a “just” or “sound” opinion. In fact, my opinions are backed in general by years of experience and research, as well as the ability to understand and analyze issues.

    Should you like to comment again on this blog, please bring some actual facts or substance.

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