Taking the Debate to a Whole New Level

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A real cannonball was hurled in the teacher pay debate this week with the release of a serious study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Economists Lawrence Mishel, Sean Corcoran and Sylvia Allegretto go to battle with such economists as Michael Podgursky and Richard Vedder, who have compared teacher pay with the average pay in other similar professions and separately concluded that teachers get paid more (see Education Next 3-3). Until now, both Podgursky and Vedder's views on this issue have gone unchallenged by opposing scholarship—with advocates for higher teacher pay relying on the public's perception that teachers are seriously underpaid to sell their view. Until now, the only reports supporting the idea had been produced by teacher's unions, which are rightfully considered suspect.

EPI launches head first into this controversy asserting emphatically that teachers come out well behind in pay comparisons (by a margin of 25%), giving no ground on any assertion that teacher pay is on the par of other professions, even when considering fringe benefit packages. The authors assert that the fringe benefit advantage that teachers enjoy is too slight to compensate for lower pay and doesn't factor in that teachers get fewer bonuses and overtime pay as well as fewer paid vacation days (the latter observation leaving us scratching our heads).

Why have the two sides reached two such different conclusions? They're using different sources of data. EPI establishes a credible (though at times obtuse) argument against the use of hourly wage data that Podgursky and Vedder both used, preferring instead to rely on household surveys reporting weekly earnings. The crux of the disagreement is which set of data most accurately captures teachers' 10-month work year. Stay tuned for the next round.