Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2018

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Sun editorial:

Comparison of teachers with other jobs makes unrealistic conclusion

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Christopher DeVargas

Ryan Dwyer, a full-time teacher and certified CCSD Librarian, teaches class at Kay Carl Elementary School, Friday May 13, 2016.

Opponents of public schools like to dissect teacher salaries in all sorts of ways to suggest that K-12 educators are not underpaid and in fact are lavishly rewarded for their work.

But don’t let those numbers fool you.

As an example, let’s take a local columnist’s breakdown from this past May on teacher salaries in the Clark County School District, which, according to the column’s sensational headline, “will shock you.”

To that point, the columnist cited the 2017 version of an annual analysis of salaries for new college grads by global consulting firm Korn Ferry. He compared the salary plus benefits for an incoming CCSD teacher, $60,600, with the top position listed in the Korn Ferry study — software engineer, at $65,232. Given that the CCSD work year is shorter than that of a software engineer, the columnist reported, that incoming teacher makes significantly more per hour than his or her peer in engineering.

Certainly sounds shocking, doesn’t it?

But hold on a second. Michael Hansen, an expert in public education labor issues for the Brookings Institution, says comparisons like that are tricky at best and unfair at worst. The reason: Teaching is different from other professions in terms of its calendar, demands, uncompensated overtime and education level, and teachers are paid accordingly.

“Getting an apples-to-apples comparison between teachers and other occupations is a hard thing to do,” Hansen said.

As an example, Hansen noted that teachers were more highly educated than some of the occupations listed in the Korn Ferry study. That’s especially become the case in the post-recession years, when school districts increasingly adopted new salary schedules that incentivize teachers to obtain postgraduate degrees.

So comparing teachers on a per-hour level with software engineers or others in year-round professions doesn’t tell a full story.

Plus, if we’re concerned about overpaying teachers, shouldn’t we be looking at the market rate for compensation? Based on that metric, Nevada’s teachers fall roughly in the middle of the scale, slightly below the national average. On a peer-to-peer level, then, teachers are hardly making a killing.

Remember that the next time someone tries to convince you we’re paying teachers too much.

Then there’s this, which comes from a Korn Ferry executive quoted in the analysis: “Strong starting salaries, along with a good culture and opportunity for advancement, help make companies employers of choice.”

In other words, whether you’re hiring teachers, engineers or any other type of worker, it pays to pay them well.

Finally, while software engineers and other professions are important, no one is more critical in our society than the people who teach, shape and enlighten the minds of our future. One of the foundation stones of our democracy is a vibrant public education taught by people who are valued by our society.

The measure of that value — part of it— is how much we compensate them for reaching tomorrow’s leaders and preparing people for the workforce, including software engineers.

What’s the price on that?