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How To Make A Misleading Public/Private Earnings Gap Disappear


Since the Wisconsin debate is about teachers' unions, why not compare the average public school teacher compensation package in Milwaukee ($100,005 per year) to the average private school compensation package there? That might not be totally comparable for a number of reasons, but at least it would avoid the error of treating all college graduates (whether they majored in social work or engineering) as if they have equivalent educational backgrounds, for example.

Thanks for the comment, Stuart. First, just for the record, according to the Wisconsin education department, there is only district where 2009-10 total compensation exceeds $100K, and Milwaukee is around $86K. Perhaps these data are incomplete somehow, but one has to wonder why. (Source: Second, in order to address the type of concern you raise, I actually tried a model fitting occupation fixed effects (about 35 major occupational categories), as well as one with an occupation-by-sector interaction. Both had a negligible effect on the final results, so I omitted them in the interests of simplicity. Finally, your argument that people have different degrees, fields, etc., is precisely my point: One must account for these differences in order to make comparisons. Thanks again, MD P.S. Strictly in my personal view, the situation in Wisconsin is about more than just teachers' unions.

The manager of financial planning for Milwaukee Public Schools puts the figure at $100,005. See I'd be very interested to see a direct comparison to what teachers earn in private schools. I suspect that the situation would be similar to the national data (public school average wages, $46,500; private school average wages, $36,300) according to NCES ( That's not controlling for educational level, of course, but if private school teachers worked within a system where they got a $4,000 salary bump merely for getting a master's degree, more of them would get master's degrees. (Which is to say that controlling for educational level is a tricky business, given what it implies about the counterfactual.) And none of this is to say that public school teachers in Milwaukee are necessarily overpaid (it might be that private school teachers are underpaid), but it would be a much more relevant comparison than a generic regression, I think.

Private school quality varies more than public school quality, if you can imagine it. Yes, it's scary. If you arrange by tuition for a rule of thumb and then examine their college admissions, you can pretty much see what goes on. The top drawer private schools hire teachers with only masters or doctorate credentials and they charge from a low of fifteen thousand to around twenty six thousand dollars a year. The low end private schools often charge less than a public school spends per pupil. It's not scientific, but it's not deceptive to look at inputs. My paycheck says I make forty thousand a year including benefits so that's thirty-six take home after ten years of experience in Florida. Yet my governor says I am making too much, and is easily as exercised as Walker over my greed. Let me point out one thing nobody has mentioned. Health costs for Americans have risen from seven percent of GDP in 1970 to sixteen percent in 2005. ( Government health plans retain risk and manage cost in a way that holds their rate of cost increase down to about half that of private insurance. Maybe they should be looking at other methods of saving money.

Teaching in public school and in private school isn't anywhere near the same job. I have done both. In private school they have entrance exams. They don't take special ed students which in turn means that the teachers dont have to spend 8-12 hours a week making modifications (thats my low estimate)Also, no ESL students and you have the option of kicking bad students out which is extremely difficult to do in public schools. Again, they are not nearly the same job.

I don't know about Wisconsin, but I have friends who teach in Catholic schools in NJ who have NO college credits, let alone a degree and many of their high school's mostly hire early elementary teachers who are NOT qualified to teach their subject areas. They do this in order to report a high percentage of staff members who have college degrees. In NJ, public HS teachers MUSTnot oly have 30 college credits within their subject areas, but they must have a minimum of a 2.75GPA in them. Some people may not think that is a big deal, but most people earning a higher GPA than that in math or science are not interested in teaching and absolutely will not be in this climate.

SadinNJ, I'm not going to lie, I take a certain offense to your previous comment. I had a 3.5 in science and I chose to teach public HS instead of going to medical school because I knew I would enjoy the career. To say anyone with a high GPA in their specialization is 'not interested in teaching and absolutely will not be in this climate' is very close-minded. But yes, as SadinNJ says, many private and religious schools do not require their teachers to be certified or highly-qualified in any content area. This is partially due, I believe, to the fact that these schools are not held to the same state requirements that publics schools are.

Note to readers: An earlier version of this post stated that the source of the USA Today data was the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This has been corrected to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. I apologize for the error.

My son went to a Catholic School in NJ...all of his teachers were certified and the school is accredited ....He got superior instruction in Math and Science as well as all of his other subjects...He now goes to a public HS,,,all's well...What is making me really sad is... How Gov Christie is trying to destroy our public schools..programs cut,teachers laid off,their pension system has been underfunded for 15 years or more, he has turned the public against teachers...he claims he is after the union...but he is not touching them...they still collect all their $$$..and the schools and kids and teachers are hurting....he claims the state is going bankrupt because of teachers yet he wants to pour a billion dollars into private and charter payers money...I have a problem with the public schools..and make changes that make sense...private,charter and parochial schools have no problem raising funds on their dollars are the publics money and and they should be used to fund public schools...Just sayin'

The idea that teachers get a $4000 increase just for getting a master's degree is curious. I want to teach where that happens. I have two masters degrees, one in my content, one in education, and I make less than a $1000 more than my non-master's degree coworkers. Also, in Ohio the master's degree is now required after a certain number of years teaching--but there is no help with the expense of that. Contrast that with my sister, who works for a private utility company: any college classes she wants to take are fully paid, including books. And her sick leave, vacation and insurance are better than mine. The difference between districts makes it nearly impossible to come up with fair comparisons, anyway; pay scales and benefits can be radically different in the same county, so numbers for the whole state are at best misleading.


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