I’ve been researching and writing lately and just now catching up on the blogs. Jonathan Chait comments on a new paper by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, explaining that public school teachers are not underpaid. In fact, they explain that “public school teachers are overpaid by more than 50 percent,” costing state and local governments more than $100 billion annually. They proceed to rebut the argument most commonly offered to the contrary—i.e., the apples-to-oranges comparison that the average public school teacher earns about 19% less than the average private sector worker with a post-secondary school degree.
Surprisingly, Chait is “willing to stipulate that [Biggs and Richwine’s claim] is true.” Instead, he complains that they are asking the wrong question. Instead, Chait argues, we can acknowledge that we have bad teachers. Therefore, we must be paying them badly. Pay them less, and they’ll perform even worse.
Maybe the logic is escaping me, but how does Chait get from agreeing that we pay public school teachers too much to concluding that we pay them too little? I get the point about how we might attract better teachers if we offered more money. But that doesn’t explain why, on average, the people we are currently paying to teach our kids don’t even justify what they are paid. What accounts for that gap?
That’s the relevant question, and the one to which Biggs and Richwine suggest an answer. Chait doesn’t like the answer, and he can’t contend with the analysis, so his response is to take issue with the question. Standard evasion procedure.