Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

E-mail Me

Twitter: yourlyingeyes

08 August 2010

Paying Teachers: Do You Get What You Pay For?

(NOTE: UPDATE 9:55pm EDT - Additional graphs added below.)
Some things are so obviously true that they needn't ever be discussed. For example, the more you pay teachers, the more our students will learn. So why bother even looking up the data to prove something so self-evident? Well, what the hell.

The American Federation of Teachers publishes an annual survey of average teacher salaries by state as a service to their members. The last survey was from 2006/07. Now of course living standards differ across the country, but if we normalize these salaries to median household income by state, that should give us a good measure of teacher pay relative to the state as a whole. Household median income from the 2008 American Community Survey is available here.

The NAEP reading scores for 8th graders should give us a good measure for how well students in each state have learned to read, a basic job of teachers. To avoid the confounding factor of race, I've restricted the scores to white students only. NAEP data is available here.

So what do we find? (Click for larger image.)
There is actually a negative relationship between relative salary and reading score - albeit a weak one with an R2 of 0.1. But there's no support for the assumption that higher teacher pay leads to better educational outcome.

Here's the graph with labels for each state so you can find how your state fares.
It would appear that in some states teachers are real bargains - New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Connecticut stand out. California not so much, and Arkansans are getting a real raw deal. West Virginia as usual stands dismally alone. For my home state of New Jersey, where Governor Christie is locked in a savage battle with the NJEA, this data could be used to argue that the state could clearly afford higher teacher salaries, or that cutting back on compensation is unlikely to have a particularly adverse impact on education. California teachers, on the other hand, in their battle with budget constraints haven't a leg to stand on.

UPDATE: At Steve Sailer's request, I've updated the graphs to reflect teacher salaries relative to white incomes, as most teachers would probably measure themselves against this standard rather than the state as a whole. Using White-Non-Hispanic median family income, there is some substantial shifting around of some of the states, though the overall story is the same - the relationship is still negatively correlated (R=-0.32, R2=.11. For example, as Steve expected, California teachers are no longer the 3rd highest paid but are now tied for 20th (because of the dichotomy in white vs. Hispanic incomes). A number of heartland states are really overpaying their teachers it would appear, while some of the Northeast states are getting their teachers at bargain prices. And note the gap between Rhode Island and neighboring Mass. When it comes to viewing this as indicating what a state could afford to pay their teachers, the total income (vs. white only) is probably a better measure to use.

Data behind the graphs is here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis... The untested educational dogmas created by the American teachers unions could not be further from reality. Thomas Sowell has done a ton of work regarding this topic, and there is a great video on youtube of him speaking about it. "In Washington DC they have some of the highest expenditures per pupil, and some of the lowest scores in the country...Of the five highest states in test scores, all were below the national average in expenditures per pupil."

Check out the video here:

It never ceases to amaze me how poorly these highly-funded, highly-politicized agendas match up against cold, hard evidence.

August 09, 2010 1:00 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Thanks. It seems pretty clear that, in the aggregate, student performance is fairly immune to influence by the teaching staff. But there's probably some important environmental factors in schools (ie., factors other than the students' innate abilities) that lead to better performance. But one of them is almost certainly not teacher salaries (given some minimum level, obviously).

August 09, 2010 7:58 AM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...


One refinement might be to compare white student's performance to teacher's pay as a percent of white median income per state. California is a low median income, high cost of living state. Teaching is more of a run of the mill white person's job but is an above average job compared to all the gardener's assistants in California.

August 09, 2010 7:01 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

Good idea - working on it now.

August 09, 2010 8:09 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Did it not occur to you that the four highest achieving states are also among the most affluent states in the country? This, of course, has nothing to do with teachers, but as someone who grew up in NJ and had fairly mediocre teachers at an okay public HS, my own success was largely a result of family influence and a freedom from want. I presume those factors are also among the most important when it comes to predicting the average success of kids.

August 11, 2010 4:36 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

"Did it not occur to you that the four highest achieving states are also among the most affluent states in the country? This, of course, has nothing to do with teachers, but as someone who grew up in NJ and had fairly mediocre teachers at an okay public HS, my own success was largely a result of family influence and a freedom from want. I presume those factors are also among the most important when it comes to predicting the average success of kids."

Yes, this is my default assumption - that it's the quality of the kids (outside of schools' influence) that largely drives the overall achievement level in schools. that's why I was being so (I thought) unsubtle in my sarcasm.

Still, I'm sure there's a certain amount that schools could do to improve student performance - but I'm guessing paying teachers more isn't one of them.

By the way, as a fellow New-Jerseyite - have you observed that there's been a big push among housewives to go into teaching to get the benefits that their self-employed husbands lack? That no doubt puts some downward pressure on wages.

August 11, 2010 6:00 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Sorry for not catching the sarcasm. I blaze through so many blog posts and articles a day my sesne of humor probably gets beaten to a bloody, quant squashed pulp. Absolutely, on your last point. Most of my teachers up until high school were married housewives. Given how private business has shifted the risks ever downward onto their employees and how fickle the private sector can be based on one bad quarter, teaching makes sense, especially in safe districts where your students will be talented and supported enough that unless you really mail it in your test scores will always be at least adequate. I can't think of a single teacher who I knew was fired for crappy teaching, granted those aren't the types of decisions we were privy to. Anyway, for whatever reason men became far more prominent as teachers once I got older. My best friend's sister is currently a special ed teacher elementary teacher in CJ and engaged to a gym teacher who works in North NJ and they just bought a four bedroom house in Bridgewater, NJ on about 2 acres of land and both are in their 20s. So, they aren't doing too badly. There was a NY Times piece that cited a Harvard con study that found that a good kindergarten teacher was worth up to 300k annually in terms of increased future earnings. Not sure why people are letting Christie get away with making public employees out to be 2k10s Willie Hortons/welfare moms.

August 12, 2010 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the 8th Grade NAEP average for black students? I'm curious how WV whites compare to the national black average.

August 12, 2010 1:12 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

W.V. white 8th graders score about .3 standard deviations above the national black average. But interestingly, in 2009, black Massachusetts 8th graders scored above white W.V. 8th graders on Math (though statistically a dead heat given the standard error). In Massachusetts, itself, there remains a hefty b/w gap. I covered this stuff in more detail here and elsewhere on this blog (search on "gap"). Nationally, whites outscore blacks by .85 standard deviations in reading and of course 1 s.d. in math.

August 12, 2010 8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I do agree that the family plays an important role in the academic success of their children, I have become increasingly skeptical of societal scapegoating. Having been a tutor in the DC area for around 6 years, I was disgusted on a daily basis when hearing sub-par teachers claim, "well it doesn't matter what we try to teach these kids...they go home and get no support from their families".

The underachieving standardized test scores led one of the particular schools to completely revamp their curriculum, now devoting all lessons toward test preparation, and test-taking strategies. 7th graders at this school are no longer able to write well-structured sentences or perform math problems that require order of operations, but they sure know how to find the main idea do process of elimination!

Along the same line, the other bothersome question I always hear from young teachers is "how are the national standardized test scores supposed to go up if these inner-city children have such troubled lives at home?" In Sowell's "Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas", the author offers thorough analysis of the matter at hand.

"It is unquestionably true that the home backgrounds of children influence how well they do in school, and that these backgrounds vary by social class and by race. However, to say that an influence exists is not to say that it explains the particular pattern that we see...

While it is undoubtedly true that there are many negative factors at work in many low-income neighborhood schools, especially those in the inner-city ghettos and barrios, that does not automatically explain away the declining academic performances of American schools in general. Black and Hispanic students have lower than average test scores on such examinations as SATs, but their SAT scores cannot explain the national decline, for Hispanic scores have RISEN during much of the national decline, and Black scores have risen still more...

In reality, however, SAT scores have declined AT THE TOP, not because there were more low scores averaged in. More than 116,000 students scored above 600 on the verbal SAT in 1972 and fewer than 71,000 scored that high ten years later. Between the 1960s and 1980s, median SAT scores dropped at colleges from coast to coast, INCLUDING THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS... As Diane Ravitch put it: 'The shrinkage of the top scorers has proceeded steadily since the 1960s and obviously is unrelated to the overall composition of the test group.'"

The topic of education is a specific interest of mine, as I'm sure it is for most people. I think there is a vast array of issues that have worked together in our nation's educational decline, and it is nearly impossible to pinpoint a specific problem that has caused this downward spiral. I do, however, believe the majority of issues regarding the abysmal education of our children are institutional, rather than societal.

August 12, 2010 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Patricia Eyer said...

We work not just because to have money but because for us to learn and for us to be productive in our everyday lives. But for me it's great to know that you're being paid of right and based on your best efforts and performance at work. Because there are certain cases where you work so hard and yet you only get low salary out of your hard work like teachers for instance. But great thing there are Human Resource Management Outsourcing and Human Resources Management Consulting team together with the payroll team whom you can always count on to whenever you have concerns regarding your salary.

December 22, 2010 2:10 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home