Are School Teachers Getting a Raw Deal? Maybe the Truly Great Ones

In a post written yesterday, the venerable Dr. Jay Greene makes the point that education schools typically undersell the benefits of the teaching profession to their own graduates:

But the reality is that teaching is a pretty good gig. Yes, the work can be draining, but the hours are great and you get regular breaks throughout the year, including a long one over the summer. The annual pay is OK, but when you consider it on an hourly or weekly basis, you’ll get paid more than the average white collar or professional specialty and technical worker (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In addition, during a period of almost 10% unemployment you’ll sure appreciate the high job security. And let’s not forget the benefits, including solid health-care and an extremely generous retirement package that will let you retire in your mid-50s with about 60% of your peak salary guaranteed for the remainder of your life and adjusted for inflation. It would take a fortune in a 401k or 403b to produce that kind of pension benefit.

I guess everybody likes to complain about their jobs — that’s something I’ll worry about when I become a grown-up. Jay Greene’s point is that as a group teachers aren’t that bad off, so why are they fed the line of misery?

My point is that while the back-end pensions need to be brought in line with economic realities, really good teachers are being shortchanged on the front end. At the same time, some other teachers should be let go altogether. The issue is more how educators are paid than how much. Our capability to reform and enhance compensation structures based on value added to student learning makes it nearly a crime that we overwhelmingly use the old-fashioned single salary schedule to pay everyone the same.

What are we waiting for? This issue paper on Denver’s ProComp and Teacher Compensation in Colorado (PDF) by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow is a good place to start.

In the meantime, while we plan for our teacher social event tomorrow evening, I’m curious to know whether our guests see their profession to be so uniformly a raw deal, especially on the financial front.