I recently came across an interesting post on the "Public School Insights" blog from back in March entitled "Teacher Pay is Prosperity Proof". It discusses a report from the liberal think tank the Economic Policy Institute called The Teaching Penalty. You can read the full 82 page report here, but in a nutshell the researchers argue that the average weekly pay in 2006 for teachers was 14.3% below those in "comparable occupations".
The validity of this argument hinges on whether the occupations selected for comparison truly are comparable. The authors of the report give a highly technical explanation for how they chose "comparable" occupations, but a number of the results seem to defy basic common sense.
Here's the occupations the authors claim are comparable to teaching: accountant, reporter, registered nurse, computer programmer, clergy, personnel officer. Okay, I can see nurse, clergy, and possibly personnel officer because like teaching these are all "helping" professions. But the others strike me as having little similarity to teaching.
Including accounting and computer programming in particular is going to skew the results because those have some of the highest entry level salaries for new college graduates (as of 2007 they were $46,718 and $56,201 respectively). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 25th percentile of wages for accountants is $44,230 and the 75th percentile is $75,020. For computer programmers, the numbers are $51,450 and $87,950.
Two occupations that strike me as much more similar to being a schoolteacher are social worker and librarian. According to the BLS, the 25th percentile of wages for social workers is $30,250 and the 75th percentile is $50,530. For librarians, the numbers are $40,730 and $63,440.
If I average the BLS median weekly wage for social worker, librarian, registered nurse, and personnel officer, I come up with a figure of $940. That's only $20 greater than the EPI number for the average weekly wage for teachers. Not to mention that that if I average the numbers from the BLS data for elementary, middle, and secondary schoolteachers, it results in a figure of $1,205/week, which is 28% more than the average for the 5 "helping" occupations.
My college stats professor used to love to remind us of the old saying about there being 3 kinds of falsehoods: lies, d*** lies, and statistics.
So the next time you hear someone using the EPI report to bolster his/her argument that teachers are underpaid relative to comparable occupations, you'll know to be appropriately skeptical...