JLF Memo
Mar. 29th, 2011 : - johnlocke.org

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The Teacher Pay Debate
By Dr. Terry Stoops

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As you may have noticed from the title, I am writing about teacher pay this week. Email complaints to [email protected]. If you choose to compose a response, I have one simple request. Please read the CommenTerry first and address the arguments in the essay.

Bulletin Board

  • The John W. Pope Civitas Institute will hold its monthly poll luncheon on Wednesday, March 30 at 12:00 pm at the Cardinal Club (Wachovia Building) in downtown Raleigh. To register, call 919-834-2099 or go to http://www.nccivitas.org/events.

  • The John Locke Foundation is sponsoring a Citizen's Constitutional Workshop on Saturday, April 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Brunswick Community College: Main Campus-Building A, Room A-231 in Bolivia, NC. Historian Dr. Troy Kickler and political science expert Dr. Michael Sanera will discuss "What the Founders and the State Ratification Conventions Can Teach Us Today." The cost is $10.00 per participant, lunch included. Pre-registration is strongly suggested. For more information or to sign up for the event, visit the Events section of the John Locke Foundation website.

  • On Thursday, April 14, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Schools and the Civitas Institute of Raleigh are sponsoring a half-day education budget seminar. The seminar is open to school board members and school leaders throughout North Carolina and will be focused exclusively on current budget problems and strategies for addressing these challenges. The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Schools Training Building (4801 Bethania Station Road, Winston-Salem, NC) will be the training site. Registration for the event is $30.00 and includes lunch. After April 7, registration will be $40.00. Register online at www.nccivitas.org/events or by calling 919-834-2099.

  • The North Carolina History Project would like educators and homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school courses in North Carolina history. Please provide links to NC History Project encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source material, if possible. Go to http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/edu_corner for further information.

  • You will find wisdom, knowledge, and purpose at our research newsletter archive.


On March 14, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) published their Fund Schools First study. (For some background, I discussed the premise of the report in a previous newsletter.) Marge Foreman, a lobbyist for the group, did an admirable job of compiling data for the 15-page report.

One of the data points in the report has caught the attention of the media and the public. According to the NCAE's parent group, the National Education Association (NEA), North Carolina ranks 45th in the nation in teacher pay. It has been a useful sound bite for the NCAE leadership, but it is a problematic one. NEA researchers urge readers of their
Rankings and Estimates report, which the NCAE used to determine the ranking, to be very cautious about interpreting salary data in this way. They wrote, 

In addition, compensation systems at the district level include more than salaries alone. Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify and categorize the employee benefits--both monetary and nonmonetary--associated with public school employment. Add the fact that each state is made up of individual school-district employers and it becomes apparent that salary statistics alone should not be the basis for evaluating state or district compensation. Further, any discussion of average salary figures in the absence of other data about the specific state or district provides limited insights into the actual "value" of those salaries. For example, variations in the cost of living may go a long way toward explaining (and, in practice, offsetting) differences in salary levels from one area of the country to another. (p. 76, emphasis added)

That is not to say that North Carolina's teacher salary ranking has not dropped relative to other states, but the issue of teacher compensation is much more complex than simply a ranking on a scale.

Researchers have proposed other ways of looking at the competitiveness of teacher salaries. John A. Tures, an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia, examined teacher salaries relative to median household income. In a recent column published in the Southern Political Report, he pointed out that teacher salaries in the South compare favorably to median incomes in those states. Professor Tures found, 

Contrary to the popular myth that the South is the most inhospitable to teachers, the region is more favorable to teachers. Of the 15 states that pay a dollar more than the state's median household income, several (Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama) are Southern states. And others, like Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas have teacher salaries that are reasonably close to their state's median household income. Only Mississippi and Virginia pay teachers significantly less than their state average earnings.

I had some questions about the website that Professor Tures used for his analysis, so I examined the data for myself. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the median North Carolina household income in 2009 was $41,906 (+/- $576). The National Education Association reported that the average teacher salary in North Carolina was $46,850 during the 2009-2010 school year. Compared with the median North Carolina household, the state's teachers are doing OK. Additionally, average teacher salary in North Carolina exceeds the mean annual wages for a number of social services and healthcare support professions tracked in our state by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While suggestive, comparisons of average teacher pay with household income or similar professions are imperfect and often introduce more questions than they answer.

We also have to consider the role of politics. Some state legislatures and school boards continued to raise public employee salaries, enhance benefits, or maintain employment levels during the recession, perhaps using temporary federal "stimulus" money to do so. As the stimulus money runs out and the economy continues to recover, some states will struggle to pay the bill. The former Democratic majority in the North Carolina General Assembly took a cautious approach during the economic downturn -- much to the dismay of their NCAE benefactors. Our legislative leaders kept teacher and administrator salary levels stagnant, but also used "stimulus" funds to write checks our economy couldn't cash.

By the way, to complain about those past transgressions, visit the North Carolina Democratic Party's contact page here.

Of course, some members of the NCAE believe that Republican state legislators should raise taxes to bring North Carolina's average teacher salary closer to the national average. The reality is that most counties across North Carolina cannot afford to provide a comparable increase to the nearly 4,500 teachers paid with local dollars. Similarly, funds may not be available to give raises to nearly 11,500 teachers paid from federal funds and grants.

I suspect that NCAE leaders know that this economic environment -- with statewide unemployment at 9.7 percent and inflation on the way up -- is a bad time to propose raising taxes for the benefit of one class of public employees. Thus, their report simply recommends that the General Assembly take a "balanced approach" to the budget. Presumably, a "balanced" approach includes tax increases and spending cuts. Perhaps the group will detail those proposed cuts in another study called Fund Education and Nothing Else.

Random Thought

If you are like me, seasonal allergies are making your life miserable. For those of us who are sniffling, sneezing, and rubbing their eyes, I offer WebMD's article, "How to Survive Allergy Season." You're welcome.

Facts and Stats

21.2% -- The cumulative increase in North Carolina's average teacher salary since the 2005-06 school year. (Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Division of School Business, "Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget," February 2011, p. 15.)


I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].

Education Acronym of the Week

RIF -- Reduction in Force

Quote of the Week

"So, what do I mean when I talk about transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes? Our K-12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education. A century ago, maybe it made sense to adopt seat-time requirements for graduation and pay teachers based on their educational credentials and seniority. Educators were right to fear the large class sizes that prevailed in many schools. But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century. Today, our schools must prepare all students for college and careers--and do far more to personalize instruction and employ the smart use of technology. Teachers cannot be interchangeable widgets. Yet the legacy of the factory model of schooling is that tens of billions of dollars are tied up in unproductive use of time and technology, in underused school buildings, in antiquated compensation systems, and in inefficient school finance systems."

-- U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, "The New Normal: Doing More with Less -- Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the American Enterprise Institute," November 17, 2010

Click here for the Education Update archive.


Upcoming Events

Saturday, Apr. 2nd, 2011 at 10:00am-3:30pm
A Citizens' Constitutional Workshop in Brunswick County, NC
with presenters Dr. Troy Kickler & Dr. Michael Sanera
What the Founders and the State Ratification Conventions
Can Teach Us Today

Monday, Apr. 4th, 2011 at 12:00 PM, Noon
A meeting of the Shaftesbury Society
with our special guest Steven F. Hayward
The Death of Environmentalism?
Reflections on the Rise and Fall of a Social Movement

Saturday, Apr. 9th, 2011 at 9:30 am- 3:30 pm
A Citizens' Constitutional Workshop in Monroe, NC
with presenters Dr. Troy Kickler & Dr. Michael Sanera
What the Founders and the State Ratification Conventions
Can Teach Us Today

Friday, May. 20th, 2011 at 1:00pm-4:30pm
A Citizens' Constitutional Workshop in Franklin, N.C.
with presenters Dr. Troy Kickler & Dr. Michael Sanera
What the Founders and the State Ratification Conventions
Can Teach Us Today

Saturday, May. 21st, 2011 at 1:00pm-5:30pm
A Citizens' Constitution Workshop in Murphy, N.C.
with presenters Dr. Troy Kickler & Dr. Michael Sanera
What the Founders and the State Ratification Conventions
Can Teach Us Today

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