The following comments were made to a rebuttal from Jason Richwine and Andrew G. Biggs titled: Are Teachers Overpaid? A Response to Critics.
Ah, the fine art of pseudo-science; otherwise, known as economics. It must be nice to believe so much in yourself and your “data” that you can stretch circular logic as far as these two gentlemen.
Here is my perspective of their logic.
First, let’s start with a premise: teacher skills are not that valuable, or the market would pay them more. Now, let’s compare the (low) average teacher income with the overall compensation package of those making the same average income as teachers, which shows that teachers receive an imputed 50 cents [sic “extra for every dollar”] of additional income compared to those “harder-working” souls in the private-sector. The benefit differential is likely true; most in the private sector making that level of (low) income receive few benefits since their skills are not valued much either. The market knows there will be another needy soul coming along shortly to fill any opening left when the incumbent moves on in search of a “living compensation package.” And the ability of these employees to negotiate for improved benefits, or pay, via collective bargaining is considered anti-American, or worse, socialist or communist, so their ability to receive health care or any retirement related benefits has effectively been neutered by the “market.” Then, start making loosely coupled claims that teachers are grossly overpaid for their “equivalent” “skills,” said comparison solely based on a proxy having no relationship to skills. Pile on as further “evidence” that teachers are paid less when they leave the profession; do not forget that the “market” values them so highly that they should expect to make so much more than what they actually end up receiving. Imply that teachers should be happy they receive any paycheck at all, and lo and behold, you have a data-driven research influencing the public, and those who control education budgets. And this is supposed to survive scrutiny as research??
Let’s look at a few of their unsubstantiated claims (i.e., assertions).
1.) “Although some may well be underpaid, the typical public school teacher makes roughly $1.52 for every dollar made by a private-sector employee with similar skills.”
Yes, teachers have been able to eek out something close to a living compensation package, with a modest annual income, and a fraction of that amount starting 30 years later as a pension. Now, compare that to what it actually takes to live in any metropolitan area in the country, and you’ll see it requires a very Spartan life, indeed; one that our esteemed researchers would cry foul over if they needed to live that way.
2.) “…college diplomas aren’t equal measures of skills valued by the labor market.”
If they are trying to say the value of a college diploma depends upon the field of study, and granting institution, then, okay. So, what’s new? However, if they are trying to say college diplomas do not signal skill differences, why is there a pay differential for those with degrees versus those without one?
There’s also the ambiguity of their wording, “valued by the labor market,” which I find to be the Achilles’ Heel of their argument. Of course, the labor market does not value teachers; otherwise, they would be paid more! Instead, our nation benefits from the self-sacrifice made by many teachers, who tolerate conditions most people would consider close to abusive, because they feel a calling to sacrifice so that the greater good benefits; something many people do not comprehend since it defies “free-market” doctrine. “Why in the world would someone not try to maximize their income level?” they think to themselves. That is surely un-American!
3.) “…teachers should still receive no more and no less than fair-market compensation for their skills. Only the data can tell us whether that is happening.”
Yes, the “data,” the arbiter of all truth, its sanctity sacrosanct. Numbers are pure, unadulterated indicators of reality; at least that is the economist’s Faustian bargain. For without this abdication of reason, the ironclad facts that spout from economists’ minds might be rendered meaningless. And what might that do to the market value for economists?
Speaking of “fair-market,” since when were teachers traded, or wagers placed on their value? I posit that if teachers walked off en masse, the “efficient frontier” would assert itself, and replacement teachers would demand greater compensation for their efforts, much like mutual fund managers demand higher returns for the same level of risk; something economists might be able to understand. By the way, this is all so hypothetical since teachers would never do this, given our commitment to our students, but for the moment, let’s suspend reality, like the economists’ do all too often and all too readily.
4.) “…our study analyzed salaries using more-objective measures of ability, such as SAT and GRE scores, and we found that teachers are paid salaries right around where we’d expect, given their skills as measured by these metrics.”
Right, standardized test scores are objective; they are numbers, which are objects. So I will grant them their measure is objective, by definition. However, where is their demonstration of the linkage between their proxy and reality? What is the R-squared value between the SAT and GRE scores and the skills required to be a teacher? And what leads them to imply that the SAT and GRE scores are predictive measures of ability? Hmmm, that is the linchpin of their entire study, too.
Their entire research is purely circular logic. Reminds me of the adage from my computer science days, “Garbage in, garbage out.”