WASHINGTON – A new survey by the American Federation of Teachers says that despite recent gains, teachers are still underpaid.

But a separate study by the Hoover Institution finds teachers earn more per hour than architects, engineers, scientists and nurses.

According to economist Richard Vedder, who authored the recent Hoover study, unions fail to account for the shorter teaching workday and work year when measuring compensation. Teachers come out ahead when spring and summer breaks are factored in.

Vedder also notes teachers’ retirement and health-insurance benefits are typically more generous than those of the average professional.

Take health care.

Labor Department data suggest about half of teachers pay nothing for single coverage; their employer picks up the entire premium, he says. In contrast, just one-fourth of private “professional and technical” workers pay nothing.

“If direct hourly compensation averages perhaps 5 to 8 percent more for teachers than for all professional workers, and fringe benefits are perhaps 5 percent more,” Vedder concluded, “all told, teachers’ average hourly compensation plus benefits exceeds the average for all professional workers by roughly 10 to 15 percent.”

Moreover, he points out, teachers have greater job security, rarely suffering layoffs or firings, which allows them to earn more over time.

American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman, however, insists teachers’ salaries, at an average $44,367 nationally, are relatively low among the professions. The national average for a beginning teacher in the 2001-2002 school year was $30,719.

While pay for beginning teachers rose from the last survey, salaries for experienced teachers “are not showing much improvement,” she said.

Union officials note while teachers may work shorter job hours, they do a lot of work outside the classroom, such as grading papers, which is not compensated.

Unions, which generally oppose performance-based pay for teachers, argue paying teachers more across the board will improve student test scores.

But Vedder, who favors tying pay to classroom performance, doesn’t buy it. He questions how private schools manage to outperform public schools on standardized tests when private-school teachers earn much less than public-school teachers.

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