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February 18, 2007




Steve Jobs is on the edge of being indicted by a Republican Justice Department and for no apparent reason he suddenly, after all these years, starts making high-profile speeches attacking the core interests of constituencies absolutely central to the fundraising of the Democratic party? First Hollywood (DRM) and now the teachers' unions.

How odd (and in my view misguided).

Steve Kaplan

An interesting post Don. Different than the usual tech stuff :)

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Wendy Kopp's book. Wendy founded Teach For America in the early 90's and has been running it ever since. She brings up some of the same issues and talks about the role that TFA has played in addressing them. They've found that money plays a much smaller role than generally believed. Of most importance is teacher quality and accountability.

I'd recommend picking up a copy. It's written like your typical Entrepeneur's startup memoir but having to do with a non-profit.


Greg Linden

Those are interesting numbers, Don. Thanks for posting them.

The data used for that chart is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2005 hourly wages report is available


with the data of interest in Table 2-1.

It does show primary and secondary teachers making an average wage of $33/hour. You can compare to other professions such as lawyers at $51/hour, computer programmers at $31/hour, and technical writers at $35/hour. Do note some of the details in Appendix A which says, for example, that the hourly wages do not include bonuses or paid vacation.

Also of interest may be the annual salaries


for these professions. For example, the average elementary school teacher makes $47k/year and secondary school $50k/year. The average computer programmer makes $67k, average lawyer $110k, technical writer $58k, and "writers and authors" $54k.

Also note that school teachers, as defined by the BLS


must have a bachelor's degree, complete additional education, must be licensed.

In contrast, less than half of computer programmers have a college degree. Similarly, the "writers and editors" category appears to require less education.


I will let you draw your own conclusions from this data. I am only commenting here because I thought it would be helpful to have direct pointers to more of the raw data.

Alfred Thompson

The days of work for teachers depends a little on the state. Massachusitts has a shorter school year than New Hampshire. NH's 180 school days is about average and is pretty common. Teacher's paid work days run 5 to 10 days more than that though. The average teacher works another 5 to 10 days without pay outside the school year. Typically you will see a school pretty busy the week before teachers are offically required to return to school. Also like most salaried people teachers work a lot of nights, weekends and holidays. Also summer training which the best teachers do also amounts to another 5 to 10 days a year. So while the worst teachers will work 185 days the best will work closer to 200 even wihtout figuring in weekend work. But as you point out there is no reward for going the extra mile. One can play with the workday numbers a lot to make things look the way you want.
I agree that both removing bad teachers and not being able to reward good teachers are a problem. Fixing one without fixing the other is not going to help a lot.

Simeon Pilgrim

I find it funny people still think teachers only work half the year, because that's when they are standing in front of your children. When pray does the homework get marked, when does class work get planned, when does teacher training happen, when does administration work get done. I'm not sure about the US, but in New Zealand it's the school holidays that this happens, or the evenings, or weekends.


The starting salary absolutely makes a difference. If I can make 45k out of college as a programmer or 23k out of college as a teacher, that's a pretty huge incentive not to go into teaching - especially living in an area where 45k isn't exactly light years above the cost of living.

You're right, it's about incentives. The question is, do our very best and brightest (the people who we want to be teachers, IMHO) have adequate incentive to go into the field? The answer is clearly not, and that's the first thing I'd fix.


I agree with some of the above who point out that there is more to the work of being a teacher than the school hours. I was an elementary teacher for three years until last year, and I gained a different perspective than I had. In order to do a good job with lesson planning, curriculum development, and record-keeping, it was at least an addition 2-3 hours per school day. Add to that communicating with parents, meetings, and non-school day functions, and it was a lot more hours than I expected. True, the time off in the summer and mid-winter are relaxing and a great benefit, but the breaks also keep teachers from killing their students, in many cases (only half-kidding).

I think there are subjects which require more and less preparation, and there are some subjects which also have better pre-developed curriculum to follow, and teachers who've been doing it for 30 years are definitely more efficient at the above tasks than those in their first decade of teaching, but I found it to be too much work for too little money. I could not support my family, as I had expected to have time and energy to do consulting work on the side to make up the difference, but I found myself emotionally exhausted from dealing with the modern "South Park" generation of mouthy kids and too many parents who make lives hell for teachers, apparently believing their kids are somehow perfect.
A change in administration policies to spelled kowtow to the parents more than even before made my decision to exit my teaching career all the easier to make, and my first job outside of teaching pays 80% more, and I can actually relax with my family in the evenings instead of worrying about lesson plans and paperwork.

All that being said, I think Jobs has good points. There is very little incentive to excel, and the money is spent in the wrong places, with too much going to bloated unions. Teaching is probably a more family-friendly career than most due to the summer vacation, but it is tougher than it looks on paper.

Albert M.

Oops. Hey Don. I think both you and Steve (and other Americans who gripe about teacher salaries and unions) have to re-think the hourly pay 'analysis'. I was 'called' to teach (some of my friends said I was a natural) and it felt a noble and worthy endeavor. I excelled in my program. I got my teaching license but after 2 years of substitute teaching and doing a few months of student teaching, plus one 6-month position I decided to switch. (First, out of the classroom and then into the school library and now out of the schools altogether.) I am back in school to get my masters so I won't have to work in a school. Why? Because my math showed teachers pulling a closer to 70-hour work week and teachers getting the short end of the stick from parents, society, and the media. School's are a politically correct roadshow and you are on stage every minute, if you aren't being accused of something. (Ask that teacher who got arrested because a virus running porno sites was found on her classroom computer.). Teachers like me are qualified and talented but you can't pay me enough money to go back in there. A union is the bare minimum, raises are certainly called for, and I challenge anyone to 'shadow' and work with a teacher for a week. You'll need the vacation...trust me!


To produce good teachers takes several years, the same as in any other profession. The problem is that we have not attracted good people to the teaching profession for 20 years and mediocre people do not become good teachers with time. We have not attracted good people because the starting salaries of teachers are not competitive with other professions. When I was an elementary school student in the 1950s starting teachers were solid middle class people. Today starting teachers struggle financially and consequently people seek out other professions.

The answer is to increase starting teacher salaries so that a better caliber of people are attracted to teaching so that over time the corp of teachers improves.


Like most real problems, there is not one silver bullet solution. I'd start however by making a percentage of the public schools into for profit schools as a test case. They still have to take students living in their region but also can take others. They directly receive the tax dollars from the in region students, and can charge the out of region students market rates. They are docked tax dollars from in region students that go elsewhere, and probably pay a penalty on top of that too so they are very motivated to serve both the tax dollar paying students, and the market rate paying students. Before we get to a true open market, there would also have to be incentives for college placement and penalties for drop outs. Then go from there towards a more and more economically open capitalist paradigm. Before you know it, good teachers will be making exactly what they should.


Wow, what a narrow view of the problems of teaching/learning in America. Blame the unions is common "right-wing" rhetoric that will get you nowhere fast. Look at the real issue--teachers get paid next to nothing. That said, a lot teachers are crappy because it is poorly paid job. Its not that hard, raise pay and better teachers will come. Its just like any other job. Your numbers are way off; obviously you did not contact any teachers to come up with them. The only needed incentive is better pay!!

Lloyd Budd

Don, I am with the other commenters here. This post has left me emotionally very upset, and I am reminded of your aloof comments concerning United Nations and Red Cross.

I have no idea why you or Steve Jobs are doing arm chair analysis of complex problems. Spent much time with teachers, parents, or other people involved in working on real solutions?

Did you consider Bill Gates own *expensive* learning experiences in the US education system?

Almost all teachers I have met do the job because they care. It is a job with little reward. They work far more than "180 days per year". It is a profession with almost no on the job retraining, nor collaboration with peers.

Teaching is the most important role in the world.

Bill Connaghan

As was commented, this is a very very complicated problem. The biggest obstacle in k12 public education is “change”. School boards, administrators, professional staff are in comfort zones that would require an enormous change. However change will occur naturally because of competition coming from cyber and charter schools that are providing online learning.

Students are not waiting for the change to occur in public schools, they are already signing up for cyber and charter schools in growing numbers. Public schools are already concerned that subsidies are starting to dwindle due to these students moving on. The “change” will occur naturally as a result of the technology that today’s and future students are already familiar with and utilizing.

If you’ve never taught in a public school environment for a period of time then you’ve never experienced the joy, stress, exhaustion, and self-satisfaction of the teaching profession. It is mentally and physically exhaustive. You should try it sometime in order to get the take on the profession. Remember that teachers educate our doctors, lawyers, etc., so why shouldn’t they be paid a good or great salary with incentives or not. Changing the way students receive the instruction is one of the key elements that everyone has to get past. Again this change will occur naturally, and leave K12 public schools with a large number of brick and mortar buildings with no bodies to fill it with.

All of the ideas mentioned would help public education in some way, and it’s important that we keep talking about them. We must find a way to adapt before it’s too late! As a parent you should demand the best for your child and make the change happen by getting in the ear of school boards and administrators.


I have been a NYC public middle school teacher for the past 9 years and I am considered one of the "good" ones. And it is true that my union does little to protect me from rabid parents, dangerous students, blatantly false accusations of misconduct, and the precarious moods and whims of my administration and the NYC Department of Education. What my union does do for is keep me from getting fired when a parent calls for my head on a platter because her daughter received an 85 instead of a 90 in my class, or when I refuse my administration's demands that I do "bathroom duty," and for when I need to pay out of my own pocket for the classes I need to further my career. My union is far from perfect, and much less effective than other civil servant unions in the city, but it's all I have.

It is certainly true that the system does not reward us "good" teachers, and it would be great if they could come up with a fair way to do that. But ideas like raising salaries according to test scores is unrealistic. Does that mean a teacher who teaches an honors class will have a better chance of getting a raise than a special-ed teacher? How about the fact that the tests that are used for high-stakes assessment are often flawed and inaccurate? Think about it - does a cop's salary rise if there is less crime in his area? Does a firefighter get paid more if there are less fires? Does a doctor get paid more if less people get sick? Then why should a teacher be paid more if less students fail an unfair, inaccurate test that has nothing to do with the classroom curriculum?

My reward comes from the kids and the kids only. My kids tell me that I am the best English teacher that they ever had. They tell me that I inspired them to read more or helped them to write better. They say that they want to be writers, teachers, journalists, and more. They tell me that I have prepared them for the rigors and competition of high school despite all the roadblocks that have been put in front of me. That is the reward for a "good" teacher. And that, a living wage, a safe environment, and a supportive community is all we ask.


Your facts and figures approach looks convincing but if you took some time to understand the education system you will see that it just doesn't work.

The government seems to be using the same approach and that is why we have a national shortage of teachers, and a failing education system.


David Marsters

had to respond to your posting about Jobs being half correct. half-correct in this case is a little like being "almost pregnant." I do not know what Jobs is doing for recreation these days but it is not helping his ego problems nor his brain. (Believe me I love all that he does-well most-for Apple and love these computers and ipods.) I was a school board member for 19 years and I used to buy into the myth of "can't fire" until I discovered that it is a myth. I am a teacher, and a union member, and I do battle with much of what the union stands for and many of the ways they distract from quality education. Recently I was an Associate Principal and worked with an amazing Principal who made it clear that the meme of "can't fire" is a myth.

What she demonstrated is that to get rid of ineffective teachers, which she did, you have to have the guts to carry out real and honest teacher evaluations, you have to collect good data, you have to follow legal and contractual procedures, and you have to keep your eye on why you are doing this-for kids. Then the community may be in an uproar because this teacher has coached their kids for 74 years or because she was the most fun teacher in the school, some faculty will get uncomfortable and then there is the union. I would submit that of all of these hurdles, the union may be the easiest because what they can do is proscribed in contract and law. The other two are time consuming, sometimes heart-wrenching emotionally, and often political and subversive.

Jobs seems to have put all his brain cells into the sexy iphone of the future while his understanding of public education remains in the dark ages. From what I read and hear, the "run schools as businesses" has been largely discredited which is one reason the school bashing business organizations have moved on to new things. We still live with the damage they perpetrated (most usually with good intentions) as we see parents and students entitled to challenge any and every decision made about their students. How would the business community address the administrative time required to deal with combative parents who twist the rules and regulations even in the clearest of drug, weapons, and fighting offenses?

I say all this in the context of my sense that schools could do much better. But we have spend decades rearranging deck chairs rather than seriously rethinking and restructuring the education endeavor. Even Bill Gates (dare I mention the name) is way smarter on schools than Jobs and has put money where it can count. He said some time ago that 12th grade is largely irrelevant in most of our high schools. As a teacher and a parent of a senior, I could not agree more. I would love to be part of making schools more effective (and like to think that I am) but lets get on with the project and dump the platitudes and the out-dated harangues and focus on what kids need, communities need, and our country needs from our schools. People have started doing this, too bad Jobs missed that bus.

There is a certain irony in the criticisms of Jobs and those of his ilk who have soapboxes that allow for sound bites and news bits but do not require accuracy or experience. Selling computers to schools does make one an expert in them. Perhaps a better but not necessary credential would be having children in school, which he does not. The irony here is that the big and necessary change in how schools do business is moving from the anecdotal and occasional to real performance data to drive planning and decisions, a process Jobs has yet to pursue from his soapbox.

Schools must change, unions must change but be like a business will not get us there.

David Marsters


3 things:
#1) So maybe teachers work more than just when the kids are in the classroom, but maybe the kids aren't in the classroom the whole work day either.

Also teachers get far better benefits than anyone in the private sector- hence the pension plans that are helping to drive up education costs (and will probably be taken over by your local state government).

#2) Government unions are a SCANDEL for the taxpayers. The only one that truly benefits is the unions. In Minnesota, entire Democrat political campaigns are financed by teachers unions. Oops, I guess Democrats benefit as well.

#3) If they don't truly want to be teachers, I don't want them to be a teacher. And if they're good at it, then they should get paid more.

#4) Ooops, I can't count. If the parents won't discipline and keep charge of their children then the best teacher in the world won't be able to help them learn.

Eric Rolph

You are mankind, a human, perhaps a teacher. There is inefficiency, just like the average gas-cylindar engine. In needs improvement to maximize economy. A good teacher, beyond their master's degree, can offer complimentary wisdom to that of a good parent. The great ones, with noble values, perhaps unfairly compensated, work far more hours per day speaking in front of youth while doing organizational duties, paper work and research. They love their work, money allows them to continue their mission. What level of domestic life do you want from them? Would values do you expect them to share?

A teachers work happens hours before and after they start their public performance, their educational day. Teachers inform us, raise us. For some, they help instill values lost from significant misfortune. They inform us on how to find success as man, woman and child. Poor teachers, redirected to grow value, may benefit to contribute values that we want to expect. We need to educate and value our teachers from castoff to significant standing among all public duties. Education drives technology and the space for change. Innovation comes from knowledge circumstance.

For many privileged, we work hard for our rewards. Our work makes us. Sometimes different than our current work, we grow to achieve our desire and find what it is meant that we do. Many times, we limit our choice by circumstance. How do you remove those limits? We adapt by learning how. It is often work. Education underpins a guide for that work. Where have we learned, who taught us? How would you have liked to improve that experience as a matter of economy? I interested in your thoughts, please email if you'd like to share. Thanks for sharing your article. It made me think about values.

D Rader

Be a teacher for a while and then make a comment.


So..... Teachers only work 180 days a year? Really? Let see.... It is Sunday and right now I am preparing my lectures for the week. Takes a couple hours to put all that on Powerpoint. Plus, I have to research current news for current science items. In fact, I am lecturing on Specific Heat this week and the gas truck fire in Oakland, California that destroyed part of a highway is on the news. Here is an excellent opportunity to connect the chemistry they are learning in the classroom to the real world. Now, who pays me for this extra time? Where is my compensation because I am preparing to add this to my lecture. What about the quizzes and tests that have to be created and then corrected? I don't get compensated for that time. What about the extra time before and after classes that I put in to help those students who are struggling?

What about the websites and other programs I try to include so that my students are motivated with a variety of teaching approaches? These things don't create themselves. If you just take the school year (10 months) and figure in the 90 hours of work I put in each week [7 hours per day of class; 3 hours per day of pre-and after school work; 3 hours per day doing assessment and preparing for the next day; 10 hours each weekend ensuring you have updated your lecture for the next week and trying clear up things from the previous week] I outpace the guy who works 40 hours a week for a year by over 1000 hours. Are you telling me that time is not compensatable?

You, and those of your ilk, have no idea what it takes to teach, instruct and provide adequate assessment that ensures your student has the skills required to survive the real world. Yet you want to compare me to some civil-servant worker? How dare you!! I defy you to step into my classroom and teach for a day. Feel free to call me at the school and we can have you come in and lecture a section. Call me: 732-376-6030. I am in room 319.

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