February 4, 2009

The Story of Rhode Island Education in Two Rankings

Justin Katz

Taking a soft tack in defining "fairness" when it comes to teacher compensation, Julia Steiny references a series of reports put out by Education Week:

The researchers averaged the earnings of all 16 occupations and used that number to draw a "parity line" across the center of the chart. Against that line they graphed each states' average teacher compensation — salary and benefits — to indicate, on an admittedly gross average, how well teachers were paid as compared with their private sector counterparts. ...

Seven states pay above the parity line. Rhode Island is at the extreme end of the chart, paying 112 percent of parity, or 12 cents per dollar more than the private sector average.

So Rhode Island teachers are doing relatively well, while lots of private-sector people are losing their jobs, or having hours and benefits cut back. It's only natural that teachers would freak when their salaries and benefits are threatened. A loss of income, however minor or manageable, feels neither good nor fair.

But private sector people who have lost their jobs must now somehow get health care, since we are the only industrialized country that still ties health care to jobs. And they must also pay the taxes, quite high in Rhode Island, that maintain their luckier, unionized, protected brethren. This feels royally unfair. As such, the resentment growing in Rhode Island’s private sector is now mushrooming.

Unfortunately, the report does not say whether the parity line takes into account benefits and work schedules (hours in the workday, days in the workyear), although judging from the language (e.g., "pay-parity"), I suspect not. Whatever the case, the Rhode Island report (PDF) shows on page 11 that our state is #1 in the country for paying teachers above this definition of parity.

There's another component to the story, though. The previous page of the report informs the reader that Rhode Island ranks 47th in "efforts to improve teaching," which includes accountability for quality, incentives and allocation, and building and supporting capacity. In other words, Rhode Island already overpays teachers compared with the society in which they live (and the community that funds their compensation), but if we were to adjust for the quality demands that we place upon them they'd be off the chart.

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You may want to correct the title of the post. Have a nice day.

Posted by: Phil at February 4, 2009 7:02 AM

Ha! The perils of early a.m. blogging.

Thanks for the correction.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 4, 2009 7:20 AM

I suspect that the report cited in Ms. Steiny's column does not factor in pensions and retiree health care.

I also suspect that it doesn't prorate for the part-time work of public school teachers (i.e., only 180 days a year scheduled, less 20 sick days a year, less only a few hours a day actually teaching in the classroom).

With RI teachers eligible, with no minimum retirement age, to immediately start collecting a pension factored at 75-80% of highest consecutive three years of pay, PLUS 3% COLA's for life, PLUS retiree health care, their compensation DWARFS that of "comparable" private sector positions.

Posted by: Tom W at February 4, 2009 12:09 PM

Tom W, I am sure you are right on all counts. The benefit info may be harder to figure in, but teachers working only 2/3 of the year to make what the other professions make in a full year should not have been overlooked by this study. The result is a very misleading comparison for all of the states.

Posted by: Frank at February 5, 2009 8:04 AM

Of course RI teacher pay was still off the charts, literally, compared to the other states.

Posted by: Frank at February 5, 2009 8:09 AM
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