The myth of the lazy, overpaid Chicago teacher

Do these people look lazy to you? Credit:

Just a quick post today since I have a lot of work to do, but I can’t stand all the lies flying around about Chicago teachers. I’ve seen people cite figures as high as $80,000 a year for the average pay of a Chicago teacher, which is nothing but a vile fabrication. Here’s the truth:

CPS gives a starting salary of $50,577 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree. But that’s including the seven-percent “pension pickup,” which comes from the Board of Education: it’s compensation, obviously, but not money teachers get right now.

Since that doesn’t seem to be regularly included in the salaries quoted by news reports, it’s probably better for comparison to subtract it, which can easily be done with the more detailed tables provided by CPS (PDF).

If we do that, the starting salary is $47,628. The maximum, for a teacher with 20 years’ experience and a doctorate, is $88,680 ($93,817 if you include the pension pickup). The average, according to the AP, is $69,000.

But that’s not the whole story. The annual increases in CPS (which Rahm is trying hard to get rid of) are much smaller than the increases in schools in the suburbs. As CPS alumnus Paul Karafiol tells us:

A teacher with a master’s degree, 30 additional credit hours, and ten years of experience, can expect to earn $87,513 in Evanston this year; last year, in Oak Park, a teacher would have made $88,978. In Chicago this year, the same teacher will earn $75,711 — about $12,000 a year less than in districts to which he or she could walk or take public transportation from a home in Chicago.

Over the course of a career, that difference amounts to over a quarter of a million dollars. This disparity should concern everyone, because it’s a primary reason why experienced teachers leave CPS to go to the suburbs — and why CPS has to train thousands of brand-new teachers every year.

Some people will say that the problem is not that CPS teachers aren’t getting paid enough, but that teachers in the suburbs are getting paid too much. After all, the average Chicagoan does make much less than the average Chicago teacher. But the average Chicagoan doesn’t have a master’s degree in education.

Others will say that it’s outrageous they get paid so much, given that they work so little. The school day is only 7 hours for elementary schools, 7.5 for high schools. But there’s more to it. As labor expert Robert Bruno of U of I will tell you, “the claim that Chicago public school teachers aren’t working enough hours during the school day is unwarranted at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.”

According to a study by Bruno, Steven Ashby and Frank Manzo IV:

  • Teachers work 58 hours per week on average during the school year.
  • Teachers work for 10 hours and 48 minutes on average during a standard school day, and spend almost an additional two hours working at home in the evening.
  • Teachers work another three hours and 45 minutes on school-related work over the weekend.

After that gets cleared up, people who really don’t like teachers tend to start talking about summer breaks. But according to the same study, “teachers also spend an average of 12 days during summer break doing at least one school-related activity, and an additional 30 hours of professional development training while the school year is not in session.”

Is it true that teachers get more vacation days that the average American? Yes. But that’s not saying much. The United States is one of few countries that does not mandate employers to give their workers paid time off. Even companies that do give their employees time off generally discourage their employees from actually taking them, which resulted in 57% of Americans having unused paid vacation days at the end of 2011, on average 70% of the allotted time. This can have a very negative impact on American workers:

“Rest, relaxation, and stress reduction are very important for people’s well-being and health. This can be accomplished through daily activities, such as exercise and meditation, but vacation is an important part of this as well,” said primary care physician Natasha Withers from One Medical Group in New York. Withers lists a decreased risk of heart disease and improved reaction times as some of the benefits from taking some time off.

We shouldn’t be complaining that teachers have too much time off, we should be working to make paid vacation a right of every American worker.

As I’ve said before, and as any teacher will tell you, this strike is not about the money, but I felt the need to clear all of that up.

Update: One point I forgot to talk about. Some people in the media are claiming CPS is offering teachers a 19% raise, which is another fable. Here’s the truth:

 According to the Chicago affiliate of ABC News, David Vitale, head of the Chicago School District, says that the city is offering a 3 percent raise the first year, and 2 percent raises for the remaining three years of the contract. That hardly works out to a 16 percent raise. 9 percent at best. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Chicago resident and history grad student at Northwestern, explains to me, the city hasn’t revealed how it came up with that 16 percent figure, but the best guess is that it includes other things like step increases, which are based on seniority. Contrary to what Moran suggests, it is in no way is an increase in base pay.