Los Angeles teachers demand a raise, but their appeal to the public is embarrassing and more importantly, misses the big picture.
Claiming that teachers have not received a raise since 2007, the United Teachers of Los Angeles held a protest rally last Wednesday. As reported by Ryan White in LA School Report,
“Hey, Deasy, baby, I want my money,” the red-shirted crowd sang in a hip-hop inspired chorus at a rally organized by UTLA in its ongoing bid to win salary increases from the district. Their target: Superintendent John Deasy.
With teachers’ last pay raise dating back to early 2007, the union says a salary hike is long overdue, especially since last fall’s voter-approved Prop. 30 increased the per-student funds the district receives from the state. The argument that teachers are now owed their financial due after years of sacrifice was the rally’s dominant refrain.
While the chant was thoroughly obnoxious, the teachers’ plea seems reasonable … on the surface. But a look under the microscope reveals things not apparent to the naked eye.
First, while it is true that teachers in Los Angeles have not received an across-the-board raise in almost seven years, they get yearly raises throughout most of their careers. Due to the step-and-column way we pay our teachers, most get a bump for simply not dying over the summer. Then they get more raises for taking “professional development” classes and workshops, despite conclusive research over the last 25 years by Stanford-based economist Eric Hanushek showing that these classes have no effect on student learning. In LA, the set-up is particularly egregious, resulting in a huge and unnecessary burden to the taxpayer.
According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses. (Emphasis added.)
In Los Angeles, a starting teacher makes $45,637 and a veteran can make up to $98,567. But it’s important to note that the average teacher works between 6 and 8 hours a day, 180 days per year – compared to the average college-educated worker, most of whom work over 8 hours a day and 240-250 days a year. The teacher union-perpetuated myth of the undercompensated teacher was blown up in 2011 by Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Their study, in fact, found that teachers are overpaid. Typically, teachers have perks like excellent healthcare and pension packages which aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,
Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.
When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.
Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.
Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels.” (Emphasis added.)
Another pay issue worth examining is the set-in-stone collective bargaining contract which makes no allowance for teacher quality. While many in the “Hey, Deasy, baby” crowd undoubtedly support collective bargaining, is it fetching them more money? Not according to data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli reports, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” He does add that
… there is some evidence from the NCTQ data that non-collective bargaining districts drive a harder bargain when it comes to health care….
All of this sheds a light on what the unions are really about: protecting benefits and seniority–not pushing for higher pay. If you’re a young teacher earning a lousy salary and paying union dues, that’s something to be very angry about.
An additional problem with collective bargaining is that it hurts good teachers because of “wage compression,” which occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing pay of the most productive ones. As Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson wrote in 2010,
The impact of this wage compression is significant. Using an instrumental variables model, and taking into account alternative explanations, Hoxby and Leigh (2004: 239) conclude that between 1963 and 2000, “Pay compression increased the share of the lowest-aptitude female college graduates who became teachers by about 9 percentage points and decreased the share of the highest-aptitude female college graduates who become teachers by about 12 percentage points.” (Emphasis added.) To this, Neal (2002: 34) adds that, “The rigid wage structures among public schools also raise questions about teacher retention.” In particular, he points to studies by Murnane and Olsen (1989, 1990) and Stinebrickner (2001), which examine separation rates for public school teachers, and concludes that “teachers with higher test scores and better college records leave their jobs at higher rates.”
After reviewing all the data, what leaps out is that teachers as a whole don’t fare badly at all when it comes to salary and benefits. But it is shameful that school districts and teachers unions in California have colluded to treat teachers as interchangeable widgets with no acknowledgment of teacher quality. That a great teacher and a mediocre teacher – both of whom have taught for the same period of time – make exactly the same amount of money is disgraceful. Good teachers are a treasure and should be compensated accordingly. At the end of the day, protesting teachers may demand “their money,” but after examining the facts, only the best ones deserve it.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.