On cue from City Hall and Tweed, Manhattan Institute fellows Jay Greene and Marcus Winters appeared on the op-ed page of Thursday’s New York Post to declare that New York City public school teachers are already very well paid. And just in case someone might miss the immediate import of those comments [this is, after all, the Post, which never overestimates the intelligence of its readers], the piece begins with an explicit reference to Tuesday’s UFT Delegate Assembly resolution which laid down a deadline for the completion of contract negotiations.
Someone is overpaid here, but it isn’t the public school teacher.
There are two extraordinary features of Greene’s and Winters’ argument. First, they build their entire edifice on a premise that they know to be false, and that the scholarly literature clearly and unambiguously refutes: the notion that teachers only work the contractually required hours. And to add insult to injury, they suggest that teachers do not even work the contractually required number of hours: “if we make the generous assumption that the average teacher in New York works the maximum 6.6 hours a day allowed by the union contract…” In this intellectually dishonest way, Greene and Winters misrepresent the contractually required minimum as the maximum a teacher can work, as if the collective bargaining agreements somehow prevent teachers from working a minute beyond the official teacher work day.
In point of fact, all of the scholarly literature which has examined the work day, work week and work year of teachers has found that the actual work of teachers is, on average, at least 30% greater than the minimum time required under collective bargaining agreements. The last national Schools and Staffing Survey produced by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that American teachers were contractually required to work a minimum of 37.9 hours per week, but that they put in, on average, an additional 11.9 hours of work every week. A study published in the Monthly Labor Review, the publication of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor, concluded that teachers engaged in over ten hours of school related work every day, even though the contractually required time was only six and a half hours. Moreover, there is evidence that the work of teachers has intensified over the last decade, and that teachers are now working longer hours than they have anytime since scholars began studying these questions. And these are studies produced not by teacher advocates or ‘special interest’ groups, but by government agencies with a well-deserved reputation for the production of independent and accurate information.
So when Greene and Winters do all of their calculations of how well teachers are paid based on the contractual minimum a teacher must work, they knowingly understate, by rather significant magnitudes, the actual work time of teachers. This produces, in turn, a rather overstated hourly wage of teachers. They then go on to compare that understated hourly wage with the hourly wage of other occupations, such as police, firefighters, biologists, chemists and mechanical engineers, almost all of whom receive overtime [time and a half] pay for any work beyond the contractually minimum work day. They also incorrectly suggest that the latter three occupations require more of an education than teachers, which is certainly not the case in New York, where all teachers must possess a Masters’ Degree.
The same sort of disingenuousness characterizes the Greene and Winters discussion of the median annual salary of NYC public school teachers, which the DOE reports as $53,017. Without any consideration of the cost of living in New York City, which is second highest in the United States [behind only San Francisco], or any consideration of teacher salaries in the metropolitan area [the median salaries in suburban districts range are between 31% and 33% greater the NYC median salary], they pronounce NYC school teachers “especially well paid.” Yet New York City teachers rank near dead last among teachers from major metropolitan centers in the United States on key indices, such as the ratio of teacher salaries to the average annual salary and per capita income in the metropolitan area.
The secondary extraordinary feature of the Greene and Winters argument is the way they simply disregard and ignore a whole body of data and analysis on the subject of teacher salaries which does not conform to the thesis they advance. Consider the following data, which they never address.
* Among college educated professionals with advanced degrees, American teachers’ annual earnings are at the bottom of the salary scale, below not only doctors, lawyers and business executives, but also accountants, nurses, sales supervisors, writers and artists, and social workers, the Economic Policy Institute reports.
* According to the Quality Counts 2000 report of Education Week [registration required], American teachers at the start of their career [ages 22 to 28] with Bachelors’ degrees earn $7894 less than similarly aged college graduates; at the height [ages 44 to 50] of their career, the gap has grown to $23655. The differentials are even greater for teachers with Masters’ degrees, such as those in New York; at the height of their career [ages 44 to 50], they earn $32,511 less than other similarly aged Masters’ degree holders outside of teaching.
* The last decade has seen the lowest increases in teacher salaries in the last forty years [since the advent of collective bargaining] and a decline in the relative standard of living of teachers [ratio of teacher salary to per capita GDP] to the lowest mark in the last forty years, and teachers are losing ground to other professions, according to the AFT’s annual surveys and analysis of teacher salary trends.
So upon investigation it is not the notion of an “underpaid New York City public school teacher” which is mythic, but rather, Greene’s and Winter’s argument that those teachers are “especially well-paid.” And make no mistake about it: they know they are promulgating a fable of the “over-paid teacher” here. This is one of the highlights of their new book they are promoting, Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You To Believe About Our Schools. The book is full of arguments such as the one we just dissected, leading Richard Lee Colvin to describe it in the Los Angeles Times as a “selective and unconvincing” journey through “the labyrinth of educational research.” While Greene and Winters present themselves as ‘independent’ and ‘neutral’ voices in educational policy discussions and debates, they are well-known partisans of vouchers and other efforts to privatize public education. They are modern versions of the traditional Chinese mandarins, intellectuals trained and committed to the service of those within the state who would impose a ‘laissez-faire market’ solution to every problem.