NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Pay Rises Even As Quality Declines

December 21, 1998

There is an almost universal feeling that the quality of education in the U.S. has slipped in recent years. And there is also a belief that the general quality of teachers has fallen, highlighted by the recent Massachusetts case where some 60 percent of aspiring teachers could not pass a simple certification test.

Teachers' unions have a simple explanation: we just don't pay them enough. Pay more and teacher quality will improve, they say. The only problem with this theory is that teacher pay has been rising faster than most other jobs for years even as teacher quality has deteriorated.

  • In 1980, the average elementary and secondary school teacher made 46 percent more than the average production worker.
  • By 1997, teachers were making 57 percent more.

Furthermore, empirical research has failed to find any correlation between teacher pay and teacher quality. This research is summarized in a recent book, "Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality" (Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research). In part, this is due to the nature of the market for teachers--pay tends to be the same for all teachers regardless of performance. This discourages the highly-qualified from entering teaching and draws the best teachers away into other, more lucrative jobs.

In the end, the answer to improving the quality of education involves far more than just raising the pay for all teachers.

Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, December 21, 1998.


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