I recommend Jodi Beggs on the latest Heritage Foundation effort to persuade us that teachers are “overpaid.” I think the authors of the report would have done better had they given harder thought to this sentence of theirs “The teaching profession is crucial to America’s society and economy, but public-school teachers should receive compensation that is neither higher nor lower than market rates.”
Ask yourself what that could possibly mean. Teachers are paid, by a variety of school districts, in a labor market that matches applicants with compensation packages. If school districts paid some different amount, presumably they would have different applicants. The teachers we have are, like everyone else, paid more or less a market wage and if we paid them a different amount then different people would also be getting paid more or less a market wage. The question to ask is whether you think the teachers we have are inefficiently well-qualified. If the best librarians in the world were all clamoring to get jobs at the Cleveland Public Library, that would be good evidence that Cleveland is paying librarians too much. The point, however, wouldn’t be that the librarians are “overpaid.” Cleveland would be getting the librarians it’s paying for. It’s just that Cleveland probably doesn’t need the best librarians in the world and would be better off hiring average librarians and doing something else with the extra money.
Whatever happens, over the long term it’s difficult to pay people anything other than market rates. The issue with American teachers isn’t that they’re “overpaid” it’s that we seem to have overinvested in quantity of teachers rather than quality. This suggests, however, that in a better system the average teacher would be earning more, not less, than the average teacher is today.