Do We Pay Teachers Enough?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jack Kelly examines total compensation packages of public employees (teachers specifically) and private sector employees, reciting statistics that show that the former do better than the latter, particularly in New Jersey.
[A teacher in Rutherford] told Mr. Christie she teaches "because she loves it." I don't doubt she meant that. But private sector workers in New Jersey -- the ones whose taxes pay Ms. Wilson's salary -- don't think she's suffering financially for her career choice. ..And the resistance of the teacher's union to the modest sacrifices Mr. Christie is asking them to make in New Jersey is making people angry. In a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University released late last month, only 33 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the New Jersey Education Association, while 44 percent had a negative view
They’re all correct. (How’s that for pulling punches?) Mr. Kelly’s right: if you add in generous benefits and summers off, teachers make more than private sector employees. Gov. Christie and an riotous public are right: public education costs too much in NJ; it’s an unsustainable enterprise, especially in our near-bankrupt circumstances. While the average state spends $10,889 per pupil per year, in NJ it’s a whopping $17,620, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. And the Rutherford special ed teacher is right. (She’s made headlines for going head to head with Christie at a town meeting that went viral on youtube.) If she’s a great teacher, she’s not adequately compensated for her graduate degree, experience, and hours dedicated to students beyond the school day.

Here’s the problem: if we pay all our teachers equally, the only metric seniority, then we stiff our best instructors and overpay our poor ones. If the Rutherford teacher wants to be compensated appropriately, then she needs to get her NJEA representatives to agree to treat her like a professional, not a widget. The problem’s not, as the article discusses, the Governor’s request (largely disregarded) for a one-year pay freeze and a 1.5% contribution of base pay to health benefits. The problem is that we don’t incorporate teacher effectiveness into compensation. The result is that our best teachers don’t get paid enough and our mediocre teachers get paid too much. Average it out and you have one unhappy Rutherford teacher.

Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to measure teacher effectiveness. It’s not that hard, especially if we upgrade our inadequate and clumsy DOE data system. It won’t be perfect. But we’ll get better at it as we go along. Courage! Don’t make the great the enemy of the good!

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