Video: Do public-school teachers make too little?

For most of my adult life, politicians have asserted that public-school teachers are underpaid and underresourced. But even if that was true at one time, is it true any longer? Reason looks at the facts and intersperses the data with some now-familiar scenes of teacher protests, set to a particularly apt piece of music:

Teachers have a lot to lose. According to Department of Education statistics, in 2007-2008 (the latest year available), full-time public school teachers across the country made an average of $53,230 in “total school-year and summer earned income.” That compares favorably to the $39,690 that private school teachers pulled down.

And when it comes to retirement benefits, public school teachers do better than average too.According to EducationNext, government employer contribute the equivalent of 14.6 percent of salary to retirement benefits for public school teachers. That compares to 10.4 for private-sector professionals.

Those levels of compensation help explain why per-pupil school costs have risen substantially over the past 50 years. In 1960-61, public schools spent $2,769 per student, a figure that now totals over $10,000 in real, inflation-adjusted dollars. Among the things that threefold-plus increase in spending has purchased are more teachers per student. In 1960, the student-teacher ratio in public schools was 25.8; it’s now at a historic low of 15.

Among the things all that money hasn’t bought? Parental satisfaction, for one. Despite public teachers’ much-higher salaries, parents with school-age children in public schools report substantially lower satisfaction rates than parents with children in private schools. In 2007, the percentage of parents with children in assigned public schools who were “very satisfied” with the institution was 52 percent. For parents whose children attended public schools of choice, that figure rose to 62 percent. Parents sending their children to private schools, whether religious or non-sectarian, were “very satisfied” 79 percent of the time.

At the end of this 40-year period of ever-increasing investment in public education, have we improved the actual productNot exactly.  Here are the average scores for reading at three different grade levels from 1971 to 2008 from NEAP:

In mathematics, the trend is the same. Note that the averages for the two earlier grade levels increased slightly over the last 40 years, but that the competency of graduating-age teens has barely budged:

Despite the vast amount of money sunk into education at state and federal levels since 1971, the product has not improved at all in the government monopoly.  Those are the facts, and it’s time that taxpayers demanded more control of the system — or real choice for all parents to take their money and opt out of it.

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