Did Matt Damon “School” This Reporter?

Two quick responses ~ Firstly, teachers ARE well paid:

$34.06 an Hour ~ That’s how much the average public school teachers makes. Is that “underpaid”?

Who, on average, is better paid–public school teachers or architects? How about teachers or economists? You might be surprised to learn that public school teachers are better paid than these and many other professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public school teachers earned $34.06 per hour in 2005, 36% more than the hourly wage of the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty or technical worker.

In the popular imagination, however, public school teachers are underpaid. “Salaries are too low. We all know that,” noted First Lady Laura Bush, expressing the consensus view. “We need to figure out a way to pay teachers more.” Indeed, our efforts to hire more teachers and raise their salaries account for the bulk of public school spending increases over the last four decades. During that time per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled; overall we now annually spend more than $500 billion on public education.

The perception that we underpay teachers is likely to play a significant role in the debate to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. The new Democratic majority intends to push for greater education funding, much of which would likely to go toward increasing teacher compensation. It would be beneficial if the debate focused on the actual salaries teachers are already paid.

It would also be beneficial if the debate touched on the correlation between teacher pay and actual results. To wit, higher teacher pay seems to have no effect on raising student achievement. Metropolitan areas with higher teacher pay do not graduate a higher percentage of their students than areas with lower teacher pay.

In fact, the urban areas with the highest teacher pay are famous for their abysmal outcomes. Metro Detroit leads the nation, paying its public school teachers, on average, $47.28 per hour. That’s 61% more than the average white-collar worker in the Detroit area and 36% more than the average professional worker. In metro New York, public school teachers make $45.79 per hour, 20% more than the average professional worker in that area. And in Los Angeles teachers earn $44.03 per hour, 23% higher than other professionals in the area.

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Mr. Damon is simply passing on talking points probably heard from “memes.” A second point is that tenure is a huge part of the problem. A teacher reaches tenure after just two years of doing what, working. This should be based on how well they perform and have a go at tenure after say, 5 years with a two-year interim to try again.This will weed out bad teachers or teachers that may be predators of younger persons. You see, is a teacher is tenured after only two-years, when it comes to light that they may have some indecent relationships with students it is almost impossibly to fire them and they get moved from district to district before they are finally canned. Having a longer period of tenurship often times allows some committee that would tenure teachers more insight into the teachers character.

Here is the video from the people that asked the question of Matt:

And from REASONTVS BLOG on the topic:

At last Saturday’s “Save Our Schools” rally, a fairly livid actor Matt Damon told Reason.tv that teachers make a “shitty” salary. Is the Oscar winner right about that?

The short answer is no. The longer answer? Also no.

According to Department of Education statistics for 2007-2008 (the most recent year listed), the average public school teacher brought in a bit over $53,000 in “total school-year and summer earned income.” That figure, which is about $13,000 more than what the average private-school teacher gets in straight salary, does not include health and retirement benefits, places where teachers almost always get better deals and bigger employer contributions than the typical private-sector worker. For more on teacher compensation, go here.

An average salary of $53,000 may not be much for a movie star such as Damon, but it’s a pretty good wage when compared to U.S. averages. Indeed, the Census Bureau reports that median household income in 2008 was $52,000. Teaching in most public schools requires a bachelor’s degree and here teachers fare less well on first glance, though still not awful. The median income for a man with a B.A. was $82,000; for a woman, it was $54,000. About three-quarters of teachers are women, so the average salaries when gender comes into play hew closely to one another.

More to the point, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other surveys that take into account the reported number of hours worked in a year consistently show that on a per-hour basis, teacher income (again, not including fringe benefits, which are typically far more robust than those offered other workers, including college-educated professionals) is extremely strong.

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MORE from this great post from EDUCATION NEXT:

Each year, the two national teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), release their surveys of public school teacher salaries across the nation. And each year, they take advantage of this opportunity to bemoan the condition of teacher pay. On the April 2002 release of the NEA’s data, then-NEA president Bob Chase complained, “It’s hard to convince someone to stay in the classroom when the salary is so low.” Likewise, the AFT decried the fact that the “average teacher salary continues to fall well below the average wages of other white-collar occupations.” The average teacher, according to the AFT, earned $43,250 during the 2000-01 school year, compared with an average of $52,664 for mid-level accountants; $71,155 for computer system analysts; $74,920 for engineers; and $82,712 for attorneys.

Of course, the AFT has chosen the comparison groups to make its best case. Where, one wonders, are the comparisons with journalists, registered nurses, assistant district attorneys, FBI agents, military officers, and other not-so-highly compensated professionals and public-sector employees? Shouldn’t the average pay of a high-school English teacher be compared with that of writers and editors? One could make a case that the salaries of high-school physics or calculus teachers should bear some resemblance to those of computer system analysts, but does the AFT believe that the appropriate compensation benchmarks for 3rd-grade teachers are the salaries of engineers or attorneys?

Nevertheless, data from the NEA and AFT are highly influential. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education collects few data of its own on this matter. For the most part it simply recycles these union data in publications like the Digest of Education Statistics 2001, a standard reference in which five of the six tables on teacher pay are based on union figures. On the whole, such data present a fairly accurate picture of teacher salaries at the national level and have some value for state-to-state comparisons. Yet they suffer from severe limitations when interest groups, policymakers, and pundits use them to make a point about how the nation values public school teachers.

Summers Off

One facet of teaching that the NEA and AFT, in their data and in their public pronouncements, routinely fail to account for is the shorter workday and work year. In public schools, the median number of school days is 180 per year. Add half-a-dozen or so workdays for parent conferences, professional development, and planning, and the annual work year for most teachers is still shorter than 190 days. By comparison, an accountant or lawyer with two weeks of paid vacation and ten holidays or personal days will work 240 days annually—nearly 30 percent more days per year than public school teachers.

The typical teacher also has a shorter on-site workday than most other professionals. On average, teachers report being in school for fewer than 38 hours per week. This number rises to 40 hours if largely voluntary after-school activities such as coaching or club sponsorship are included. In fact, language limiting the number of hours that teachers are required to be in school is common in their collective-bargaining agreements, particularly in urban school districts. In the just-expired New York City teachers’ contract, the contractual workday was just 6 hours and 20 minutes (including a 50-minute duty-free lunch). The new contract extends the workday by 20 minutes. In Chicago, the limit is 6 hours and 45 minutes, including a 45-minute duty-free lunch.

Of course, many teachers put in nights and weekends at home grading papers and planning for the next week. However, a job that permits relatively more work at home is typically more attractive (particularly to women with children) than one that requires a similar amount of work time on site. And many other professionals bring their work home as well.

The combination of a shorter workday and work year means that the annual hours on the job for teachers are much shorter than in comparable professions. Consider Figure 1, which shows hourly rates of pay computed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a variety of occupations. By these calculations, only engineers, architects, and surveyors in private practice and attorneys earn more than teachers on an hourly basis.

The shorter workdays and work year make teaching an attractive occupation to those who wish to balance work and family needs. The shorter hours are especially helpful to women who want both a rewarding career and children, which helps to explain why roughly 75 percent of teachers are women and the share is increasing. An additional plum is that the on-site teaching hours match the schedule of a teacher’s own school-age children. In short, when the kids are at home, so is mom (or dad).

Consider the “sick kid” challenge. In many professions it is very difficult to take unscheduled time off for a sick child or other family emergencies. In teaching, however, the “substitute teacher” solution is a routine part of school life. Indeed, in collective-bargaining negotiations, school administrators frequently complain of excessive absences among teachers. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education survey, during the 1999-2000 school year, 5.2 percent of teachers were absent on any given day on average. That translates into 9.4 days out of a 180-day school year. During the 2000-01 school year in New York City, the annual rate of absences reached 11.3 days per teacher. These rates are much higher than in other executive or professional employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the absentee rate for managerial and professional employees is just 1.7 percent of annual hours.

Teaching is also family friendly in the sense that little or no out-of-town travel is required for successful job performance. Teachers may choose to attend out-of-town conferences, but such travel is unusual and not a condition of employment. Although I am not aware of any systematic data collected on this topic, out-of-town travel seems to be commonplace for many young professionals.

The expansion of opportunities for women during the past half-century is supposed to have lessened the attraction of teaching. And yes, the earnings of college-educated women in other fields have grown faster than the earnings of teachers in recent decades. However, the mix of nonteaching jobs that college-educated women hold has changed as well. In 1960, 58 percent of college-educated women not employed as teachers worked as secretaries or other clerical workers, and only 13 percent were “managers.” By 1990 the clerical share had fallen to 30 percent while the share of managers increased to 35 percent (as did the shares of lawyers, accountants, and doctors). This shift from clerical to managerial and professional employment resulted in an increase in nonteaching earnings, but it also meant longer workdays and work weeks, greater responsibility (and stress), and, probably, less flexibility compared with teaching.

The bottom line is that teaching remains a job that makes it easier for parents to reconcile a career and family. Consequently we would expect female teachers to have more children—which is exactly what we see: among college-educated women aged 40 and younger, the average teacher had 2.1 children, versus 1.7 for other occupations. Of course, some of this difference may simply reflect the fact that teaching attracts women who like children and who would have been predisposed to have more children anyway. However, the fact remains that teaching is a profession that makes it less costly for these women to act on their preferences……

One should remember that this pay rate to teachers varies from state to state, for instance:

High Paying State and Low Paying State

  • Teacher pay, as mentioned earlier, varies a lot depending on which state you teach in. California ranks number 1 in teacher pay with an average pay of $63,640. South Dakota ranks number 50 in average teacher pay with an abysmal $35,378.

The reality is that unions are a big part of the problem, not the teachers individually, but corporately.

The problem is not money!

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more


The Washington metro area comes in second highest in spending for our study at an average $22,400 per pupil (Figure 3). Only New York tops that figure.28 This real perpupil spending figure is 34 percent higher than the average of $16,700 stated by the school districts. Real public school spending is also more than double the estimated median private school spending of $11,000. The District of Columbia, at over $28,000 per student, has the highest spending of the three DC–area districts we examined. This real spending figure is 61 percent higher than the official one—the largest gap of any district in the area. Arlington comes in second place, spending just under $24,000 per student. And Prince George’s spends the least of the three, at just over $15,000 per pupil


The New York metro area has the highest average real per-pupil spending among the metro areas in this study, and the average real per-pupil spending figure of more than $26,900 is 44 percent higher than the average of $18,700 that the districts claim to spend (Figure 5).36 Real public school spending is almost 155 percent higher than the estimated…


For a longer, more in-depth discussion on this topic, see C-SPAN’S video, but here is a snippet from JOHN STOSSLE:

For a more updated look at the numbers, see AEI’S report: Debunking The Myth Of The ‘Teacher Pay Gap,’ Again

A Newsbusters Update:

But as conservative Boston-area talk show host Michael Graham argued in today’s Boston Herald, Damon’s wrong both about the quality of teacher pay and the importance of economic incentives:

Sorry, Matt, but if I were your math teacher back at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, I’d have to give you an F. Wrong on theory and fact.

First the data — starting with Matt’s myth that teachers work for a shi— . . .  er, “less-than-adequate” salary.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the average Boston teacher earned around $80,000 last year. That was the average. And that doesn’t include the generous health care or pension benefits, which would equal $100,000 in the private sector. All for just 180 days of work.

Nationally, the average teacher salary is significantly lower — $53,000. But a teacher still earns more by herself (and about 75 percent of K-12 teachers are women) than the household income of the average American family. Once again, with summers and holidays off.

That fact is important because when you break down what teachers earn per hour, the average teacher is better paid ($30.52) than the average computer programmer ($21.27) or architect ($27.71).

So Damon is wrong on the numbers. And his theory is even worse. Modern economic theory is based on the premise of incentives. Damon’s position that incentives don’t affect behavior puts him in the fiscal Flat Earth Society. He’s the equivalent of an economic creationist.

Of course people work harder if they believe it will pay off. Naturally people slack off otherwise.

Nobody denies this is true of cabbies, car salesmen or newspaper columnists — why wouldn’t it be true of teachers?

Oh, that’s right: “Teachers want to teach.” They’re above worldly concerns like pay and job security. Which some teachers are.

But isn’t it likely that others have more materialistic motivations? Like the fact that it’s a great way for underachievers to prosper?

“Slackers wanting to earn the country’s easiest college major, should major in education,” reports Lynn O’Shaughnessy of CBS’s Moneywatch. “It’s easy to get ‘A’s’ if you’re an education major.”

Which is good news for education majors who, according to O’Shaughnessy, “enter college with the lowest average SAT scores.”

Damon wants us to believe this all-but-guaranteed lifetime employment has no impact on performance? Nobody’s a good enough actor to sell that.

So if you’re a “slacker” who wants to earn more than your brother the accountant, the public schools have got a deal for you!

And once you’re in, you’re in. If you’ve seen “Waiting for Superman,” you know that while one of every 57 doctors loses his license and one out of 97 lawyers gets disbarred, just one out of 1,000 teachers gets fired from big-city school systems for performance issues.

Damon wants us to believe this all-but-guaranteed lifetime employment has no impact on performance? Nobody’s a good enough actor to sell that.

Now that, Ms. Gibson, is how you school someone.

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Part of the issue as well is that unions merely want to hire more and protect existing jobs of teachers and administrators… not take care of students learning ability. As an example of this we see the hiring practices of these unionized organizations:

Which brings to mind these two great short videos:

Who poses the biggest threat to America’s economy by striking deals with crooked politicians? Big Oil, Big Pharma, or Big Unions? Daniel DiSalvo, political science professor at the City College of New York, gives the answer.