"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Jay Greene Garbage and the Media That Collect It

With education reporters regularly displaying ignorance and lack of interest in the issues they report on, it is not surprising that the smelly expulsions of the propaganda tanks find their way into, otherwise, legitimate newspapers. And the liberal slant? Well, there are also 10-foot alligators in the New York sewer system. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported last June that the conservatives are, in fact, the go-to guys when it comes to reporting the education "news":
While total think tank citations decreased for the first time in our study, the decline was most precipitous among left-leaning think tanks. Overall, the 27,229 citations that the 25 most widely quoted think tanks garnered in 2005 was a 10 percent decline from 2004, the decline was 23 percent for left-leaning think tanks vs. 8 percent for right-leaning groups and 7 percent for centrists. No left-leaning think tank appeared in the top 10.
It is not surprising, then, that the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Detroit News are among newspapers that pick up and exhibit, without any warning to the reader, the smelly stuff churned out by Walmart scholars, Jay Greene and his doctoral student, Marcus Winters, both from the right-wing Manhattan Institute. The last piece of "research" to float up is another teacher-bashing propaganda piece intended to rationalize efforts by education privatizers to cut teacher pay and benefits.

Does either the Detroit News or the Cleveland Plain Dealer point out the Manhattan Institute is on a political mission from God, er, Sam Walton? Not in the least. In fact, the Plain Dealer links Greene to the University of Arkansas, where the Walton Family bought him a new department and an endowed chair in hopes of adding some cred to his crud. This current report is so blatantly biased, obviously, that even Greene will not even put the university's name on it. Or maybe that was a university decision.

Here is Greene's executive summary:

Education policy discussions often assume that public school teachers are poorly paid. Typically absent in these discussions about teacher pay, however, is any reference to systematic data on how much public school teachers are actually paid, especially relative to other occupations. Because discussions about teacher pay rarely reference these data, the policy debate on education reform has proceeded without a clear understanding of these issues.

This report compiles information on the hourly pay of public school teachers nationally and in 66 metropolitan areas, as collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey. We also compare the reported hourly income of public school teachers with that of workers in similar professions, as defined by the BLS. This report goes on to use the BLS data to analyze whether there is a relationship between higher relative pay for public school teachers and higher student achievement as measured by high school graduation rates.

Among the key findings of this report:

  • According to the BLS, the average public school teacher in the United States earned $34.06 per hour in 2005.

  • The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker.

  • Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week.

  • Compared with public school teachers, editors and reporters earn 24% less; architects, 11% less; psychologists, 9% less; chemists, 5% less; mechanical engineers, 6% less; and economists, 1% less.

  • Compared with public school teachers, airplane pilots earn 186% more; physicians, 80% more; lawyers, 49% more; nuclear engineers, 17% more; actuaries, 9% more; and physicists, 3% more.

  • Public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide.

  • The Detroit metropolitan area has the highest average public school teacher pay among metropolitan areas for which data are available, at $47.28 per hour, followed by the San Francisco metropolitan area at $46.70 per hour, and the New York metropolitan area at $45.79 per hour.

  • We find no evidence that average teacher pay relative to that of other white-collar or professional specialty workers is related to high school graduation rates in the metropolitan area.
And here is the smackdown from Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute:
Greene’s new research on teacher pay claims to show that teachers are well-paid when one looks at their weekly or hourly wage compared to other professionals. This is pretend social science, at best.

Greene’s conclusions are solely based on the only data (National Compensation Survey) that one could point to that show teacher pay above average; he willfully ignores all other data and even all other studies of teacher pay. The use of the NCS data to compare teachers to other professionals using hourly or weekly wage measures is very controversial. This is because these data are fundamentally flawed and inappropriate to use in this way. My co-authors and I showed why these data are flawed in a report released in 2004, on pages 30 to 39; unfortunately, the full text is not on-line). We even present quotes from the chief BLS statistician overseeing these data saying the use of these data for this purpose is inappropriate (see below). Michael Podgursky, one of the few researchers besides Greene who believes teachers are well-paid, has stopped using the NCS hourly wage measure, though he continues to use the weekly measure (both are flawed, though the hourly measure is doubly flawed, as I’ll explain). The controversy over these data was aired in a debate that was given a fair amount of attention.

Let me explain why we said the following in our report: “Our conclusion is that hourly or weekly wage data from the NCS (as given) should not be used to make comparisons between teachers and other occupations.”

The bottom line is that these NCS data are based on employer surveys and the NCS measures scheduled hours. Because teachers do not work the familiar full-year and roughly 9 to 5 schedules that most professionals have the comparisons end up as apples and oranges comparisons. Here’s what the BLS statistician wrote after giving an example:

"The lesson of this example is the futility of comparing salary estimates for periods of less than a year between two occupations with very dissimilar work time requirements over the year and for whom the annual leave entitlements are unknown. In our example the weekly salary difference changed from 140 to 124 percent. Because the published NCS wage estimates do not reflect leave entitlements and the work years of teachers are so dissimilar from most other professional occupations, I would only use the annual salary estimates from NCS to compare teacher pay with the pay of other professionals."

Yet, it is precisely these data, and only these data, that Greene relies on. The bottom line is that the Manhattan reports weekly and hourly wages that rely on information which vastly understates the weekly hours of teachers and the weeks teachers work each year thereby significantly overstating the hourly wage or weekly wage for a given annual wage. Let me explain in more detail.

1. Weeks Teachers Work per year Understated so Weekly Wage Overstated
The NCS relies on the number of official school days to calculate weeks worked (note that weekly wages is annual wages divided by weeks worked). The NCS reports that teachers work 38 weeks each year. However, the NCS reports that other professionals work 51 or 52 weeks (see table 11of our study). This is strange but understandable if you know how the survey measures time worked. Teachers are measured by days worked (say 190 official school days divided by five gives you 38 weeks) while others are measured as days paid (work days plus paid time off: breaks, vacations and holidays). How else can one understand other professional occupations working 51-52 weeks a year? Do they not take Federal holidays (10 of them), enjoy other holidays (day after Thanksgiving?) and have paid vacations or personal leave? Teachers have more than a 38 week work year, unless you believe the summer off lasts 14 weeks (52 less 38), which is saying teachers have more than three months off in the summer. The issue here is that these data don’t count teacher holidays and vacations during the school year (spring and winter breaks, etc) when measuring weeks and don’t take into account paid leave when calculating weeks worked for professionals. To be comparable the occupations would have to have their weeks counted the same way, either by paid weeks or by scheduled/worked weeks.

2. Teachers’ Hours Worked per week Understated so Hourly Wage Overstated
So, teachers are considered to work 36-37 hours per week in the NCS, as measured by the official school day, less lunch, etc. This reflects their scheduled work hours. Other occupations don’t have a regular rigid schedule and employers report that accountants, reporters etc work, not surprisingly, about 40 hours (see table 11in our study). There are several studies that show that teachers work as many, if not more, hours than other white-collar workers. The hours that teachers work at school, either before or after the bell, or their work at home are EXCLUDED in the NCS measure. The hourly wage measure is doubly flawed because it relies on dividing a flawed measure of weekly wages (see #1) by a flawed measure of weekly hours.

If one corrected for the understatement of teachers’ weekly hours and weeks worked per year you wouldn’t find teachers are ‘well-paid’.

Again from the BLS statistician:

Given these inconsistencies, it is not surprising that the BLS chief of the Division of Compensation Data Estimation National Compensation Survey noted, in correspondence,
“We are actively studying which occupations and groups of occupations should not have earnings estimated and published by hour. Flight crews on airlines, outside sales representatives, operating personnel on over-the-road railroads are but a few of the occupations in addition to teachers. The point of this research is to define comprehensive requirements for the estimation systems changes contemplated for 2007. While we cannot change the tables before 2007, we may be able to amend the introduction sections to our local and national bulletins to include a cautionary note in the near future."

A Bit of Fun: If You Believe the NCS Hourly Wage Data Then You Believe:
Based on wage data for 2002:

Economics professors ($61.73) are the second highest paid professionals after pilots and make far more than business professors ($42.58)

English professors ($43.50) make more than dentists ($33.34) or nuclear engineers ($36.16)

Law professors ($51.71) make the same as judges ($51.67) and more than doctors ($50.69)

Physical education professors ($40.06) make more than architects ($26.63), accountants ($23.34) and computer programmers ($24.88)

Sociology professors ($32.39) make more than mechanical engineers ($29.84) and architects ($26.63)

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