Separate Worlds: A Misguided Look at the ‘Intangible’ Differences Between Public and Private Schools

It seems some conservative Think Tank has published a study that claims teachers are overpaid.

I have a lot of issues with this study, but one thing that really stuck out as I was reading it was a section on comparing private and public school teachers’ salaries. Apparently the authors felt that – because both are doing the “same job” – the fact that private school teachers make less money was a reason to claim that public school teachers are overpaid…this paragraph really caught me:

A [private] teacher-to- [public] teacher comparison also helps to eliminate intangible work-related factors from the analysis. If there are certain aspects of teaching that are particularly frustrating (or rewarding) relative to other occupations, a higher (or lower) salary for teachers may be required as a compensating differential. By limiting both the reference and comparison group to teachers, whatever salary differences we observe are less likely to be driven by these intangible factors.

Because they’re all teachers by definition, there are no intangible factors that differentiate a private school teacher from a public school teacher? Hmmm…well let’s just take a look at some of the “intangible factors” that the authors overlooked, shall we?

For one thing, private school teachers generally have “smaller enrollments, smaller average class sizes, and lower student/teacher ratios than public schools” (ref.). But I suppose class size is actually a tangible factor, so to be fair (sarcasm), we won’t even count it. So what can we count?

Well, public school students are far more likely to come from low income households (see table 8 for ref), and this study shows a correlation between students’ low socioeconomic status and lack of parental involvement in school (as well as correlations between low socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and parent-teacher tensions.) I think most people would agree that these factors contribute to more “frustration” for public school teachers.

Also, according to teacher perceptions, private school teachers perceive that private school students are:

  • less likely to show disrespect to teachers
  • less likely to use drugs and/or alcohol
  • less likely to be tardy
  • less likely to be absent
  • more likely to be prepared to learn
  • more likely to have actively involved parents
  • less likely to express apathy toward education

And this study shows that, in comparison to private school students, public school students are:

  • more likely to have been the victim of violence at school
  • more likely to have been threatened in school
  • more likely to be afraid of being victimized at school
  • significantly more likely to encounter street gangs at or on the way to/from school
  • more likely to fear for their own safety or avoid certain areas at school

In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics found that private school teachers were:

  • “…more likely than public school teachers to report being satisfied with teaching at their school.”
  • “…more likely than public school teachers to report having a lot of influence on several teaching practices and school policies.”
  • likely to “express positive opinions about their principal and their school’s management.”

Even though the authors made the comparisons “After controlling for education, gender, region, and metro status,” it still does not eliminate the discrepancies. So yes…intangible factors do play a significant role in the “rewards” and “frustration” felt by public school teachers in comparison to their private counterparts, so the fact that private school teachers receive less compensation really has no place in the “overpaid” argument. Public and private school teachers work under very different conditions, and these factors should be taken into account.

Now, none of this is meant to demean private school teachers or the work that they do. Teaching under ANY circumstance can be a challenge, and I would never give up my job. It’s the job I chose, and it’s the job I love; however, the notion that intangible factors do not play a role in a public teacher’s reward/frustration is completely uninformed. I’m also perplexed at the fact that the authors of the study didn’t conclude that instead of public school teachers being overpaid, maybe it’s the private school teachers who are underpaid.

I have a number of friends and colleagues who have taught or been educated in private schools, and they confirm these perceptions. And while I can’t say much more about teaching in a private school because I’ve never done it before, I can almost guarantee I’m more qualified to speak on it than either Dr. Richwine or Dr. Biggs, neither of whom has any classroom experience on his resume.

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One Response to Separate Worlds: A Misguided Look at the ‘Intangible’ Differences Between Public and Private Schools

  1. Pingback: You Get What You Pay For…Sometimes. | Surviving English

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