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In a challenge to the idea that teachers as a group are underpaid, a new study by The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and the American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs reveal that teachers are paid more than comparable private sector workers.

“Existing public-school teachers receive wages that are at least as high as comparably skilled workers,” they explain, “while their benefits and job security exceed what they could earn in the private sector. Overall, public-school-teacher compensation exceeds private levels by approximately 52 percent, for a total of more than $120 billion annually in excessive labor costs.”

The key to education reform, however, isn’t to cut salaries across the board, they explain. Instead, school systems should reform their labor contracts and benefits to attract better teachers who can better teach our kids:

While union contracts help secure overcompensation for the average teacher, they may still leave the most valuable teachers underpaid. Much greater flexibility is needed. School administrators need to be able to hire and fire teachers as needed, basing personnel decisions on rigorous value-added evaluations and setting pay based on prevailing market rates. Doing so would help attract better applicants who are willing to be judged by their performance.

Richwine and Biggs further argue that “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.”

“More fundamental reform of teacher compensation,” they continue, “would scrap the existing rewards for education and experience—and instead pay market rates to teachers who are measurably effective.”

Ultimately, these changes will benefit students, parents, and teachers alike by providing a more competitive teaching and learning environment.

What do you think? How should the public education system be reformed?

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