Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jason Richwine, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The Heritage Foundation, and Andrew G. Biggs, Ph.D., is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

I have to preface this news article from the Heritage Foundation.  I want to say that I disagree with the data that Mr. Richwine uses to assess teacher duties and hours spend outside of the classroom.

Issue: Teachers work at home and on weekends, not just at the school building during classroom hours. How did you measure teacher work hours?

Perhaps the most common misconception is that we somehow undercounted the number of hours that teachers work. For example, Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond claimed that we generated our conclusions only “by underestimating the actual hours that teachers work—using ‘contract hours’ rather than the 50-plus hours a week teachers actually spend preparing for classes, grading papers, and communicating with students and parents outside of school hours.”[3]

Where Darling-Hammond got the idea that we used “contract hours” is not clear, but it could not have come from reading our study. We relied on teachers’ self-reports of the hours they work, not on contract hours.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) asks the following question: “In the weeks that [you] worked, how many hours did [you] usually work per week?”[4] The median number of work hours per week reported by teachers was 40, which is the same as reported by non-teachers.[5] Some teachers in the CPS work more than 40 hours, and some work fewer, but overall their hours are not dramatically different from those of other professionals. If a teacher did report working, say, 60 hours per week, we accepted that number.

Could teachers have misunderstood the CPS question as referring only to hours worked while physically in the school building? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) took an even more detailed look into teacher hours using a time-use survey, in which individuals create detailed logs of what they are doing over the course of an entire day.[6] The BLS noted that teachers do, in fact, put in more work time at home and on weekends than other professionals. But do teachers work longer hours overall? According to the BLS, the answer is no. The average workweek for teachers is a little under 40 hours, similar to what teachers reported in the CPS.

Though she did not cite a source, Darling-Hammond’s claim of “50-plus hours” worked by teachers echoes a survey conducted by the National Education Association (NEA). According to the NEA, teachers report an average of 50 hours per week “spent on all duties.”[7]

There are two major problems with interpreting this NEA number. First, only 37.8 percent of teachers to whom the NEA sent its survey completed it.[8] (The minority of teachers who filled out the eight-page, 64-question survey could plausibly work longer hours during the school year than the average teacher.)

Second, the NEA survey specifically probes for extra work time outside normal work hours. Using the NEA data to compare work hours between teachers and non-teachers would require asking non-teachers the same set of detailed questions about hours worked both at the office and at home. Otherwise, only teachers (not workers in general) would be nudged to report more hours than their initial intuition tells them.

Do some teachers work long hours? Yes—and when they do our study accounts for it. But do teachers as a whole work longer hours than workers in other occupations? The reliable data say no.

Issue: Shouldn’t teachers receive a premium for how hard they work in general?

Related to the work-hours issue is the difficulty of teaching in general. Teaching certainly does require hard work and dedication, but many people work hard who are not teachers. One of the ways to assess whether teaching requires a compensating differential for work difficulty is by comparing public-school-teacher salaries to private-school-teacher salaries. Since both sets of workers are teachers, the daily demands they face will be more similar to each other’s than to the non-teaching experience. But teachers in public schools receive average salaries that are 10 percent higher than salaries of teachers in private schools, and the disparity persists even after controlling for school and student characteristics.[9]

Issue: Teachers pay for classroom materials out of their own pockets. How does that affect your analysis?

In a press release responding to our report, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) cited “hundreds of dollars” per year in personal funds that teachers spend on their classrooms.[10] Barnett Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality made the same point, putting the number at $356.[11] Other data support an even higher amount: the Schools and Staffing Survey reports that in 2007–2008, 92 percent of public-school teachers reported spending their own funds on school supplies or other needs, with average spending at $415 per year.[12]

This follows an argumentative pattern similar to the first two objections we have listed: Teacher advocates make a point about the difficulty of being a teacher and then assume, without evidence, that this difficulty must be greater than that of other professions. We know of no systematic data on personal funds spent by non-teachers. Even if one assumed, however, that non-teachers suffered zero out-of-pocket expenses, the amounts spent by teachers on classroom supplies would have little effect on our analysis. Average teacher salaries and benefits total well over $100,000 per year, and our measured teacher compensation premium over the private sector exceeds $30,000.[13]

In addition, teachers enjoy a special federal tax deduction of up to $250 for work expenses. The deduction is above-the-line, meaning that teachers are eligible even if they have high-earning spouses or do not itemize their other deductions. According to IRS data, 3.8 million individuals filed for the educator-expense deduction in 2009.[14]

Finally, we note that rising costs for teacher compensation, in particular pensions and retiree health benefits, may constrain or reduce the funding available for classroom materials.

Issue: Teachers with long tenures accrue greater retirement benefits than younger teachers. Did you overestimate the value of retirement benefits by looking only at veteran teachers?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed that we “exaggerated the value of teacher compensation by comparing the retirement benefits of the small minority of teachers who stay in the classroom for 30 years, rather than comparing the pension benefits for the typical teacher to their peers in other professions.”[15] Similarly, Barnett Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality claimed that we “didn’t consider” the fact that some teachers leave the profession before collecting benefits.[16]

These claims are false. While we used a 30-year veteran teacher as part of a simple example to begin our pension discussion, our study makes clear that teachers with less tenure receive lower benefits than veteran teachers. For that reason, we valued pension compensation based on the “normal cost” of providing benefits, which is the average value of benefits accruing to all employees in a given year.[17] This value takes into account many factors, including the fact that some teachers do not stay in the profession long enough to collect benefits. So our estimate accurately reflects the value of pension benefits for the average teacher.

Issue: Did you account for the fact that some teachers do not collect Social Security benefits?

Roughly one-quarter of public workers at the state and local level, many of whom are teachers, do not participate in the Social Security system.[18] Our report accounts for this by assigning public-school teachers a lower average value of employer contributions toward Social Security than private-sector workers.

Teachers often suggest that not participating in Social Security is a disadvantage. However, Social Security pays middle-income and upper-income workers a below-market rate of return, generating only about two-thirds of the benefits that workers could receive by investing in safe government bonds.[19] In contrast, public pensions pay employees guaranteed implicit returns more than double those available through government bonds.

Put another way, Social Security imposes an “implicit tax” on participants by collecting more in contributions than it will return to them in benefits. Teachers who do not participate in Social Security are naturally exempt from this implicit tax. By and large, teachers and other public employees benefit from not participating in Social Security.

[3]Linda Darling-Hammond, “Teachers Paid Much Less Than Their Peers,” U.S. News and World Report, November 9, 2011, at (December 29, 2011).

[4]Current Population Survey, “2009 Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement,” 2009, pp. 8–24, at (December 29, 2011).

[5]These numbers are based on full-time workers (35 or more hours per week) between 2001 and 2010. The mean (as opposed to median) hours per week for teachers and non-teachers are greater than 40, due to some workers reporting very long workweeks. For all non-teachers, mean hours were 43.2. Non-teachers with at least a college degree reported mean hours of 44.8. Mean hours for teachers were 43.7.

[6]Rachel Krantz-Kent, “Teachers’ Work Patterns: When, Where, and How Much Do U.S. Teachers Work?” Monthly Labor Review (March 2008), at (December 29, 2011).

[7]National Education Association, “Status of the American Public School Teacher 2005–2006,” March 2010, p. 9, at (December 29, 2011).

[8]As noted in the survey’s methodology, “one must assume that nonrespondents (62.2% of the sample in this survey) have the same characteristics and attitudes as respondents.” (Emphasis and parenthetical note in original.); ibid., p. 2.

[9]Richwine and Biggs, “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,” pp. 9–10.

[10]Press release, “AFT President Randi Weingarten Responds to American Enterprise Institute Report on Teacher Compensation,” American Federation of Teachers, November 1, 2011, at (December 29, 2011).

[11]Barnett Berry, “Time to Pay Teachers What They Are Worth,” U.S. News and World Report, November, 9, 2011, at (December 29, 2011).

[12]National Center on Education Statistics, “Schools and Staffing Survey: Percentage of Public School Teachers Who Spent Their Own Unreimbursed Money on Classroom Supplies and Average Amount Spent During the 2006–07 School Year, by State: 2007–08,” at (January 3, 2012). The $415 figure is the product of 92.4 percent of teachers reporting spending their own funds and $450 in average annual spending for those who spend out-of-pocket.

[13]Richwine and Biggs, “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,” p. 23.

[14]The average expense claimed was $212. Assuming an average marginal income tax rate of 25 percent, this deduction reduces average out-of-pocket costs by $53. Internal Revenue Service, “2009 Estimated Data Line Counts. Individual Income Tax Returns,” August 2011, at (December 29, 2011).

[15]Arne Duncan, “Teacher Pay Study Asks the Wrong Question, Ignores Facts, Insults Teachers,” The Huffington Post, November 9, 2011, at (December 29, 2011).

[16]Berry, “Time to Pay Teachers What They Are Worth.”

[17]For an introduction to what a normal cost is, see American Academy of Actuaries, “Fundamentals of Current Pension Funding and Accounting for Private Sector Pension Plans,” July 2004, at (December 29, 2011).

[18]The actual figure is 27.5 percent. Dawn Nuschler, Alison M. Shelton, and John J. Topoleski, “Social Security: Mandatory Coverage of New State and Local Government Employees,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress No. R41936, July 25, 2011, Table 1, at (December 29, 2011).

[19]Office of the Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration, “Moneys Worth Ratios Under the OASDI Program for Hypothetical Workers,” July 2010.

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