FROM THE HART | They are well compensated, with golden benefits, security and pensions

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"One of the most consistent complaints among teachers is that they don't get paid enough," CNNMoney.com reports. Of course that's the perception of educators. And the popular culture.

The Hollywood version of the overworked, underpaid teacher is the mother's milk of the teachers' unions. "Low teacher pay comes at a high cost for schools and kids," the National Education Association (NEA) declares on its website as if it's discussing a law of physics.

And wow do they get their message out!

Look, I have four kids who will head off to various public schools next week. I'm glad for the good, responsive, and caring teachers I know they'll have. Of course, I expect that since I pay for them through high property taxes and school fees.

But the overworked, underpaid variety? Yes, some teachers fit that description. But on the whole, it's a myth, and perpetuating the myth degrades teachers, their profession and our kids.

Let's start with the ABCs of teacher compensation. In Illinois, the average teacher makes over $60,000 a year, according to the NEA. In Chicago, it's higher: $70,000. Some make over $100,000 a year.

And compared to their peers? A 2007 report from the Manhattan Institute looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data and found that when comparing pay for workers on an hourly basis across the U.S., "The average public school teacher was paid 36 percent more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11 percent more than the average professional specialty and technical worker." For example, architects or chemists. The differences are actually slightly greater in the Chicago area.

On average teachers also worked fewer hours per week, in the weeks they worked, than their professional peers. BLS statistics are designed to take into account all hours worked by teachers including those spent grading papers and preparing for class, and any hours spent on required extracurricular activities.

But the base pay is just part of the compensation package. Educator health benefits are gold-plated, and the pensions are staggering.

Fully vested teachers in Illinois can retire with up to 65 percent of their average career salaries for the rest of their lives, with regular "cost of living" increases.

(Recent changes to the Illinois pension system, which is bankrupting the state, will affect only new hires.)
Along the way, teachers have several months off each year to work elsewhere or not at all.

And the unions make it almost impossible for a lousy teacher to get fired.

Scott Reeder, an experienced investigative journalist in Springfield, showed in his 2005 series "The Hidden Costs of Tenure" that as of that year, on average two of 95,000 tenured teachers across Illinois were outright fired each year due to poor performance.

And so perpetuating the mythology that most teachers have a raw deal doesn't honor them at all, but only denigrates their profession and status.

Worst of all, this agenda dishonors our kids by telling them they are not a public priority, when nothing could or should be further from the truth.

Most teachers, certainly here in Illinois, have well-compensated, comfortable, meaningful, secure jobs precisely because we value teachers. There are lots of problems with our education system. But the lesson here is that not taking good care of our educators sure isn't one of them.