Four fallacies of the ‘teachers are overpaid’ argument

I majored in English at college. I earned mostly A’s. Though I haven’t done the research to support my hypothesis, I’m fairly certain the English department doled out more A’s than the organic chemistry department during my time at school. I guess that means I didn’t learn as much as my pre-med friends. For that matter, if you subscribe to Richwine’s and Biggs’ logic, the average humanities major in general must be an unskilled buffoon.

The claim is based on a 2011 “working paper” from an assistant professor at the University of Missouri that analyzes GPA data from Missouri and two other institutions. For those who are unfamiliar with how research works, a working paper hasn’t been vetted yet by the research community; it hasn’t been subject to peer review. Yet, this paper is cited as scientifically valid research to support Richwine’s and Biggs’ argument. (I wonder what my pre-med friends would have said about that.)

The other study they use to support their dubious assumption about the quality of education degrees examined the GPAs of 5,000 students who graduated from a single college from 2001 to 2009. I might be an unskilled buffoon, but even I recognize that data from a single institution shouldn’t be used to draw universal conclusions.

But here’s the biggest hole in their logic: The papers they refer to both examined the GPAs of undergraduate education majors—and yet Richwine and Biggs cite this “research” in arguing why advanced education degrees aren’t worth the sheepskin they’re printed on. This intellectual sleight-of-hand approaches academic fraud.

Richwine and Biggs further justify their dismissal of wage comparisons that are based on similar academic credentials by arguing that years of study have no bearing on how successful a teacher is.

In supporting this claim, they refer to a 2005 study that found “years of schooling, certifications, and experience beyond the first few years of teaching show little to no relationship to student achievement.” But they ignore other studies that have reached different conclusions.

For example, a study released this fall by the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data & Research found that the academic progress of public school students can be traced, in part, to where their teachers went to college—suggesting that a teacher’s schooling does, indeed, play an important role in student achievement.

The UW study also suggests that education degree programs vary widely with respect to academic outcomes, and it might be true that several such programs need to improve the rigor or relevance of their curriculum.

But it doesn’t follow logically to assume that education degrees in general are worth less than advanced degrees in other fields—and therefore shouldn’t factor into wage comparisons.

Which brings me to fallacy No. 2…

Dennis Pierce

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