One explanation: The working conditions are better in private schools, so instructors are willing to take a salary cut.
Private school teachers make way less than public school teachers. Average salaries are nearly $50,000 for public, and barely $36,000 for private. That’s not just a gap. It’s a chasm.
Teacher compensation has become a key part of the public debate over American schools. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has sounded the war-horns for higher salaries. New Jersey governor Chris Christie wrestles with unions over benefits. When she was chancellor of the D.C. public school system, Michelle Rhee fought to remake teacher pay scales, en route to becoming the most divisive figure in American education. And whatever your agenda, the salary gap between public and private threatens to rewrite the storyline. If public schools pay too little, why do privates pay even less? On the other hand, with better-paying public-school jobs available, why do so many teachers accept lower salaries in order to go private?
Some conclude that public-school teachers must be overpaid. Teachers’ unions, they contend, possess an unfair advantage. Through lobbying and campaign contributions, they get to pick who sits across the bargaining table from them. No private union has that power. This perverse scenario, they claim, allows teachers to negotiate lavish pensions and above-market wages. (Never mind that teachers earn 30 percent less per yearthan other college graduates.)
The opposite interpretation is that private-school teachers must be underpaid. Private schools, some point out, suffer higher teacher turnover among early-career teachers: 24 percent of private-school teachers are in their first three years of teaching, compared with 13 percent of public-school teachers. And on their way out the door, two-thirds cite low salary as a reason for leaving. So private schools’ stingy wages must be failing to draw and retain good teachers. (Never mind that their students seem to do just fine.)
Both of these positions overlook the simplest explanation. The labor markets are just plain different—and those differences may hold meaningful lessons. The rest of the story>