Public school teachers are, according to modern lore, “desperately underpaid,” as Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated. Research from the Economic Policy Institute, for instance, concludes that public school teachers as a group are underpaid by around 13 percent. Jason Richwine and I think the conventional wisdom is wrong: Teachers’ salaries are roughly on par with what those individuals would earn in alternate jobs, and their benefits, including generous pensions and retiree health coverage, a shorter work year and better job security, are far more generous than they would receive outside of teaching.
But there’s another way to look at teacher pay: supply and demand. If teachers were truly underpaid, schools would have a hard time attracting applicants. But, as Education Week reports, the opposite seems to be the case: “Some states are producing far more new teachers at the elementary level than will be able to find jobs in their respective states—even as districts struggle to find enough recruits in other certification fields.” Education Week’s analysis of state data indicate that in some cases far more individuals are enrolling in elementary teacher training programs than can possibly find jobs as teachers. This is the opposite of what the underpaid teacher hypothesis would predict.
Moreover, these data aren’t simply a function of tough economic times. As Jason and I have documented, this surplus of teacher applicants over openings has existed for many years.