Subsidising Public/State Education

by Harry on May 24, 2006

Alison Wolf had an interesting piece on the consequences of women entering the workforce in April’s Prospect; May’s issue has responses by Rosemary Crompton and Pat Thane (all free I think) with a reply by Wolf in the June issue.

Wolf notes three supposedly neglected consequences:

Three consequences get far less attention than they deserve. The first is the death of sisterhood: an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men. The second is the erosion of “female altruism,” the service ethos which has been profoundly important to modern industrial societies—particularly in the education of their young, and the care of their old and sick. The third is the impact of employment change on childbearing. We are familiar with the prospect of demographic decline, yet we ignore, sometimes wilfully, the extent to which educated women face disincentives to bear children.

Thane argues that women never had the similar experience that Wolf claims, and Crompton that neoliberalism, rather than any moral decline in women, is to blame for the deline in altruism. Wolf, I think, gives a pretty good account of herself in the reply.

You can make up your minds by reading the pieces. But I wanted to highlight a point not in dispute between the authors, and that I think Wolf and other people who think a good deal about education take for granted, but is not widely appreciated beyond that world; that restrictions on women’s participation in the labour market constituted a massive subsidy to public education:

From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, teaching could rely on attracting large numbers of the country’s most academically able women. Clever working-class girls progressed from “pupil teachers” to schoolmistresses, while growing numbers of middle-class girls also entered the profession. By 1910 there were two female teachers for every male in the state sector, and by 1925 the majority of headteachers were women. Academic secondary education for girls, first in the independent sector and later in the state secondary schools, developed hand in hand with university education for women. On the eve of the first world war, just under half of women secondary school teachers were already graduates.

The alumni records of Somerville college, Oxford, one of the first and most academic of the women’s colleges, confirm how many brilliant women made their lives in the classroom. In 1888, surveying the first ten years of college life, the annual report found that all working ex-students were teachers, with the exception of three. As late as 1920, we find a (much larger) class matriculating, of whom just two, an art dealer and a director of an iron-founders, made “non-caring” careers. Teaching, at school or university level, remained the majority occupation by far for the 1920 generation, accounting for 80 per cent of those who reported recent or current paid employment. By contrast, just over 10 per cent of the Somerville women who matriculated in 1980 report a teaching career. The government’s Women at Work commission is pushing for school advisers to preach the merits of non-traditional careers to girls. But in this elite Oxford group, there are already more accountants than teachers, and both bankers and marketing managers outnumber university lecturers and librarians.

Schools have been the big losers. Among girls born in Britain in 1970, about one in ten of those scoring in the top academic decile chose teaching as a career. By the early 1990s, American girls in this top 10 per cent were less than one fifth as likely to become teachers as their 1964 counterparts had been.

The restrictions on women’s labour market opportunities constituted a massive subsidy to public education, both in the UK and the US, as well, presumably, as elsewhere. Thane and Crompton both point out that women were not always happy to go into teaching (Wolf doesn’t say otherwise). But anyone of my generation or older (and probably somewhat younger) who went to good schools will remember having older female teachers who, on refelection, were astonishingly clever, and wondered what they would have done had they been permitted to compete with men on equal terms in any job market (I’m even willing to name names; Mrs Hackett, Mrs McKelvie, Miss Atkinson all stand out as women, born I would guess in the 1920s, who I now realise could have done just about anything, and none of whom even became a headteacher).

So, a PhD dissertation for an economist; calculate how much more we would have to spend on employing teachers now in order to attract the talent that used to go into teaching

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05.31.06 at 9:21 pm



Jack 05.24.06 at 9:40 am

I believe that trend was not confined to women. It might be more extreme but for all Oxford graduates it is I believe (anecdotally from conversations with a well settled in maths tutor) within living memory that teaching was the biggest single destination for all students. That is, teaching isn’t getting the men it did either.

Also a big problem with teaching in schools is that being a head teacher isn’t necessarily a better job than being a teacher.


Tim Worstall 05.24.06 at 9:51 am

Not a PhD economist, not even an economist, but one solution presents itself. Abolish the near monopsony on hiring teachers of the public (or state, ie, not the private) sector and pay for teachers will rise to the level necessary because those competing employers will obviously bid up wages to get the best. At that point we’ll know.


lemuel pitkin 05.24.06 at 10:02 am

Tim, you must be writing from one of those countries that bans private schools. I forget — which ones are those again?

Here in the US, public schools consistently pay far more than private ones. Funny way for a monopsonist to act, no?


harry b 05.24.06 at 10:08 am

But lemuel, there are 15,000 state agencies paying for teachers; they compete amongst themselves, so the state is not a monopsonistic purchaser in this case. The public school system in the US is, in effect, highly privatised, because local funding and control, in combination with the housing market and competition amongst zoning authorities, makes it so. No?


Scott Martens 05.24.06 at 10:09 am

I can vouch for the way restrictions on women entering the labour market acted as a subsidy to education. My mother – in the late 60s in western Canada – entered education for exactly that reason. As she put it, women in her rural municipality had just four choices: nurse, secretary, teacher or farmer’s wife.

Tim, there is a serious disconnect between the goal of good education and the motives of private educators that undermines free market solutions. The value that schools provide to parents is first and foremost free daycare in the era of the two-income household. That can be provided without raising teacher’s pay or qualifications.

Second, the private prep school I went to did not have significantly higher teacher’s pay or have any genuinely higher standards for its teachers. It promoted itself by publishing its annual average SAT score and the universities its graduates got into. It had a good record for its graduates not because it offered a vastly better education (although I’ll admit conditions were better than at the nearest public school) but because it was selective in its admissions (including scholarships for the smart but poor to raise their SAT averages), because if the parents of its students were prepared to shell out 8000 1985 dollars per year for high school, they could afford to get their kids tutoring and special help getting into college, and because parents who will shell out cash to get their kids into good prep schools have almost certainly instilled in them the will to get into a good college.

A private education model almost certainly will lead to intake selection rather than improved education or salaries, because as a school owner you can get the same apparent results for far less money by being picky about who you let in. I question whether private school teachers in the US are paid more than public school ones, or would be any better educators than public school teachers given the same group of kids. I don’t think dismantling public education is likely to produce any average improvement in outcomes either for teachers or students.


bob 05.24.06 at 10:10 am

There has been some work done on this issue – see esp. the short paper by Corcoran et al. in the May 2004 AER – though I don’t know that anyone has explicitly costed this out.


Sebastian Holsclaw 05.24.06 at 10:10 am

The subsidy you speak of was (in the US) true for the three main areas that women could work in–teaching, nursing and secretarial. Nursing and high level secretarial had to both increase wages in order to compensate. (Nursing seems to be doing so again now.)


lemuel pitkin 05.24.06 at 11:04 am

harry — agree. My comment was directed at Tim Worstall (who’s pretty smart for a libertarian.)


Chuchundra 05.24.06 at 11:15 am

This is an interesting as I live in one of the few areas of the known universe where teachers are actually overpaid. The average starting salary for a teacher in Nassau County is over $50,000 and the average after ten years is close to $75,000.

The high salary along with the standard perqs of a teaching career (tenure, summers off, etc.) and very, very generous retirement and health care benefits have made teaching here quite the plum job. There are literally hundreds of applicants for every opening and it’s nearly impossible to get a teaching job unless you have some sort of inside connections in the school or district.

I’d like to say that overly generous teacher compensation — not to mention the high taxes required to fund it — have resulted in a race of genius-level, super teachers, but that’s sadly not the case. Education here in New York is certainly better than it is in some gadawful, red state like Mississippi where they pay the teachers in chicken parts, but past a certain point, more money won’t get you better teachers.

The reason that fewer smart, driven, capable women are becoming teachers is only partly because of money. I’d say that the bigger reason is that they’d rather do something else, and now they have have that option.


lemuel pitkin 05.24.06 at 11:31 am

The average starting salary for a teacher in Nassau County is over $50,000 and the average after ten years is close to $75,000.

I would never say this outside of a pseudonymous blog comment, but high teacher pay in Nassau is a non-neglible contributor to the problems of NYC schools, since it makes it extremely difficult to retain high-quality teachers here.


Chuchundra 05.24.06 at 12:07 pm

Very true, lemuel. You could also say the same thing about police officers.

I’m curious, though. Why woudn’t you say such a thing in person?


reuben 05.24.06 at 12:10 pm

Tim, correct me if i’m missing something, but your solution seems to miss the broader point. Even if all schools were competing against each other for teachers, and that set a better market value for those teachers, that still doesn’t take into account the fact that schools now have to compete against all sorts of other industries for people who in the past would have been teachers.

Real world limitations on education budgets means that schools won’t be able to, in your words, bid up wages to get the best. They’ll only be able to bid up wages to get the best of those who are still willing to teach, when they could be in more remunerative, better respected careers. (Not that I think that teaching’s a crappy career, mind you.)

What Harry was asking, if I interpret it correctly, was how much we’d have to pay to get the best and brightest – the ones that the teaching profession used to get on the cheap, but who can now earn six figures in any number of other professions.

Apologies if I’ve misinterpreted, though.


eweininger 05.24.06 at 12:26 pm

This is slightly off-topic, but one of the things that struck me as odd about the Wolf piece is that it gave very little attention to the phenomenon real wage stagnation in occupations comprising classes III, VI, and VII (i.e. routine non-manual and manual labor), and the context it has created for women’s entry into the labor market. Or does this stagnation not exist in Great Britain?


Barry 05.24.06 at 12:44 pm

“This is an interesting as I live in one of the few areas of the known universe where teachers are actually overpaid. The average starting salary for a teacher in Nassau County is over $50,000 and the average after ten years is close to $75,000.”

Posted by Chuchundra

What’s the cost of housing there?


dammit 05.24.06 at 12:53 pm

Here is an important paper on a closely-related subject. You may not like it that the results are not as intuitive as one would imagine.


catfish 05.24.06 at 12:56 pm

The cost of housing is really high in Nassau county, as is the cost of living. In fact, I’ld bet that a teacher in, say, Tuscaloosa, Alabama comes out much better financially even if they only start at $30,000 and top out at $50,000.


Sebastian Holsclaw 05.24.06 at 12:57 pm

“how much we’d have to pay to get the best and brightest – the ones that the teaching profession used to get on the cheap, but who can now earn six figures in any number of other professions.”

You would probably need to pay them something near the six figures–which is to say we won’t be getting them teaching any time soon. It is an interesting problem because while teachers can effect people profoundly, they tend to effect only a very few people each year. This tends to limit their pay. (If their contribution is ‘worth’ a few thousand per student at about 30 students, it can’t compete in pay with someone whose job is ‘worth’ much less but to many more people.)


Peter 05.24.06 at 1:05 pm

What’s the cost of housing there [Nassau County, NY]?

Er, it’s hard to come up with the most accurate word … astronomical? Stratospheric? Constipation-curing?
A modest, 3-bedroom house of c.1,500 square feet, built in the 1950’s or 1960’s and located in a decent but undistinguished neighborhood will cost upward of $350K. Not to mention at least $6,000 per year in property taxes.


Andromeda 05.24.06 at 1:12 pm

This is not really a new idea to any of us in teaching (including this woman graduate of an elite college).

Tim et alia (where by “et alia” I mean any of the knee-jerk free market solyution types): I think you underestimate how tremendously much money it takes to run a school. The private school at which I teach costs from $16K for kindergarteners to $32K for upper school, 7 day boarders. Does this mean I am being paid vast sums of money? No; I am making in the 30s, and my most highly paid coworkers are making in the 60s. This is less than the local public school teachers make — in fact, it is a general phenomenon that private school teachers make less than public (we are compensated in intangible factors, such as small class sizes and parental support). The fact is it is very, very expensive to run a good school. As a boarding school we need a cafeteria, residential faculty members, extensive janitorial, laundry service, etc. As a private school, we need business, development, and alumni offices for fundraising and strategic planning. We also need impressive athletic facilities to compete with the other schools that might be able to command significant tuition. We are able to offer small class sizes, which are generally recognized as important for *good* education. We offer music lessons and tutoring, including specialized services for learning disabilities — and *those* come at an extra fee, because even with tuition as it is, we can’t cover it.

The fact is most people are nowhere near wealthy enough to pay the cost of educating their children well in a school setting, and many of them cannot afford to stay home in order to homeschool them. Privatize all of education and you will end up with a lot of awful, warehouse-style education — and you still won’t end up with teachers being highly paid, because very few families can bear the tuition it would take.

Chuchundra: I am puzzled, not to say irate, what you might mean with your notion that teachers are “too highly paid”. As you recall I make in the 30s. I live in greater Boston where, as you can imagine, people making that sort of money cannot afford to buy houses, and indeed can scarcely afford to pay rent. Luckily I have a husband who makes twice what I do. He makes twice what I do to work fewer hours — in fact, in my first year of teaching, I worked more hours in the year, in nine months, than he worked in twelve — to be able to talk to adults whenever he wants, to be able to go to the bathroom whenever he wants, to have time to read his web sites (on a computer that doesn’t filter the internet), to do a job that doesn’t have a half-dozen people with poor impulse control all wanting something from him *right now*. So not only do I work more hours per week, and sometimes more hours per year, than my husband, and not only are those hours tremendously more stressful, requiring much more decision-making, having many more deadlines, and allowing much less autonomy, but I get paid half what he does for them.

So, again, I am curious what you mean about teachers being overpaid. I hardly see how my current situation is fair recompense. (In fact, as a graduate of one of those academically elite colleges, I have to wonder whether I am actually a complete moron doing what I do, particularly for such outstanding social respect as I get, but then I remember I like the kids and I’m never bored and I’m actually making the world a better place, unlike my codemonkey friends.)


catfish 05.24.06 at 1:20 pm

Another thing that limits the number of teachers is the working conditions. After all, scads of people seem willing to pursue Humanities PhDs and then adjunct for next to nothing for years on end.

It is not just low pay that keeps people out.

If these folks had fewer discipline problems to deal with and more classroom autonomy, more of them would likely take jobs in secondary schools.
(That is, if we didn’t put up so many hurdles to make it hard for them to get certified).


lemuel pitkin 05.24.06 at 1:22 pm

Ah right Sebastian, because as we know, pay depends directly on one’s net benefit to society. In this best of all possible worlds.


bitchphd 05.24.06 at 1:54 pm

There’s an article in today’s NYT about nursing that points out that part of the nursing shortage in the U.S. right now is because pay for professors of nursing is lower than pay for practicing nurses. The legislative solution to this, apparently, is to encourage trained nurses from other countries to immigrate, rather than to think about educational funding issues.

Also, another anecdote about smart women subsidizing K-12 education; my grandmother wanted to be a geologist, but went into teaching instead because “girls didn’t become scientists back then.” She had enormous amounts of energy and drive, and in addition to a teaching career, founded a successful for-profit education and manufacturing center for retarded adults. It’s still going. And yeah, she did it for free.


lemuel pitkin 05.24.06 at 2:02 pm

Why woudn’t you say such a thing in person?

Because in the real political world, the fault line is between those who believe in a positive role for the public sector and those who don’t. Criticism of the pay of public employees, regardless of the resoning behind it, puts you in the second camp.


Tim 05.24.06 at 2:04 pm

There are parallels to today’s NYT story on the Senate’s decision to unrestrict nurse immigration: both nursing and teaching were built around an economic model predicated on the oppression of women, and we need to come up with a better model!

(This discussion made me, for one, realize that our importing Filipino nurses is predicated on not only cheaper education costs in the Philippines, but also on the continued limitations on female opportunity there.)


Tim 05.24.06 at 2:05 pm

Dang, Dr. Bitch, you beat me to it!

I think the situations are more parallel than causative, though; how about you?


fjm 05.24.06 at 2:23 pm

There is a class issue as well. Teaching used to be the majority profession for “first generation” students up, I’d say, until 1985. In the 1970s when my partner started teaching in the UK university system–a time which coincided with our first sector expansion–he regularly sent students with first class degrees on to teaching. By 2000 only the students in the third quartile were considering it.


Slocum 05.24.06 at 2:24 pm

What Harry was asking, if I interpret it correctly, was how much we’d have to pay to get the best and brightest – the ones that the teaching profession used to get on the cheap, but who can now earn six figures in any number of other professions.

I live in another area where experienced K-12 teachers pull down $75K with the usual summers off, and pensions and health care plans available almost nowhere in the private sector. But these kinds of opportunities don’t pull in ‘the best and brightest’ because having an outstanding record doesn’t get you one of the rare jobs that comes up. What does get you in is putting in your time as a sub, cultivating relationships with the administrators, etc. And once hired, increases in pay don’t depend on performance–just seniority. Even where it pays well, public-school teaching is not a job where you can get ahead by talent, ambition, and hard work. (Which is not to say we don’t have some talented, hard-working teachers–we do. But that seems to arise from an individual sense of mission rather than the incentives in the system).


Barry 05.24.06 at 2:59 pm

Me, concerning a previous comment talking about the ‘high’ pay of Nassau County teachers ($50-75K): “What’s the cost of housing there [Nassau County, NY]?”

Peter: “Er, it’s hard to come up with the most accurate word … astronomical? Stratospheric? Constipation-curing?
A modest, 3-bedroom house of c.1,500 square feet, built in the 1950’s or 1960’s and located in a decent but undistinguished neighborhood will cost upward of $350K. Not to mention at least $6,000 per year in property taxes.”

Which means that that ‘high’ teacher pay isn’t so high, Chuchundra


Barry 05.24.06 at 3:10 pm

catfish : “Another thing that limits the number of teachers is the working conditions. After all, scads of people seem willing to pursue Humanities PhDs and then adjunct for next to nothing for years on end.

It is not just low pay that keeps people out.”

There’s a lot of lock-in, at that level. I had no idea of what getting a Ph.D. and an academic job entailed. The undergrads I talk with don’t, either. They get in, and don’t realize what they’re getting into until later.

In addition, my estimate is that ~two-thirds drop-out on the way to the Ph.D. Adjuncts experience high attrition, as well, I believe.

“If these folks had fewer discipline problems to deal with and more classroom autonomy, more of them would likely take jobs in secondary schools.
(That is, if we didn’t put up so many hurdles to make it hard for them to get certified).”

There seem to be a lot of ways to get certified now, many of which put the wannabe teacher in the classroom relatively quickly (i.e., able to pay their bills). That isn’t the limitation.

A friend of mine graduated from Harvard’s masters in teaching program recently, ready to teach math/physics. He had no problem getting job offers. He said that english/liberal arts people find the jobs scarce.


robert the red 05.24.06 at 3:13 pm

“my grandmother wanted to be a geologist”

My mother did become a geologist (UW Class of 1940), but discovered that she was unemployable as such. Until the outbreak of WW2, when the USGS then reluctantly hired female geologists to work in the offices — field work forbidden — to free up male geologists for the field tasks. After the war, she went back to unemployable in her field.


Sebastian holsclaw 05.24.06 at 3:16 pm

“Which means that that ‘high’ teacher pay isn’t so high, Chuchundra”

$350,000 houses can be paid for on $70,000 salaries–especially if the $70,000 salary is earned by one of two workers in a household and/or if the teacher does other renumerative work in the summer. This is especially true since teachers can get special rates (At least in California or New York, it is possible that I am wrong on that tidbit nationally but I don’t think so).

“Ah right Sebastian, because as we know, pay depends directly on one’s net benefit to society. In this best of all possible worlds.”

Who said directly? My real-world illustration only depends on ‘generally’, and generally that is how it works. We can complain about the very small number of high-flying CEOs (and I’m happy to do so) but for your average working person your pay is an intersection of how rare your skills are with how much people are willing to pay for the good you do for them. If your work helps a huge number of people you tend to get lots of money even if the marginal amount of worth each individual gets is small (see baseball players). If your work helps a very small number of people you don’t tend to get as much money even if your per person impact is high (see teachers). That concept breaks down on the extreme margins, but in general it is true. Certainly true enough to have a useful application in this discussion. Is it fair? Is it wise? Is it something that needs to be corrected for? Those are other questions.


agm 05.24.06 at 3:17 pm

Peter, Feynman said the appropriate replacement for astronomical, based on the magnitudes invovled, was “economical”. YMMV.

I’d say that the bigger reason is that they’d rather do something else, and now they have have that option.
I’d say the problem is a combination of asking too much on the cheap. I’m finishing up a degree, and most people seem to think I’d make a great teacher, but the reason I decided against teaching in the next few years was my memory of dating a teacher. She always had something to do for school, was expected to volunteer for this or that (one of our dates started off with her helping to chaperone at a dance, a dangerous prospect when you’re dating a dancer (mwahaha)), was always grading, then grading some more, then getting started on the five or six other piles of paperwork, then more grading. All for peanuts. People who don’t have some commitment to it — kids in the local schools, or particularly impacted by a teacher; “those who can do, those who can’t teach”; etc — do something where they get paid much better and have much better chances at enjoying the work they’ll be doing for the amount of s*** they’ll be dealing with.

If I wanted to work seven days a week for no gold and no glory, I wouldn’t be leaving grad school for awhile, would I?


joel turnipseed 05.24.06 at 4:13 pm

Interesting–this post contains so many different vectors you’d swear it was one of Holbo’s…

On, re: Sisterhood. Well, I think there’s something to that, but it’s also a more widely-shared thing across a lot of the century’s social movements: the big unions were so successful that people like my stepfather could retire as easy millionaire after 30 years at Ford (and at 51) while many tens of millions of Americans continue to live without health insurance or a livable minimum wage. Solidarity just ain’t what it used to be.

On, re: teacher pay/subsidized performance. This is really two issues, and it’s not clear to me that they’re related, actually. On the latter, has anyone really looked into whether schools are, in fact, any worse? Anecdotally, it’s strikes me as absurd that people come to college w/o being able, say, to diagram a sentence–but that’s probably more a curricular problem than a teaching one. For all that, if you look at high school graduation rates/college attendance rates, they’ve skyrocketed over the past forty or fifty years. Have there been studies that have tried to account for the vastly increased number of students taking the tracking tests?

As to pay, it can’t be the reason why good people aren’t going into teaching (and, is there any reason to believe that they aren’t, comparatively speaking?). Here in Minnesota the median income for a high school teacher is $52K and our median family income is $76K–and we rank among the top in two-income families (alas–also among the top in most-expensive daycare). Which is to say: the pay, especially including the benefits/summers ain’t bad.

I think it’s much more a combination of several factors: the loss of prestige, the availability of other careers for BAs, the comparative rise in pay in other professions (law, medicine, engineering).

The prestige/hassle factor has to be one of the biggest–I’ve had several friends leave teaching for other gigs (some for less money and way less time off during the summer) just because they couldn’t deal with the chaos in the classrooms/the unbelievable shitheads they had to deal with (on both the faculty and among the students).


Jane Galt 05.24.06 at 4:24 pm

Harry–no, all those school districts are not competing, because a teacher who moves from one state to another loses their seniority, pension, and so forth.


soru 05.24.06 at 4:31 pm

As a pure thought-experiment, would it ‘work’ (in market-fundamentalist terms) if teachers were paid a small percentage of the lifetime earnings of each of their pupils?


secret asian man 05.24.06 at 4:43 pm

Salary is not the issue at all. Institutional culture is the issue.

I remember in college we had the world’s best and brightest teaching calculus to 18 year old freshman at Berkeley – for $20k a year. After years of this they can hope to earn $30-40k as an assistant professor if they’re lucky.

Cross the street and you’ll find barely-literate teachers at Berkeley High teaching calculus badly to 18 year old high school seniors – for $60k a year.

Public schools do not have a culture of excellence. They have a culture where everyone gets As and everyone is a beautiful and unique snowflake. The school system is run by the sort of people who do not believe in objective standards but instead believe in victim politics.

Go to any hard science department at any research university. Ask any assistant prof or grad student if they’d be willing to teach middle school math for a twenty thousand dollar raise (which is what they’d likely get).


joel turnipseed 05.24.06 at 4:47 pm

soru —

To a great extent, they already are–except, they’re paid more on the current scheme (in the vast majority of cases): if we didn’t tax the childless, we’d have even less in the property tax pools to pay the teachers.

As Sebastian (wasn’t it?) pointed out, one problem is that there’s no clear “productivity gain” in teaching and so, by comparison, it’s becoming much more expensive to teach our kids than it is to buy our groceries or take a vacation. Even rich districts are forced to make cutbacks as their property tax burdens become higher relative to the population’s willingness to bear them. It’s a very difficult issue.

Still, historically speaking, we’re educating more children for longer than we ever have before–so even though it’s a tough issue, it’s not a catastrophic one–is it?


harry b 05.24.06 at 5:28 pm

Jane, sure there isn’t really a national labor market for experienced teachers, but there is for new-ish teachers (eg we get a lot of other States trying to recruit UW Madison grads), and regional (within State) labor markets are still pretty competitive even for experienced teachers; look at the Boston, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Bay areas. 15,000 school districts still amounts to an average of…I don’t know, but a lot, per State. Exceptions, to be sure, (LA springs to mind). A lot of teachers are willing to sacrifice 10 years seniority for a raise of $10-15K and easier-to-teach kids. The contrast with the UK (where tim is) is quite striking; there the salary scale is determined by a single national agreement, and although there is a national labour market, and promotion/raises are based on genuine management decisions, still the state really is all-but-monopsonistic.


Barry 05.24.06 at 6:42 pm

Harry, in addition, it wouldn’t necessarily be sacrificing 10 years. 3-5 should be enough to demonstrate competancy, and the ability to handle the stress. Particularly if those years were spent in a rough district, where 5 years would involve as much stress as 30 years in a nicer district. IIRC, that’s a problem for police forces in bad areas; the police departments in nicer areas higher away young officers after a few years on the job.

Jane Galt: “Harry—no, all those school districts are not competing, because a teacher who moves from one state to another loses their seniority, pension, and so forth.”

BZZZZZZZZZZZZT!!!!! I’m sorry, that’s the wrong answer. The correct answer is “that wouldn’t matter, because hiring districts would make up pensions/seniority as needed, in their competitive quest for the best teachers. So Sayeth the Market”. But thanks for playing ‘libertarian jeopardy’!


Steve LaBonne 05.24.06 at 7:50 pm

Re Dr. B’s comment (#22), it is also true in many parts of the country that professors of education are paid substantially less than teachers (as I know from my girlfriend, a prof and former teacher) which impacts, if not (as with nursing)the quantity of newly fledged teachers, certainly the quality of their training.


harry b 05.24.06 at 8:10 pm

Thanks Barry.

Re 40, I don’t know about the US really, but when I was at the Institute of Education in London it was generally thought pretty much impossible to hire experienced teachers and administrators into teacher education faculties, because of the impossibility of matching their salaries and the difficulty of counting their experience toward academic seniority.


Tom T. 05.24.06 at 8:32 pm

Haven’t Catholic schools in the US been facing some of these same issues due to a decline in the number of nuns?


Ted 05.24.06 at 8:56 pm

When most or all families have access to broadband, and, therefore, access to the best teachers online, will home schooling really take off?

Just think … if the best (most popular) teachers
got paid $1 per student per day and had thousands
of children view their ‘casts … cost to parents
$176/per child/year … income to the best
teachers … thousands per day … and each side of the political spectrum educates (indoctrinates)
their children the “best” way

The internet changes EVERYTHING!


T. Scrivener 05.24.06 at 11:20 pm

Tim. Believe it or not the private sector for teachers pays much less.


otto 05.25.06 at 3:23 am

Surely the monopsony argument works pretty well for the UK at least? and my guess (yes, guess!) is that US teachers are paid more than UK teachers and one reason is exactly because there is much less of a single-employer environment for teachers in the US.


Tim Worstall 05.25.06 at 4:21 am

Otto: You’ve pretty much said it for me. I was really referring to the UK (which is where I’m from, after all).

As for Lemuel’s “pretty bright for a libertarian”, why, I blush at the compliment….


ajay 05.25.06 at 4:42 am

Tim, you’re ignoring the bigger picture. There’s already competition in the equation – competition for new graduates between teaching jobs and everything else. That would still exist even if the world inside your head resembled reality and there were no private schools at all in Britain. Your monopsony would only exist if people chose to go into teaching without knowledge of pay scales. If you had, say, an economy where only women taught, and the State ran the education sector, then the State would be a monopsonist for female teachers.

But that’s not the case. A new graduate has the choice of either going to do a PGCE (postgraduate teaching qualification) and then becoming a teacher, or going straight into other employment/further degrees. At this point they are aware of the differences in pay and working conditions. The state may be a “near-monopsonist” for teachers, but it is not a near-monopsonist for graduates – and, when it comes to recruiting teachers, that’s what counts.

Otto: I can’t find overall statistics for the US and UK. In any case, I think comparisons of the average would be difficult due to variations between, say, Los Angeles and rural Kentucky. The LIS project published figures showing the differential between average comparable graduate wages and teacher wages, and showed that teachers on average earn 75% of the average graduate wage (age adjusted) in the US. However, there are any number of explanations for this.
Furthermore, I doubt that there is much of an open market in schoolteachers – academics are different, and here there is a clear differential, hence the “brain drain”.


wkwillis 05.25.06 at 6:01 am

We also got rid of ‘tracking’. Tracking put the problem kids in babysitting classes and prevented them from stealing teacher time from their classmates. The problem was that all parents want their children, including and especially their problem children, to maximise teacher time. So we wound up putting all the low status and minority children in the ‘problem’ classes and depriving them of any education at all as the teachers in the ‘problem’ classes spent all their time dealing with the ‘problem’ kids.
What private schools do is expel the problem kids and then all the kids get equal teacher time. A good estimate is that the 20% of the kids that cause problems get 80% of the teacher time, and also, the administration time. Hell, the janitorial time.
Now if we had a voucher system, the problem kids would still not get educated, but the nonproblem kids would cost far less to be educated. This is why poor districts have parents who desperately want vouchers. They can separate their kids from the problem kids and get an education that their kids don’t get now.
Of course, we could just pay kids to learn. That would also work. Not going to happen, either.


Andromeda 05.25.06 at 6:51 am

Barry: Jane is talking about what is happening, not what would happen in some hypothetical more-market-driven world which we do not presently inhabit. You do lose seniority, hence pay, when you move from (public) district to district. It’s one of the reasons I am teaching in the private school world; should I decide to someday teach elsewhere, my experience will be respected. Believe me, I would love to see the world where public schools realize experience is experience and there’s nothing magical about getting it in one particular district, but we don’t live in that world right now, so it is a disincentive in reality.

Re an earlier comment of yours, you say that barriers to entry do not seem to be a problem as there are many alternate paths to entry these days. This is certainly the impression you would get from reading the newspapers, but it’s not really true. Teachers who have alternate certification are frequently looked down upon and the programs are quite controversial within the public school world. There’s a strong feeling in education, especially in public education, that you had a lifelong passion for teaching and you jumped through the standard set of hurdles or — or what the hell are you doing teaching? There’s a strong feeling in the public school world that only teaching prepares one for teaching, that other fields do not have transferable skillsets, and in fact that the time you were spending in them is proof of your unsuitability to work with children.

Furthermore, the bureaucracy to get any sort of certification is really nontrivial. Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education is well-known for not answering its phones, ever. Or talking to you if you go there in person. The only way to get your certification paperwork processed at all is via their web site (great for me, not so great for my technophobic aunt), and it takes a few months. How many months is really a random function (a problem when you need stuff according to the school calendar’s deadlines), and there’s nothing you can do to speed the process along. In the meantime, of course, there are processing fees you’ve paid out of your own pocket, and tests you’ve taken, again paid for out of your own pocket, and they’re not really cheap tests.

Public school teaching still very much expects people to enter along the standard path and sets up significant logistical and cultural hurdles against those who do not. Yes, people in high-demand professions still get jobs, but not because their alternative certification is somehow respected; merely because there are no other warm bodies available to fill the job. I was able to get interviews as a Latin teacher (very high-demand in Massachusetts) with an irregular certification pathway, but only in July, and only because conventionally certified candidates literally could not be found.

Which is another reason I teach in private schools; I have coworkers who have done all sorts of things besides teaching, and the culture of private schools treats this as a positive, a representation of intellectual and personal diversity which will lead to a more interesting educational experience for the kids, not as evidence that these people shouldn’t be teachers.


Slocum 05.25.06 at 7:39 am

When most or all families have access to broadband, and, therefore, access to the best teachers online, will home schooling really take off?

It’s possible. I have a high-school aged son taking an online Math course and it’s working out very well. BUT…the interactive nature of the course is such that the importance of the teacher is greatly reduced (in my son’s case, anyway), so it doesn’t matter if the instructor is great or lousy. In fact, the teacher has not really taught my son any math at all, and that’s the way he likes it. All the teacher has done is the clerical stuff.

It’s really pretty cool. Because the work is self-paced all the BS about meeting every daily deadline for homework is gone. There is no paper to shuffle back and forth (or for the teacher to grade). No hours of drugery in class spent grading and reviewing homework (most of which you already understand). Problems are graded as they are completed, and the instant feedback makes an enormous difference. If my son gets an answer wrong, the software offers to hyperlink him back to the relevant section in the text and then serves up another problem of the same type. It really does make a standard classroom/paper-and-pencil math class seem like a relic from the middle ages.

But the change is a big one, so I think it’ll be adopted slowly (and, of course, the unions can be counted on to fight it).


Barry 05.25.06 at 7:49 am

Andromeda: “Barry: Jane is talking about what is happening, not what would happen in some hypothetical more-market-driven world which we do not presently inhabit. ”

Um, I was pulling a bit of a Colbert there; I guess that I wasn’t obvious enough. I gave the standard libertarian scenario, using the standard libertarian assumptions. Since Megan likes to use such efficient market hypotheses, I figured that she was fair game.


harry b 05.25.06 at 9:15 am

slocum and ted,

I agree there is a lot of potential here, and the massive rise in homeschooling in the US is associated with the technological developments you talk about. I think we’re quite far from being able to teach writing and appreciation of literature etc in the way slocum describes, but Fredrick Hess has a nice article a couple of years back in Education Next about technology in which he mentions software that grades grammar, spelling, and style in writing.

I’m curious, slocum, how much you have to help? I reckon I could help my kid up to and past calculus, but my spouse is already streteched (my daughter’s in 4th grade). If all the kids whose parents can help them are being homeschooled, that leaves the public school system with even more challenges…


catfish 05.25.06 at 11:20 am

Also, homeschooling kids requires that the person doing the homeschooling, you know, stays home.

It is an option only for families that have one member who is willing and able to give up full time employment and has the requisite skills to teach.

Homeschooling is fine for the above minority, but it can’t contribute to education reform in any way except as a drain of the most talented and involved parents from local school districts.

(It is, I believe, a right of parents to homeschool their children regardless of the negative externalities).


eudoxis 05.25.06 at 12:02 pm

There are some excellent writing courses online. Check the distance learning offerings from places like Johns Hopkins and Stanford. Stanford is starting an online comprehensive high school education – not for the faint of heart – their goal is to provide the equivalent of a Stanford undergraduate education in a high school curriculum. There seems to be a rapidly growing online learning community driven not just by traditional homeschooling demands but by people like us, who supplement what we consider a mediocre public education. It’s also a great equalizer for students who are located in underserved areas.

Tying this in to the original post, many of the parents who support public schooling and who want their children to be well educated are in the position where one of the highly educated parents ends up devoting great energy to their children’s education (subsidizing). So, again, we have a portion the female workforce who, this time by choice and opportunity, chose to forgo a time-consuming career in favor of childrearing. (Wasn’t there a post, recently, about lazy rich mothers who stay at home and do nothing?)

But wasn’t it ever so? The cohort of intelligent teachers mentioned in the post did not teach for very long. Most of those women taught for a short period of time and then gave up teaching to child rearing and community service. They may have returned to the workforce at a later time, but not necessarily as teachers.

My grandmother was graduated summa with a degree in physics in 1923. She was a high school Latin teacher until she had children of her own. Later, she returned to a research and writing position, as it was then possible for women to do so. I don’t think her case is typical, yet, the pattern of education, then teaching/nursing, followed by child-rearing must have been very common.

That’s not to say that there were a number of dedicated, female, career teachers of great skill and intelligence (I’ve known my share), but that the group of “brilliant women who made their life in the classroom” was, in reality, much smaller than the group of women who were highly educated and went into teaching.

Further, I believe that great teaching involves not only an intelligent teacher, but also one who loves to teach and who creates a strong emotional bond with the children. I’m partial to the idea that without caring there is no learning. Along those lines, children who do a lot of distance learning end up becoming very adept at self-study, learn to overcome a great amount of frustration by themselves, but lack the spark of motivation that often comes from teachers, and the intense emotional experience of learning that is not only driven by the subject matter but by the teacher-pupil diad.


lemuel pitkin 05.25.06 at 12:58 pm

So I just thought of something: if you really think public schools are monoposonistic, you must support strong teachers’ unions, right? Because it’s Econ 101 (it really is!) that in a monopsonistic situation, artificially raising prices will actually increase demand and get you closer to the free-market equilibrium…


Ken 05.25.06 at 1:35 pm

“Still, historically speaking, we’re educating more children for longer than we ever have before—so even though it’s a tough issue, it’s not a catastrophic one—is it?”

Well, not unless you count all the teenage “children” having babies before we’ve gotten around to giving them a Mickey Mouse high school education, much less a real, useful (currently college) education.

Lengthening childhood in the way that we have done not only takes away valuable years from our effective lifetimes, but opens up a large window of opportunity for still-helpless-and-ignorant teenagers (instead of educated and adult teenagers) to do something stupid.

So, yes, I’d say that educating children for longer than ever before, and making them be children for longer than ever before, is a really bad thing.


hibiscus 05.25.06 at 7:30 pm

wait, there’s something weird here. nobody’s talking about how incredibly groovy and controversial universal education was “way back when.” how it tied in with all the gigantic political movements and social dreams, how it was building america, building the space program, whatever. it wasn’t glamorous but it wasn’t a death sentence.

it isn’t that either, now, but i think both the dreams and the sense of what’s sexy-to-do have shifted away from the public sector. all the big things people were building along with the school system then are maintenance chores now. just for example, compare the space race with the space shuttle. NASA is in a sunset industry, being replaced by low cost commodity sharks.

“the end of history” also to me seemed to mean the end of development of the child-raising fabric. from here on in, everything just happens automatically. the society’s aggressive “spending” of the time parents might give to childrearing i think shows this feeling that education is tap water in a bottled water world – you’ll miss it but maybe not for a couple days.

it’s a trap of course – we have a slog ahead of us with environmental issues and we need the kids to be ready – autopilot won’t navigate it.


bhauth 05.25.06 at 10:29 pm

Barry, your Colbert impression sucks, and your sarcastic tone comes across as you being a jerk. I don’t know any libertarians that consider any sort of market hypothesis applicable to government programs. If transportation was instant and free and vouchers were used and empty schools were closed, you might have a case.


hibiscus 05.26.06 at 12:07 am

also i read through that hoxby-leigh study of how wages and teacher aptitude are connected. the study is very loose with generalizing its findings, claiming that wage compression because of unionization explains “the bulk of the decline in teachers aptitude.” but to describe the decline, it cites another study (corcoran, evans, schwab 2002), which says in its abstract:

We find that while the quality of the average new female teacher has fallen only slightly over this period, the likelihood that a female from the top of her high school class will eventually enter teaching has fallen dramatically from 1964 to 1992 by our estimation, from almost 20% to under 4%.

“fallen only slightly.” tough to use that to prove anything about the general quality of education or of any given school.

smart women in other fields is good i think. it’s okay to take a hit in the number of girl-genius teachers to get girl-genius doctors, girl-genius politicians, girl-genius engineers, etc. even so with some fiddling with pay scales at public schools, prolly some geniuses would come back, but not the whole 20% from the ’60s.


Barry 05.26.06 at 7:44 am

“Barry, your Colbert impression sucks, and your sarcastic tone comes across as you being a jerk. I don’t know any libertarians that consider any sort of market hypothesis applicable to government programs. If transportation was instant and free and vouchers were used and empty schools were closed, you might have a case.”

Posted by bhauth ·

From your last sentence, I’d guess that you’ve been on the internet just long enough to read this post and comment thread. Look around, the net is full of libertarians applying efficient market theory to everything that they can nail it to. Jane Galt is a prime offender.

As for my sarcastic tone marking me as a jerk – again, when you’ve been cruising the net for more than 30 minutes, you’ll have seen true sarcasm. You’ll also see libertarian-flavored posts where you can’t figure out if they’re serious, or mocking.

I do agree that my Colbert impression really s*cks – I don’t have the screaming eagle soundtrack, or an animated picture of me waving a huge US flag.


hibiscus 05.27.06 at 9:25 pm

maybe this conversation is done … still it’s worth noting that the current movie the notorious bettie page touches on this subject quite strongly. as the movie tells it, she went into modeling and acting because her only affordable college option was at a teachers’ college and she had no interest in that career.

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