Hey, teachers: The Heritage Foundation thinks you’re overpaid

Saying the report “defies common sense,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), noted in a statement that most teachers spend “hundreds of dollars per year” on classroom supplies out of their own pockets, and they work longer hours “than their peers in other nations”—including grading papers, preparing lesson plans, communicating with students and their parents, and attending school-related functions during evenings and on weekends.

Weingarten also criticized the report’s claim of an 8.6-percent “job security premium” for teachers, calling it an “arbitrary” figure that is “pure fiction, given the 278,000 public education jobs that have been lost during this recession.”

The report comes as school stakeholders nationwide debate a number of education reforms, including measures designed to improve teacher quality and retention.

On one side of these debates are conservatives, influenced by groups like the Heritage Foundation, who want to limit the power of teachers’ unions, which they see as impediments to reform—not to mention political opponents. Led by conservative governors, for instance, Wisconsin and Ohio are among states that have abolished or curtailed teachers’ rights to collectively bargain this year, in the name of balancing budgets.

On the other side are unions such as the AFT and their supporters, who argue that the teaching profession is under attack from those who don’t understand the challenges educators face every day. Only by giving teachers more support, they say, can real school reform occur.

In between are people like Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former First Lady Laura Bush, who agree that teachers should be paid more—but only if they accept certain changes in return, such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. Duncan repeatedly has said that teachers are “desperately underpaid” and that their salaries should be doubled in order to attract and retain high-quality teachers.

Richwine’s and Biggs’ paper aims to refute that idea.

“State and local govern­ments seeking to balance their budgets in difficult times should take a close look at teacher compensation, which is considerably higher than necessary to retain the exist­ing teacher workforce,” they concluded. “More fundamental reform of teacher compensation would scrap the existing rewards for education and experience—and instead pay market rates to teachers who are measurably effective.”

Weingarten counters that their argument flies in the face of “the lessons of top-performing nations, which invest heavily in recruiting, developing, supporting, and compensating teachers.”

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