Teacher Pay Study Asks the Wrong Question, Ignores Facts, Insults Teachers

As millions of Americans search for work, and millions more scrape by to make ends meet, researchers affiliated with two Washington think tanks — the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation — have recently announced a “finding” that defies common-sense: America’s teachers are overpaid by more than 50 percent.

The new paper from Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs fails on several levels.  First, it asks the wrong question.  Second, it ignores facts that conflict with its conclusions.  Lastly, it insults teachers and demeans the profession.

Instead of asking whether teachers are overpaid, Richwine and Biggs should have asked what it would take to recruit and retain highly effective teachers for all students.  Surveys show that many talented and committed young people are reluctant to enter teaching for the long haul because they think the profession is low-paying and not prestigious enough.

McKinsey & Co. did a study (PDF) last year comparing the U.S. to other countries and found that America’s average current teacher salaries — starting around $35,000 and topping out at an average of $65,000 — were set far too low to attract and retain top talent.

The McKinsey report found that starting teacher salaries have not kept pace with other fields. In 1970, beginning New York City lawyers earned $2,000 more than first-year teachers. Today, a starting lawyer there can earn three or four times as much as a beginning teacher.

Money is not the reason that people enter teaching. But it is a reason why some talented people avoid teaching–or quit the profession when starting a family or buying a home.  Other high-performing nations recruit teachers from the top third of college graduates.  That must be our goal as well, and compensation is one critical factor.  To encourage more top-caliber students to choose teaching, teachers should be paid a lot more, with starting salaries more in the range of $60,000 and potential earnings of as much as $150,000.

Great teachers stand at the summit of one of the hardest, most challenging, and most consequential professions for our children and the country’s future economic prosperity.  They deserve our respect and should be well-remunerated.  Nevertheless, through tortured analysis, and in some instances a disregard of their own data, the authors of this new study reach a predictably contrary conclusion.

Traditionally, economists have analyzed teacher pay the same way they analyze pay in other professions–they have compared the pay of teachers to workers with similar education and work experience. Like many before them, Richwine and Biggs found that teachers did indeed receive lower pay than similarly educated workers — almost 20 percent lower.

I agree that educational credentials are not the best measures of teacher effectiveness — but the researchers go on to assert that teachers should not be compared to workers with similar educational credentials because teachers do not score as well on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test.  Setting aside the fact that the AFQT does not measure teacher effectiveness, it is insulting and demeaning to argue that teachers are not smart enough to receive market compensation comparable to their peers based on the results of a test that most of them took as teenagers.

The researchers also ignored a chart in their own paper showing that teachers have similar overall benefit packages to private employees. Unhappy with those findings, they then exaggerated the value of teacher compensation by comparing the retirement benefits of the small minority of teachers who stay in the classroom for 30 years, rather than comparing the pension benefits for the typical teacher to their peers in other professions.

Finally, they appeared to create out of thin air an 8.6 percent “job security” salary premium for teachers — despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of education jobs were lost in the recession and teachers continue to face layoffs.

By the end of this decade, more than half of America’s 3.2 million teachers are expected to retire. That demographic shift presents a stiff challenge and a special opportunity.  States, districts, and schools have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to modernize the teaching profession and expand the talent pool. But doing so will require dramatic change in the way we recruit, train, support, evaluate, and compensate teachers.

I agree with Richwine and Biggs on one point.  If teachers are to be recognized and compensated as professionals, states and school districts must shift away from a blue-collar assembly line model of compensation–and do more to reward effectiveness and performance in the classroom.  A performance-based compensation model will enable great teachers to earn more, justify higher salaries, and raise the stature of the profession.

Americans need and deserve an honest, open debate about the teaching profession, framed by evidence, not ideologically-tilted studies like this one.  The debate in Washington today should be about how to judiciously invest in education.  How can we best modernize schools with crumbling infrastructure so they can teach 21st century skills? How can we keep teachers in classrooms, instead of on unemployment lines? And yes–even when budgets are tight–how can we make teaching a more attractive career and elevate the profession?

The answer to these questions cannot be to cut teacher pay and put tens of thousands of teachers out of work. Even in a time of fiscal austerity, education is more than just an expense.  It’s an investment in the future.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

This post was updated on November 10, to more accurately reflect the authors of the study.


  1. Hey people! The question should be asked – What makes one a teacher? One would have to have stmina, perservrance, caracter and backbone to stand in front of 15 to 30 or more people. People who may or may not be receptive of your effort to make them develop in to well educated individuals. How does one do that? Bring out the best of so many people. Teaching is no picnic. Most people could not even last a day in front of this new generation of young people.

    Then you have to deal with the parents and the principal. No people. Teaching is not an easy job. It is struggle every step of the way. Most “good” teachers love the challange. But most teachers who cannot produce the results they want, struggle. In both cases they ought to receive an award, and get the help they need because they are trying to make this world a better place by developing a new generation to make this world a better place for us all.

    By the way I’m a teacher and I want to say thanks to my fellow teachers for all you do. At least you tried and did not give up! Your work is priceless.

  2. Teacher’s pay is quite a contradictory subject.
    On one hand, I know how hard teacher’s job is, I used to be a teacher, but I don’t think their income should be compared to lawyers’ income and such.
    How many people are really making more than $40,000 a year? Not that many.
    There are just 15 to 20 professions that get paid very well, but the majority of the people make $15,000-40,000 a year.
    A person working in retail who has to deal with customers all day long and never get to sit down for a second during 8-hour shift makes only $15,000 a year or so.
    So why should teachers make $60,000 to $120,000 that all comes out of our tax payer’s money? That is my question.

  3. Teachers are very important and special they are under paid they one of the most important people in our world and it not right for people to think that their over paid . School surely not simple DAYCARE IT IS A INSTITUTION OF LEARNING FOR OUR CHILDREN FUTURE and PARENT NEED TO DISCIPLINE AT HOME that way teachers would spend less time discipline and time teaching

  4. Dear Secretary Duncan,

    I want to thank you not only for addressing the questionable conclusions in the Richwine and Biggs study but, more importantly, continuing to use the influence inherent to your position to drive the conversation in a productive, positive direction: that of teacher evaluation reform. A pass/fail evaluation system would never be acceptable for America’s students and the typical binary evaluation system in place today for the majority of America’s teachers is certainly not suitable for those of us who educate children.

    I am an urban educator who has been involved for 12 years in conversations to create an evaluation and compensation system that both competitively rewards teachers and provides avenues for improved pedagogy. As a Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow and a School Captain at Educators 4 Excellence, I frequently speak with teachers who want to be held accountable in a fair and transparent system and paid for their expertise. Furthermore, teachers long for an evaluation system that is reflective, efficient, and provides opportunities for meaningful growth as educators.

    I was fortunate to see the creation of well-balanced teacher evaluation and compensation system when I began my career in Denver, Colorado in 1999. Before and during my time there, Denver Public Schools, along with the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, created and implemented ProComp, a groundbreaking system that rewarded excellent pedagogy and allowed talented teachers to afford to remain in the classroom. I urge you to continue to look at the successful reforms that are happening in Denver and other districts as we all work together to find an evaluation and compensation system that recruits and retains high-quality teachers and ultimately improves student achievement.

  5. Rob yes sorry for the confussion my apologies if I took your comment the wrong way. I m just tired of rea ding people’s complain about teachers. it doesn’t end.

  6. The study was bogus. Teachers have no paid holidays, no paid vacation, and no overtime. Teachers are paid for 180 days of instructional time with students. The fall and spring breaks, Christmas break, etc. are days WITHOUT pay- in essence mandatory layoffs. Yet every teacher works most of those uunpaid days.

    Some school districts in Indiana now have policies to REQUIRE teachers to leave the school buildings by 11 or 12 o’clock at night so that custodians or security personnel can secure the building for the night. That’s how much time Indiana’s and the USDOE paperwork and testing mania are forcing teachers to commit. Most teachers work the equivalent of two jobs in one day’s time, and get paid for less than one compared to other professionals.

    Secretary Duncan’s words for greater teacher salaries are a welcome departure from his denigration of teaching and public education over the last 3 years. Yet, he is still out of his depth. His version of multiple measures of school accountability is more tests. He makes it painfully apparent that he has no teacher training, has never been a teacher, and spends very little time with teachers. If he wants to help public schools, teachers, students and Pres. Obama succeed, he should step aside and let a seasoned classroom teacher run the Dept. of Ed. There is no tougher management training than managing a classroom of 35 students with multiple learning styles, intellectual abilities, languages, motivations, home backgrounds, parental involvement, and values.

    Educators need a real partner in the DOE, and we needed it when No Child Left Behind first passed. We have 10 years of catching up to do, and I’m desperate for a real educator to help us get there.

  7. Mr. Duncan:
    Though I am not an American, I am from Guatemala in Central America, and even if I did not start as a teacher, I have been teaching since I left College. I love my calling and I love children of a all ages. I read Mr. Duncan´s article with great interest and I find myself to be solidary with all teachers, both in my country as well as in yours. Teachers have been demeaned and underpaid for a long time. Our work is special, we have the elements of change in our hands and the most important thing is that children go to school and should find there a second home where they are cherished and educated, formed into persons of value, shown that they hold the future in their hands, that students their will be the centers of society when they start their own families, and that we as teahcers have an importan role to play there.
    Great teachers nevertheless, for schools to value and consider important and therefore to be paid the salaries other professionals are earning.
    Positions for these persons should be atttractive salarywise, they should have the priviledge to be able to choose the best ones and the better paid ones comparable to other fields.
    Teachers must be cherished both by parents as well as by Educational Institutions so that students of all ages can see this and respect their own teachers as highly able professionals and deserving of higher wages.

  8. Our country is filled with professional “teacher haters”. It is quite apparent that Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs made no attempt to research their article.
    It is also quite apparent that they have no knowledge at all concerning the area of Education.
    Rumor: They discussed long holiday breaks.
    Fact: The only holiday break that is 5 days long is Christmas and Spring Break.
    Rumor: They refer to the summer break as a paid holiday.
    Fact: Ridiculous statement! Teachers are not paid for the summer.
    Rumor: It’s mentioned that teachers use the summer to seek out additional employment as though it were a treat.
    Fact: Teachers will seek additional work because they are underpaid. The money is needed.
    Rumor: Teachers have many benefits..they are just hidden.” Another assumption. Translation…I don’t have a clue as to what I am writing about..I’ll just guess.
    I hope that they were not paid for that article. There are no facts…just a bunch of “hear say” and “wishful thinking”. I wonder how many other articles did they “just wing it” rather than gather information. This article says a lot about their character.

  9. Thank you Mr. Duncan for taking the time to bring this topic to the forefront. I have been teaching for 24 years, and still absolutely love what I do. That said, I am making less than $55,000 after 24 years in this profession. I think the problem lies in the fact that we are a capitalistic society, and if we make a shirt for $4 and then sell it for $7 we have made a profit that we can see. Education is different. The return on our investment is 20 plus years in the making. There are many variables that go into this profession and it’s different for each child, each classroom, every day and every year. On a given day, there can be many outcomes to a student’s day, positive and negative, all which build to the adult they become and the career paths they choose. Teachers play a huge part in this process but because we have different “clients” every year we don’t always get to see the depth and breadth of the impact that we have on a child’s future. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers that say, ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher.” But are we all willing to put that investment in? If we were paid according to the amount of work we do, the impact we make, the hours we put in every day, the care we give, we’d earn a salary comparable to other top professions. We are in teaching for the passion we have to make a difference, celebrate each child, find the aha moments, and help each child on a path to success, whatever that means for that child each day for the rest of their lives. Thank you for appreciating all that we do Mr. Duncan, and for understanding that in order to make teaching an iconic profession, we need to be compensated to keep the best and most effective teachers in the classroom and to reach out to the ones that should and could be in our classrooms if they could support their families on the current salaries.

  10. Thank you for your response, Mr. Duncan.

    I think the discussion about teachers’ pay and student performance has been “off the mark” for many, many years. First of all, our teachers deserve to be paid the very best, as they are preparing our young people who will BE the future.

    But, I believe the very best thing we can do for our teachers today is prepare our most economically disadvantaged children for their future. Head Start is tooo late. Studies show that a child’s development begins in the womb and what occurs from 3 months of age is extremely important.

    Is anyone making the connection that we are now predicting prison population based on students not reading at grade level at the end of 3d grade? In VA we will pay $30,000 a year for a prisoner but haggle over money for preschool.

    My long-held belief (having worked inner-city Chicago in 1958; starting a pre-school for poor 5-year-olds in 1963 in Charlottesville VA when VA had NO public kindergartens; and helping establish an all-day care program for low-income children starting at age 3 months in Blacksburg VA) is that ALL families receiving our tax dollars for imprisonment, welfare-to-work, or medicaid should be forced by law to have their children in publicly funded day care. AND, if the family does not get the child to the day care, after working with social services and the day care for several months, the child should be put in foster care, where he/she would be brought to day care.

    I was sooo shocked in Charlottesville in 1963–We picked the children up. The black mothers had their children ready; the white mothers did not. They were extremely depressed, drunk, or uninterested, which is still the case today with so many of our poor households (add drugged today).

    The time has come for the United States to take a TRUE stand for our poor children, starting at age 3 months so they do not end up filling our prisons, as prisons are becoming privatized, and preparing them positively for their public school education experience. I know this would make such a difference in our classrooms.

  11. There are very few teachers who teach just for the children anymore. It’s all about the money and benefits and the retirement.
    Boy have a lot of you been Brain washed into believing that you are irreplaceable! That is why more children are becoming home schooled. Because of the arrogance of School Districts and Teachers and the Unions that back them. I pay my money for results, Not Strike threats and “Boo Hoo” Complaints about under paid and overworked lazy teachers. If Teachers would quit getting paid just to give students good grades so that it looks good on their resume and would actually have to perform, There wouldn’t be many.

    • Evan. There are very few teachers that pursue teaching for the so called pay and retirement. Teaching is not a job that you put up with to pay the bills and then some day retire. For those that enter it for the wrong reasons do not last long. And there are teachers that are effective and don’t give passing grades for the look of it. Your thoughts are very contrary to what a teacher goes into work everyday for everyday no matter which students they deal with.

    • Evan,
      I wish teaching was as easy as getting paid to give kids good grades. Also, if parents want to home school, go for it. It’s really not going to hurt any teachers’ feelings to not have a kid with high maintanance parents in our classes.
      I think the real issue is the arrogance of people like you who think they could do this job in any school in America better than those who are “in the trenches” and doing it. If you do think you could a better job step up, do it! Let me know how it works out for you.

      • Evan,
        get a life and stop complaining about teachers… Did you go to school?? Oh!! I see, you were taught by a teacher… Do you appreciate at least , at LEAST

  12. It seems like secretary Duncan does not refute the salient points made in the heritage foundation study, as well as other sources that consistently find teachers earning salaries comparable to top tier private sector jobs when pay, inflation, overall benefits and working hours are taken into account. Rather he seems utterly convinced that the nobility of the profession warrants special treatment or compensation by default.

    To inquire about whether teachers are overpaid or not is in itself not a “wrong question”, and in many states that face budget issues its one that has to be asked. Public school teachers may earn up to 50-80 thousand dollars a year while skipping weekends or even summers. Some are eventually granted tenure and generous health benefits. I taught at a private school where the starting salary was 10 bucks an hour and raises were granted pending performance review.

    It’s puzzling how Mr. Duncan believes that teaching is a low demand position that must offer special training / promotion, generous salary and benefits to attract new recruits. A vacant teaching position at a state often invites thousands of applicants. Not all pink slipped teachers lose their jobs, and the ones that do lose their jobs tend to be newer teachers who lack seniority.

    A comparison of teacher salaries to that of lawyers, doctors and other ultra elite profession is apples to oranges. The vast majority of private sector workers do not earn like lawyers or teachers. All of my credentialed friends are working at learning academies or jobs unrelated to education. Given the opportunity, they would teach at a public elementary school for baseline pay of 35 thou per year with performance bonus as non unionized independent contractor like, yesterday.

    Many Asian parents often spend extra money to enroll their kids at private learning academies and SAT centers to supplement their education. I was a writing tutor at a local college and believe you me, not a few of these “college students” should not have passed their English classes. Their reasoning and math skills were seriously underdeveloped. Why terrible teachers are paid nearly the same amount as great teacher is beyond me, and perhaps the right question to ask.

  13. Dear Secretary Duncan,

    Thank you for your commentary on this study. As a college student I am constantly thinking about life after graduation and I am torn over pursuing a teaching career. I feel that education is my personal calling but, as a Dean’s list student at a prestigious college, much more lucrative opportunities are available. If America wants to attract top teachers, it must have competitive salaries for teachers, especially in relation to what the best candidates could command working in the private sector. Although I believe I could live comfortably on a teacher’s salary, I worry that in the future I will not be able to provide my family with the opportunities and experiences I want them to have. If teachers were paid as much as you said they should be, I would commit to teaching with little hesitation.

  14. There are huge income inequalities in education. Often, non-teachers and teachers within the system earn six figures while uncertified, yet skilled teachers and substitutes earn wages way below the poverty line.

    In some cases, the substitutes are overlooked and not even paid their earned wages. This is disgraceful!

  15. Dear Mr. Secretary,

    First, I want to thank you for standing up for teachers and what we do. I truly believe that the profession of “teacher” is an iconic profession and should be treated as such. The fact that the authors of this study would put such a negative twist on the pay of teachers is a sad statement on our researchers. The Mckinsey study, which is one of the best I have seen on this topic, clearly shows the value of highly trained teachers receiving compensation for their effectiveness and the impact that has on their students. During my 35 years as an educator, I have had many opportunities to discuss this issue with our local stakeholders. Not once have I heard someone say that we were overpaid. Quite the opposite.
    As a Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, I recently attended the Education Nation event produced by NBC News. It was crystal clear from those that attended and those that weighed in via email and twitter that teachers need to be paid an appropriate salary for their efforts IF they are effective in their job. As we know, the definition of “effectiveness” and related human capital evaluation challenges continues to complicate our efforts to improve the iconic profession of teacher. I would hope that Mr. Duncan’s continued efforts on our behalf will include an expanded role of the teacher in solving the evaluation challenge and determining an appropriate definition of “effective teacher”. If this is done correctly, I think the nation will find that most reasonable teachers who have a genuine opportunity to be part of this reform effort will come up with standards that increase responsibility for providing effective educational programs while having the authority to make those decisions necessary to determine what is effective and appropriate for the educational enterprise.

    Once again Mr. Secretary, thank you for your efforts in support of our profession and let’s work together to bring these reform efforts to scale.

  16. It is interesting to see that it doesn’t matter where teachers originate from – I was educated in Australia – the same issues exist: Pay (or lack of it), conditions, perception from the general public etc.

    It is about time that we all take a look back and see what an important part ‘teachers’ played in our lives. For most of us, our school days are the best days in our lives. We had little worries, a carefree attitude and we were taught some very important lessons in both the classroom and school yard.

  17. in all honestly all good teachers need to be paid a decent and well earned salary. for heaven’s sake they are doing the job we parents should be doing in first place.

    in that regard, the problem is not how much the teachers are being paid? the problem is the parents. when will the american people finally admit that it’s the parents that bare the majority of the responsiblity of making sure their children are well educated! if you see the kids and then meet the parents then you begin to understand why are education system is so screwed up?

    money does help, however, even rich people raise bad kids! remember those texas cheerleaders whose parents let their girls run amok? parents need to be held financially, morally, legally and physically accountable for the behavior of theirs children regardless of socio-economic backgrounds!

    children need to come to school ready to learn: well rested, well fed and well clothed. let’s be honest, there are some people in this world who should not be having any kids whatsoever! one loses the right to have any if they choose to live like an animal and disregard human decency!

  18. I presume that the teaching force should be paid more, depending on quality and hardworking, as well as how well the students do. However, be forewarned: Basing your evaluations on test data alone would be a horrible idea. After all, everyone is affected by a variety of factors, such as sleep habits, amount of inefficient substitute teachers throughout the year, and lack of interest in particular subjects.
    Therefore, to support this, the so-called tests should be modified for individuals based on their interests- psychologically, after all, certain interests affect certain fields. Because not everyone pursues a career that encompasses every single subject at once, the students should be good at subjects that are relevant to their interests at certain degrees.
    To connect this to teacher pay, this means that, similarly, teachers should be paid based on how well their students do in comparison to their interests within subjects.
    Tests based on almost every factor, after all, would be a notable method that could revolutionize thought beyond the “box” rather a linear method.

    The teachers who give rise to the most motivated students in their fields should be the paid mores, rather than the ones who make someone a math master, but the math master is too interested in agriculture to pursue a mathematical career.

    Thank you for reading. (Although I may have gotten off-topic.)

  19. I am a teacher and I say that with pride. However, I am working two jobs to pay my bills and student loans back and I do not feel I make too much. I feel underpaid and disrespected most of the time but I have a thick skin. I currently am paying for health insurance with no real benefits because I have to pay for all my doctor’s visits and everything out of my pocket. How is that fair? I do love to help kids learn and that is why I still teach. I have to go home now at 8pm and put a quiz and lab together, so I think these people who tell us we have easy jobs should try teaching.

  20. Wow, I’m disappointed in the Heritage Foundation! I’ll have to go read this article and gather my own conclusions (my teachers taught me how to do that!) I welcome any nay sayer, or person who says my salary is too high, to my classroom of students with learning disabilities any day. They wouldn’t last a week, if that long. That’s the problem…these people THINK they know what goes on in our classrooms, but sad to say…they have no clue. If they did, they would sing a different tune. I’m tired of the teacher bashing! I’m getting involved in my state teacher organization…teachers get involved!

    • Gee Tonya, it would be better if you enlighten us all with examples of what goes on in the classroom. Based on my KNOWLEDGE as a parent who has had his children in both public and charter schools, public school teachers are doing a very good job, and little education is going on in the classroom. MY daughter’s third grade teacher didn’t do much in the classroom during the school day. This was evidenced by the fact that my wife and I was spending two to three hours per night helping her with the school work that was sent home, and this was not caught-up work. We spoke to many of the parents from this school who expressed similar concerns and experiences. The parents were the ones teaching the children, but at the same time bearing the cost of what I considered a high-priced sitter.
      My children now attend a private school, with the majority of teachers holding Masters degrees in their subject areas. These teachers are not getting anywhere near the pay public school teacher receive, yet they do a very good job. Additionally, they have many of the same children coming from the same neighbors that you are likely to see in the public schools. Same likes, dislikes and challenges. Go ahead and get involved in your teacher organizations, and watch more and more parents decide to remove their children due to the substandard education that is being provided by public schools.
      My position is that teachers’ compensation should be based solely on their performance in the classroom, and not just because they call themselves a “teacher”.

  21. I teach English in a public school in Puerto Rico. I can affirm that we are underpaid and have not received a pay raise in quite a few years. As teachers, we work overtime every single day and this is known to all teachers.
    To me is is a great satisfaction to teach my students the importance of how literature can connect us to other cultures as well as ours and to teach them to have the desire to share and learn with others.
    Unfortunately, in our school, we have over 96% of the students classified as low-income. Too many of our students do not have the academic, economical or emotional support they need at home to be more successful in their education. This is where the teachers come in. We do so much more than what is required in our job descriptions and ask for nothing in exchange but personal gratification.
    I believe that we have to work with students’ attitudes and with many parents whom lack knowledge, as well as many other delicate situations.
    It is not about money it is about attitudes – school officials’ attitudes, students’ attitudes, parents’ attitudes and of course teachers’ attitudes. Everybody has to be willing.
    In our school, we need a lot of support, materials, and more technology. I always try to do my best with what I have. Please do not consider this a complaint but information from the island of Puerto Rico where our lifestyle and first language is not English but Spanish.
    Thank you all for your attention!

    • Alta,

      great to hear you speak your mind and the truth.. I was born in N.Y. and raised in Puerto Rico, and I heard from some people that Puertorrican are lazy and do not want to work…. What!!!!?? These people do not know how hard teachers work to make sure kids get the education they need, we definitely work over time and way beyond our so call on duty to help a student in need. What we get is gratification, but not recognition… I have heard many people refer to me as “””” Oh! you are a teacher… then dismiss me like Im a nobody.. Well, they forgot they were taught one time by a teacher… Why is it that ours is the only profession that is undermined and dismissed???? Don’t get it???

  22. First, I want to agree with Lynne. I am a teacher and I spend most of my time after school grading papers and making extra time for my students to come in after school to complete assignments. We work at least ten hours a day. Most of the teachers I know do not take the summers off. They are taking college classes and attending professional development courses offered by their district. I love teaching! I worked in the business world for over twenty years and decided to take what I know and help high school students learn about business. I agree that it is time someone took a good look at the teaching profession and give credit to those who work hard to educate children. We are not babysitters we are educators!

  23. I attended the event where the authors of “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers” presented their study. The “monster study” as it was referred to is a total of just 23 pages. They authors did not present the mathematical equations used in their statistical analysis which lead to their conclusions. Nor did they include the demographics data for the people they studied. Where were the teachers from? What schools did they teach in? Rich schools, poor schools? The authors used 180 days to derive the number of hours teachers work per year, and they did not compensate for any additional hours teachers might put in above and beyond the contractual hours they are required to work? The authors even failed to understand that a teacher’s number of contractual days is NOT 180 days, but it is more due to required days they must be at school without students to conduct training and other predatory work.

    But one of the biggest blunders is that when they determined a teacher’s value in the workforce they only took into consideration the teacher’s education level and “intelligence” as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test. The authors of the study failed to give any consideration to the value of a teacher’s communication skill level vs. private sector workers communication skills. How many of you know someone that is really smart, but they have trouble communicating their ideas to a wide variety of audiences? You see teachers have to be able to take difficult concepts and communicate them to many different types of people or learning will not take place. How you could conduct a study like this and not take this important factor into account is beyond me. I think it clearly demonstrated that the authors failed to have any clear understanding of the subject they were studying, and perhaps would have benefitted by having a good teacher on their research team to help guide them.

    And if I only had a nickel for each time during the presentation the presenters stated, “Well we can assume ….” … gentleman, I’m sorry … the first thing about doing good research is that you don’t assume.

    That said, I also must express a word of caution to the Education Secretary Mr. Arne Duncan when he says,
    “I agree with Richwine and Biggs on one point. If teachers are to be recognized and compensated as professionals, states and school districts must shift away from a blue-collar assembly line model of compensation–and do more to reward effectiveness and performance in the classroom. A performance-based compensation model will enable great teachers to earn more, justify higher salaries, and raise the stature of the profession.”

    My concern is this. If we go toward a merit pay system, the way to make that a fair system is to ensure all teachers in the system have and teach an equal number of academic, non-academic, vocational, and IEP students in their classes. That way all teachers are stating out with the same product (the same starting point). Then we can measure how much they improve over time. My question is, Mr. Secretary, “ Are you advocating for the elimination of academic, AP, vocational courses and going to a system where all classes that all teachers teach are an equal mix of all types of children, so that each teacher starts off with the same product?” So that we can then adequately and fairly measure who the great teachers are based on the progress of their students? Because I’m not sure how that will fly with the parents out there.

    I’m not sure the current compensation system is exactly fair either, but it’s BETTER than applying merit pay to a system that unequally distributes students among teachers. Perhaps if we conclude that good teachers also take on additional duties like sponsoring a club, working with after school efforts like science fair, science Olympiad, kids camps, etc.. We could then come up with a compensation system that provides extra compensation for teachers who are doing all of these extras for their students. I hope it is an issue that will be given greater consideration.

    • Tim, you address some important considerations in the analysis of this study, and check the Secretary as well. Kudos for clear thinking. This is a much more complex issue than most of our policy makers are attending to. Full funding for public education would include several important career development features that would lead to a portfolio laced with research based system that will move educators into a place where the impact of their teaching and leading is not reduced to an observation a year. Teachers put in time far beyond the class session where our children appear. I want my child’s teacher to have advanced degrees that demonstrate excellence in content and pedagogy as well as a professional system system that encourages and honors feedback to students and to and from peers.

  24. Mr. Secretary:

    You and President Obama have been pitching very positively for the future of our children and education in America. We can feel that passion in your efforts to improve education.

    Several other agencies and individuals are engaged in research and work to improve education. However, there is not much evidence to show that one vital link, the teacher, is adequately cooped in the process to find the answers. Right now a one-size-fits-all seems to be the approach.

    There are teachers who have just joined the profession, there are teachers who have settled down, and there are those who are very experienced. There are science teachers, there are language teachers, there are those who teach humanities and other areas. There are elementary school teachers, middle school and high school teachers. Each of these teaching areas have specific qualifying requirements and skill-sets.

    To know how to improve teacher performance, the first people to hear from are the teachers themselves. That conversation does not seem to be adequately happening. How does a particular teacher consistently produce excellent results? Is it the teacher or is it the school? Is it the school or the community? Why do certain schools excel in AP subjects, and why others don’t? What are the similarities between the schools, and what are the differences? What are the constraints the teachers are facing, resources, student-background, administrative and others? Are these specific questions asked directly to the teachers at the various levels or to administrators representing them?

    To take an example, a student reaches high school, and suddenly the parents or student are made aware of the requirements for college admission. The parents suddenly have a road-to-Damascus moment, and all of a sudden opt for a path to an education with a science-major at college. The unsuspecting student is squeezed in to a whole lot of disjointed science subjects in random sequence. Imagine doing AP Chemistry without any previous introduction, or AP Physics without adequate Algebra! The student will struggle, the teacher will struggle and the teacher and the student will have to understand the basics first, prior to proceeding to the AP syllabus. By then, there isn’t enough time to cover all the topics, and the student and the teacher rush through them, which ends in low performance.

    To understand such fundamental issues that affect the performance of the teacher and the confidence and results of students, an honest conversation with teachers at various levels is necessary. And, we must be prepared for major restructuring in the current education methodology. Perhaps, in the example stated in the previous paragraph, the student and the teacher would have been working at their full potential and they would have produced superlative results, with an integrated approach to science. An adequate information of science and Math, enough to take on Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Knowing the structure of an atom or a molecule will be necessary in Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Knowing capillary action will be necessary in Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Knowing Algebra will be necessary in deriving equations in Physics. Knowing osmosis will be necessary in Chemistry, Physics and Biology.

    Today, America is looking at the teaching purely from a qualifications, wages and hours perspective. Teaching if not viewed as a lifelong professional option, we will always treat it that way. In many other professions, individuals get promoted or rotated to other roles. But, in teaching, most teachers continue teaching during their entire career. Commitment is a very vital ingredient to starting a career as a teacher. These days we see fresh graduate in any major are encouraged to take up teaching, without any or little pedagogical exposure. We will never allow a doctor, a pilot, a driver, a nurse, police, soldier perform their roles without formal training. Why would we entrust our children, the future of our country and the world, to untrained teachers. It is not that they are incapable, it is because they are not equipped with adequate skills. It is no surprise tha most of them struggle and leave within the first few years, if they are already not looking at teaching as a stepping stone to higher education options. Even trained teachers, evolve into confident professionals with time.

    We are hopeful that with the interest, drive and effort of you and President Obama, we will overcome today’s problems and America will once again lead the world in STEM, reading and other areas.

  25. The study by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute represents a tragic misunderstanding in the general public regarding the role of educators. Many people, as Secretary Duncan mentions, believe that teachers simply babysit children for 6.5 hours a day for nine months a year. This belief is unfortunate, as many teachers spend significantly more time working on preparing lesson plans, grading papers, working with students after school, assisting with before or after school extracurricular programs, and serving as mentors for their students. Additionally, over the summer, many teachers can be found working long hours preparing for the upcoming year and innovating as much of their curriculum as possible.

    Secretary Duncan hits the nail on the head when he states that we need to work to gather the highest quality teachers we can in every classroom in America. In Finland, consistently one of the countries ranked first in education, teaching jobs are highly sought after and admission into teacher education programs there can be as competitive as admission into American medical school programs.

    I fully support all initiatives to elevate the teaching profession and increase compensation of teachers to encourage more highly intelligent individuals to enter education.

  26. My mother is a retired school teacher, living well on her pension. She happened to be a very good teacher, whose students loved her and to whom other teachers turned for information and guidance. She will celebrate her 80th birthday this year. Growing up as her daughter, our family could afford many nice things. Watching her now as she ages, it is good to know that she is financially secure. Do I think she was under paid? No. Over paid? Absolutely not. Do I think there are some teachers who are over paid because they are not very good? Yes — but I think they should also be encouraged to find new professions.

  27. The fact that the U.S. Secretary of Education has to post this blog as a response to this type of study is remarkable. Until three or four years ago, the national narrative around teaching was that it was an underpaid, yet noble profession. Now, Secretary Duncan has to defend “overpaid” teachers? Like Secretary Duncan, we do need to use compensation more effectively than we have in the past to ensure that great teachers will enter and remain in the profession which includes addressing future pensions and the single salary schedule. However, the fundamental sticking point in this argument comes down to whether or not a person believes that funding for education is an expense or an investment. I believe we need to invest well, and I appreciate the fact that Secretary Duncan agrees.

  28. “……teachers should be paid a lot more, with starting salaries of $60,000 and potential earnings of $150,000″


    ‘…. millions of Americans search for work, and millions more scrape by to make ends meet”


    It’s simple Arne. You could pay teachers a million dollars and it WILL NOT create jobs or better paying jobs. The boss (taxpayers) are suffering so their employees (teachers) need to suffer. The salaries MY community pays OUR teachers should not be your concern. I’d be more concerned with the trillion dollar student loan nightmare that the DOE runs.

    “teacher salaries — starting around $35,000 and topping out at an average of $65,000”

    If they feel so cheated then go back to school and become a New York City lawyer.

    • Jimi,
      If all of the teachers decided to go back to school to pursue a law degree, there would no longer be teachers to help students prepare for college, business and the future.

    • “If they feel so cheated then go back to school and become a New York City lawyer.”

      It is that exact attitude that is so pervasive, and so ruinous to the teaching profession. If you are able to be a top-earning lawyer, then, for the love of all that is good, you have an obligation to be a teacher.

      If you are the best engineer in the world, you should be obligated to teach others. But, the simple fact is that people like Jimi rule this world.

      Why respect the teaching profession? They’re all just babysitters anyway.
      Why pay teachers what they deserve? They only work nine months a year.
      Why believe that change for the better won’t be possible until teachers are both respected, given freedom, and compensated properly? We all know they’re just idiots anyway – if they could do what they are teaching our children, they’d be out in the real world doing it. That’s why people go into education, isn’t it?

      Why not replace them with minimum wage employees? Why not just hire and fire them like we do Wal-Mart employees? They’re the same thing, teachers and grocery baggers, aren’t they?

      • Rob,

        By the tone and content of your comment to Arne Duncan’s message, it seems you had such hatred for educators which make me think you most have had a really bad experience in school, which doesn’t mean all teachers are bad. Also, you called them “idiots”???????? Let me remind you that education starts in the “crib and our first teachers are our parents. Perhaps you may want to reconsider and reflect about what you said and not insult your parents as well. And that we are grocery baggers??? ahhh, perhaps, we bag lots of clothes, toys, food for the needy students and we love doing it because we care and there is no shame on “bagging” for a good cause.

        • No, it is sarcasm. I understand that sarcasm doesn’t translate, but I hoped it would here. I was trying to say that we shouldn’t view teaching as a minimum wage, no skill profession. But, instead, we should view it as a highly skilled position to be respected.

          Sorry for the confusion.

    • And then what? We would have no educational system, which is a constitutional right in the United States, and therefore, no lawyers, no doctors, no engineers, no computer engineers, no nurses… you get my point, right?

      you do understand that the education system is the foundation of our economy, our society, and our freedom, right?

      I am sorry your teachers failed to teach you.

      • Education is a constitutional right? Wow, you learn something new every day. By the way, where does it say that?

        • I think she was referring to the state-level constitutions. Note the lower-case “C.”

          Still, education is a right — and a responsibility. Public education is a place where can we explore and experience democracy in democratic settings. The future of our democracy depends on public education.

    • Teachers should be paid for the work they do starting at $100, 000 or more. They cultivate the minds of their students and provide them with a wealth of knowledge. Teachers lead their classrooms with meaningful innovative planning, objective driven lessons guided by current data, creative classroom management, positive encouragement, discipline to inspire, and provide praise to students and parents. Teachers are the leaders of the world . Besides they are responsible for educating all people regardless age, sex ethnicity, religion and etc. Therefore, I stand firm that teachers should be paid
      a substantial amount because they deserve it. If you don’t think teachers deserve more money, try to survive without an education.

    • Right on. With only having to work 180 days a year. Taking off half days for PIR, PT conferences, and let’s not forget every Government holidays that comes around. I think that $35 to $50,000 is plenty. Plus don’t forget all the benefits added to their base salary. For nine months of work that is not bad pay at all. Last but not least; They have a union to fall back on for paid sick days and vacation days. Some people to get paid if they call in sick.

      • In response to Evan and others who agree with him: Union power has been crushed in my state. After this year, there will be no collective bargaining for teachers in my state. FYI: P-T Conferences in our district do not equate to a half a day off. In fact, on PT Conference days, we work the whole school day and have to stay until 7:30 at night for conferences (NO BREAK). I’d like to know: What other profession do you know of besides teaching that requires that individuals to pay fee after fee to obtain and renew a license to do their job (at their own expense)? What other profession forces individuals to pay to take continuing education courses throughout their careers just to keep their license (again, at their own expense)? It’s sad that teachers get criticized the way they do. If teachers were treated respectfully as all professionals should be treated and were paid “professional” wages, then I believe our education system would improve by leaps and bounds. In order to attract and retain talented teachers, we need to treat them like professionals. Attitude is everything. Poor attitudes towards teachers leads to lower expectations for society as a whole. We will never compete in our global economy with the negative attitudes so many people are perpetuating. So, for the sake of our future and the next generation, stop criticizing our education system! It’s not doing any good. I hope that the US takes a lesson from Finland and makes sweeping changes in education (including raising the status of teachers to a level they deserve).

  29. As much as I disagreed with the study that was done by the Heritage Foundation, I do not have the expertise/knowledge of such things to make a solid argument as to why it was invalid. Secretary Duncan definitely hit the nail on the head and did a great job defending teachers. Now, if only a real discussion/debate could take place among policy makers to change the negatives and get some real progress accomplished instead of pointing fingers. ( http://the-history-teacher.blogspot.com/ )

  30. I think that Secretary Duncan has this one absolutely right. One thing he doesn’t talk about, though, is the notion that teachers only work during school hours. First of all, the 6-7 hour day in the classroom is exhausting — most people wouldn’t even do a birthday party for 25 -35 youngsters. Second of all, good teachers spend many hours outside of school planning lessons, grading papers, and staying abreast of developments in their field (although this last too often falls by the wayside). On top of that, many confer with parents and students outside of school hours.

    It is true that the amount of time required outside of school depends somewhat on subject area and grade level of students, but the teachers I know all work very hard. This is another reason that pay rates should reflect teaching quality (and therefore reward the hardworking teachers) rather than years of service and credentials (which rewards the lazy ones).

  31. Thank you Secretary Duncan. I truly appreciate your comments in this essay. After almost 40 years of teaching, I am fed up with defending my salary and sick of the disrespect we receive every day from parents, students, newspaper editors, school board members, administrators who have never taught, “researchers” and even our own relatives. Thank you for surprising me today with your support.

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