Aug 092008

While eating lunch downtown the other day I was partaking in one of my favorite activities: eavesdropping. It’s amazing what you can learn by listening to the other conversations around you in a public place. I feel it’s also a great way to keep an ear on what topics my neighbors are actually interested in.

With school starting again later this month it was no surprise that one of the topics of conversation was the traditional moaning and gnashing of teeth over “how poorly” our teachers are paid.  I’ve long felt the underpaid teacher to be a mythical creature whose existence is only accepted due to the excellent propaganda machine of the NEA and teachers’ unions, but I thought maybe it was time I investigated myself.  Which I now have…

The Disclaimers-

  • This article is focused on teachers in government schools, not private schools.
  • Although all numbers (unless stated otherwise) deal with teachers in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, a quick spot check of several other California counties showed similar results across the board.
  • Throughout this article I refer to teachers as women rather than men.  I do this not because I’m a sexist pig, but because every school I’ve visited over the last 30 years has had a significant majority of the teaching staff comprised of women.
  • Unfortunately I had to return to 1999-2000 to get numbers for comparison.  However, teacher salaries have increased at a rate slightly higher than inflation since then, so the numbers should still hold.  If anyone knows where I can get documented salary stats for a more recent year I’ll be more than happy to revisit this topic.

The Basics-

  • Lowest Teacher Salary Offered1 – $33,360
  • Highest Teacher Salary Offered1 – $60,499
  • Average Teacher Salary Paid1 – $50,757
  • Median Income (Single Female)2 – $45,354
  • Mean Income (Single Female)2 -$54,012
  • Median Household Income2 – $81,958
  • Mean Household Income2 – $101,868
  • Female Population Making <$50,000/year2 – 58%

Based on these numbers it appears that the average school teacher tends to fall right in line with the average non-teacher in Morgan Hill.  Is this really so bad?  But that’s only the start of the story.

Apples To Apples-

Teachers had 184 work days in 1999-20001, while the average worker had 250 (5 days/week, 50 weeks/year), which means teachers worked 26% less than the average worker.  So it seems only fair to add another 26% to the average teacher salary when making comparisons, does it not?  This brings the average teacher salary in Morgan Hill to $63,954.  This is higher than 63% of the single females in Morgan Hill earned that year2.  Not bad at all.  And that’s still not the end of the story.

Retirement Benefits-

The thing that most people tend to forget about teacher compensation (in government schools) is the excellent retirement benefit.  How many private sector jobs even have a retirement fund anymore?  I know I’ve never had one.  I’m not talking about a 401k, IRA, or similar self-funded retirement plan.  I’m talking about a full pension.  Teacher pensions are handled by CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement System) which brags that it is the “Largest U.S. teachers’ retirement fund” and the “Second largest U.S. public pension fund”3 Teachers can retire as early as age 50 with at least 30 years of service credit, or at age 55 with at least five years of service credit.

The methods for calculating retirement benefits are far too complicated to repeat here, but can be seen at the CalSTRS website. Instead, let’s take a current average teacher and see what her lifetime retirement benefits will be by using the handy calculator provided by CalSTRS4.  Our average teacher above had been teaching for 17 years1, so we’ll use her as an example.

Assuming she started teaching at 21 she would have been born in 1957, and thus would be of minimum retirement age in 2012 at age 51 with 30 years of service, 1 year of Other Service Credit, 14 unused sick days, 184 contract base service days, 2 Year Service Credit Incentive, a final salary of $79,907 (the current highest salary offered in Morgan Hill), and no beneficiary.  Her estimated unmodified monthly benefit will be $3524.01, making an annual salary of $42,288 or, roughly, 53% of her final salary. Not to mention that at 51 she’s still quite able to work and this won’t effect her pension at all as long as she doesn’t work for a California government school.

Compare this to the standard Social Security benefit for the same woman working in the  private sector – $1,357/month or $16,284/year (according to the Social Security Administration6).  And in the private sector she wouldn’t be able to start collecting until age 62, more than a decade later.

Given a standard life expectancy our teacher should live to be 835, so will be collecting her pension for 32 years. That’s two years longer than she actually worked as a teacher.  Therefore it seems reasonable to add her annual pension to her annual average salary (adjusted for year-round employment) and compare that to the median salary in Morgan Hill with their Social Security benefit added on.  Doing so gives us the following numbers-

  • Average Teacher Salary Paid – $106,242
  • Median Income (Single Female) – $61,638

That tells us that the average government school teacher is earning 42% more than the average woman in Morgan Hill.  Do you still think they’re “woefully underpaid”?  Well, a 2007 report from the Manhattan Institute For Policy Research7 (based on data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey) agrees with me-

  • 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.
  • 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.

Data Sources-

May 032008

EDIT: This was originally posted Friday morning, but my wonderful blog web hosting company deleted my blog Friday night and took more than 12 hours to restore it from their backups, so this post (and possibly others that I don’t recall now) were missing.

graduation Couldn’t sleep this morning, so I was stumbling around some and came across a post by Karlana titled high school education = graduation = college education … It all leads to somewhere! It starts out well enough-

Long title, but has a good message – don’t allow your secondary education to shortfall you from your college education.

And, as an anarchist (read: someone who believes in self-reliance) I couldn’t agree more with the ending-

Learn to think for yourself. Learn to be yourself. Two short lines that will be helpful in any situation.

However, the bulk of the article doesn’t seem to support the conclusion. Her post covers a lot of territory, so I want to take it bit by bit. It may look like I’m trying to tear her words apart, but, in reality it’s 6am and I just want to keep everything straight as I go.

Education has always been one of the most important things in my life, but formal education has been a concept I’ve struggled with for the past 23 years. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary contains five definitions for education-

  1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
  2. the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.
  3. a degree, level, or kind of schooling: a university education.
  4. the result produced by instruction, training, or study: to show one’s education.
  5. the science or art of teaching; pedagogics.

Did you notice that the only time school is mentioned at all is in an example of one type of education? That’s because school and education actually have little to do with each other in these days of social promotion and test scores über alles.

Back to Karlanda’s post-

Having a high school education is more important than these seniors realize. In most cases, many jobs will not look at applications and resumes that bear the three letters of “GED”.

GED As someone who’s hired dozens of people for numerous companies over the years I couldn’t disagree more. Not only have I never confirmed that an applicant has graduated high school, but I’ve never heard of it being done. When I was looking for work while still inhigh school I asked the transcripts office at my school if they’d ever received a request from an employer. The answer, not surprisingly, was “no, not in more than 35 years.” The truth is if you’re applying for a job that only requires a high school diploma then employer’s aren’t really worried about your education. They’re far more concerned about how you comport yourself in the interview.

Many employers now look at the GED route as the “cutting corners” route, and that just shows them that perhaps one will always find ways to cut corners.

Or, it may well show them that you already know what you want in your life and saw that school was not getting you there. Getting your GED (particularly before the age of 18) can definitely be seen as a sign of confidence, which is a trait employer’s seek. It’s all about your reasons for doing so and how you express those reasons to prosepctive employers.

Even for the college bound, the GED can be a good thing. I went to a private college prep high school and the student who would have been valedictorian never graduated. Why? Because instead he got his GED and started at UCLA in what would have been his senior year. He went on to graduate (summa cum laude) and get his MBA in 5 years total meaning he was out in the business world before anyone else in our graduating class even had their Bachelor’s Degree. Sometimes “cutting corners” is the smart move!

In most cases, in today’s society, it is like the light finally came on for the parents and the parents are now paying attention to their children’s education and achievements, or what they may be lacking if they are unable to graduate. In some of these cases, the parents have left their teenagers to grow up on their own until the very last minute where they all of a sudden become a parent and start harping on their children to do better in school, before it is too late.

I don’t know that it’s most, but it’s certainly many, and that’s eceedingly unfortunate. However, what these kids need is not necessarily to “do better in school”, but to “do better in life” and if they know what they want to do and can formulate a plan to accomplish it, then the final semester or year of high school is frequently just marking time.

But you also have the students who have parents who have no formal education whatsoever, and their children are now the first generation to graduate from high school with a diploma.


In almost all of these cases, the students move onto college and achieve great things, accomplish the desired, and succeed in life.

This is largely a cultural thing and an excellent reason for finishing high school.

I tell them to make valid strong decisions they will not regret, which means think before they do. I tell them not only is a high school diploma very handy, but a college degree will be worthwhile, life lasting.

Again, she starts off with a valid and strong statement, but follows with a rather wild assumption. What if these students are making a “valid strong decision” to enter the work force and begin their career immediately instead of waiting to finish high school and/or spend more time in college? What if they’ve realized that self-education can take them much farther much more quickly than classes designed for the masses?

One can enter many professional fields without a degree, albeit at a lower level than the college graduate. However, in four years what do you think is more valuable: a degree or four years of experience in the industry? In many, many cases, it is the latter.

The true climax of Karlana’s post is this-

The important thing here is to achieve the most one can, succeed in life by your own accomplishments. But the bottom line here is that without some kind of education, one will not go far in life. That is the message our society’s children are not truly getting if parents constantly hand things to them, bail them out of trouble all the time, and baby them.

And I couldn’t agree with it more. I just feel that she (and many, many others in modern society) need to break free from of the stereotype that a college degree=success. The cat of the matter is that education=success and these days it’s easier than ever to gain that education outside of formal schooling. Living on the streets I knew many college graduates and the pages of history (including those being written right now) are full of people without college degrees. She’s absolutely right that “some kind of education” is vital to success, but if you’ve found an alternative path to that education, please don’t let a piece of paper hold you back. After all-

The important thing here is to achieve the most one can, succeed in life by your own accomplishments.

Apr 242008

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