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Getting paid.

One would think that economist Michael Podgursky ("Fringe Benefits" Check the Facts, Summer 2003) would analyze teachers' salaries through the lens of supply and demand. Such an analysis would not examine teachers' salaries as they are, but would ask what salaries are necessary to attract highly qualified teachers to the field. Instead, Podgursky insists that teaching is a swell job, using data showing that elementary teachers actually earn a few pennies per hour more than mechanical engineers (even though their salaries fall short of salaries in mechanical engineering by $17,000 per year). What a surprise this must be to students aspiring to engineering degrees!

Podgursky cites "straight-time" hourly pay estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which show K-12 teachers having a 38-hour work-week and a 37-week work year (which would end in April). Another BLS survey describes the hours worked by teachers more accurately. The average teacher was under contract to work six and a half hours per day, but teachers actually spent an average of eight and a quarter hours at school each day. The standard time diary methodology suggests that a teacher's working day is almost ten hours long when work outside school hours is factored in.

It's true that teachers work about 40 fewer days per year than private-sector employees. But even if teachers were able to fill the gap with additional work at $30 per hour--an unreasonable expectation for teachers seeking part-time employment--their annual earnings would increase by only $9,600. This still leaves teachers $3,000 per year short of accountants, $17,000 short of computer systems analysts, and $25,000 short of engineers. Teachers also earned only 8 percent more than the average worker in 2001 and 4 percent more than other government workers.

The AFT uses data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which contain information on about 30,000 job offers, not 2,600 as Podgursky reported, to update a 30-year time series for the earnings of new college graduates who found full-time jobs in the private sector. We agree with Podgursky that NACE salary data are higher than the average earnings of new college graduates, many of whom work part time, attend graduate school, or are underemployed.

Podgursky assumes that teachers enjoy generous benefits, but according to the BLS, benefit costs for teachers made up 24 percent of the total compensation package in December 2002--the lowest percentage of any broad occupational category. Benefits compose 28 percent of the average civilian worker's compensation package.

Furthermore, benefit costs for teachers have risen more slowly than the average, not faster, as Podgursky insinuated. Between 1989 and 2001, the benefits portion of the U.S. Department of Labor's employment cost index increased 48 percent for K-12 education workers, compared with 67 percent for all private-sector white-collar employees.

HOWARD NELSON

American Federation of Teachers

Washington, D.C.

Michael Podgursky's analysis of teacher compensation makes thoughtful use of the sometimes incomplete and conflicting data that have been available to us. Regarding the issue of the U.S. Department of Education's reliance on data from the teacher unions on annual teacher salaries, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) plans to add teacher salary data items to its Common Core of Data finance collections. Collection of school year 2003-04 finance data would take place during the spring and summer of 2005, and NCES would publish the data in 2006.

It would also be desirable to have detailed information comparing the total compensation packages of teachers with those of other professions. While NCES currently gathers information on salaries and benefits through the quadrennial Schools and Staffing Survey, this survey does not collect information that would permit comparisons with other professions. There is no logical way to redesign the survey to do this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a large-scale payroll survey that gathers detailed information by profession, but this survey lacks information on the characteristics of employees, such as years of experience or educational qualifications. This survey also would not lend itself to a major redesign. The monthly Current Population Survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census offers considerable potential for making salary comparisons of various occupations based on age and educational attainment. The sample size is limited for a number of occupations, including teachers, but NCES staff are working on ways to effectively increase the sample through more complex analysis of multiple waves.

VAL PLISKO

Associate Commissioner

National Center for Education Statistics

U.S. Department of Education

Michael Podgursky responds: Collective-bargaining agreements negotiated by the AFT in large urban districts typically include language restricting the contractual teaching workday to little longer than the school day for students. Thus the contractual work-day in urban districts such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, or San Diego is roughly 6 hours and 45 minutes. (This includes a duty-free lunch as well as a prep period.) The AFT claims that the average public school teacher actually spends 8 hours and 15 minutes in school daily. There are several possible explanations for this discrepancy. First, the self-reported data from teachers may be inflated. Or the self-reported data are correct and the contractual workday is routinely exceeded by teachers. This raises the question of why the AFT and NEA would insist on bargaining unprofessional language into contracts that most of their members then ignore. Finally, it may be that pay gaps between urban and suburban teachers in part reflect an hours gap, with suburban (and rural) teachers putting in longer workdays than their urban counterparts. These are interesting topics for further research.

In my article I avoided comparing the overall fringe benefit rate of teachers to nonteachers for the reason Howard Nelson notes, and then ignores. The overall fringe benefit rate for private-sector professionals on 12-month contracts includes paid vacations. However, in lieu of paid vacations, teachers on 190-day contracts get their summers off. A correct apples-to-apples comparison would either exclude paid vacations for the former or treat teachers as 12-month employees with 66 days of paid vacation. If we take the latter approach, this adds an additional 26 percent to the fringe benefit rate for teachers, and would thus produce a total fringe benefit rate that is far in excess of the private sector.

Comparing the pay and benefits of teachers and nonteachers is complicated and highlights the need for independent, arms-length assessment and high-quality data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) performs this valuable function in other industries. Unfortunately, in the area of teacher compensation, the national policy debate is largely framed by data and analysis from the teacher unions. The public interest would be better served if the U.S. Department of Education worked with the BLS to produce objective data on this important topic.
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Title Annotation:correspondence
Publication:Education Next
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Sep 22, 2003
Words:1123
Previous Article:Let's not play favorites: religion, civic values, and public education.
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