by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Kris Nordstrom of the N.C. Justice Center spends a great deal of time and effort critiquing my cost-of-living adjustments to the average teacher pay figures released by the National Education Association (NEA) last week. My very short blog post on the matter is hardly worth the effort.
Regardless, context matters (or should matter). Mr. Nordstrom complains, in part, that I ignored local and regional variations in the cost of living. And he is correct. The reason why I used statewide cost-of-living indices to adjust the NEA average salary data is simple. The NEA reported only statewide data, and the media discussion was about statewide NEA data. Missing was the discussion of the best methodologies for comparing teacher salaries or the validity of the ranking itself.
I am aware that statewide cost-of-living indices obscure variations within states. Had the NEA reported local or regional differences in average teacher salary, I would have accounted for them. Moreover, my failure to mention those empirical shortcomings should not be considered a tacit approval of their methodology or the study itself. After all, I questioned the validity of the annual rankings in the 2015 essay “Average teacher pay statistics are misleading” and elsewhere. I have never been fond of it.
In fact, Mr. Nordstrom complaints should be directed to the organization responsible for setting the terms of the debate, the National Education Association.
Curiously, the NEA ranking appears to get a pass from Mr. Nordstrom even though it does not meet his analytical standards. Had the NEA published an apples-t0-apples comparison of teacher wages in the first place, there would be no need to make cost-of-living adjustments or discuss the failure to account for them.
For better or worse, we were all working with a flawed ranking of estimated average pay (for states of different sizes operating systems of different configurations) because the NEA report is covered widely by the media and used by politicians on the campaign trail, not because it will get us closer to the Truth.