We Should Pay Teachers More

43346097_ml-1I’ve heard the argument many times: teachers should be paid more. According to the slightly out-of-date figures on the NEA website, the average starting pay for teachers in the 2012-13 school year was $36,141. At least part of the argument is that we could have a better educational system if we paid teachers more.

Why would we get better educational outcomes if we paid teachers more? The most obvious answer is: we could hire better teachers. The teachers we have now are the best we can get at the salaries we now pay. If we’re happy with the quality of the teachers we now have, we don’t have to pay more.

The pay-teachers-more argument seems to say that our educational system suffers because we pay teachers so little that we can’t get good ones to take teaching jobs. The argument is a knock against the quality of current teachers.

It may be that if we made some institutional changes, such as eliminating tenure, we could get better teachers for the money. And of course, if we retain tenure and increase teacher pay, current teachers would take the pay raise and keep their jobs. So given that we have tenure, paying teachers more money would do little to increase the quality of teachers anyway.

Would the teachers we have now do a better job if we just paid them more? Maybe, but even that argument is a knock against teachers, if they’re slacking on the job because of low pay.

The strongest argument that higher teacher pay would improve education is that it would allow us to replace our current crop of teachers with better ones. The argument is a direct criticism of the quality of our current crop of teachers.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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