Ask the Hippie: Teacher Pay

Technically, no one asked the hippie this, but it’s a popular question, and it came to mind the other day during a conversation about the relative value of various professions.

Q. Albert Pujols makes $14.5 million a year, and all he does is play baseball. Why aren’t teachers paid the same as professional athletes?

A. This argument comes up every time somebody mentions the subject of teacher pay, and it always makes me cringe, because I live in fear that some cynical politician will hear it and do the obvious.

Unless you honestly want to have another frustrating conversation about merit pay, you probably shouldn’t bring up ballplayers’ salaries. Alfonso Soriano notwithstanding, professional baseball is all about merit pay. If you understand how this concept works in baseball, you have a pretty good idea of why teachers’ unions oppose it.

Albert Pujols makes $14.5 million a year. He also has a lifetime batting average of .328, a .619 slugging percentage, two Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, nine All-Star appearances, and a 10-year average VORP of 86.37. This is the baseball equivalent of walking into a Title I school and getting 95 percent of the kids to score at or above the 97th percentile on their End-of-Instruction tests for ten consecutive years.

Unless you are the Albert Pujols of professional educators, you can’t reasonably ask someone to pay you $14.5 million a year. But even ordinary Major League Baseball players are an elite group. If my numbers are right, at any given moment, the maximum number of MLB players is 1,200 — which means less than 12 percent of all professional baseball players are actually knocking down six figures or more.

With that in mind, what would it look like if teachers were paid like professional athletes?

Let’s pretend you’re a young, unproven teacher, fresh out of college. You’re drafted in the 20th round and sent to single-A. Your starting salary is $850 a month, which works out to $10,200 a year. If you play well, you could be promoted to Double-A ($1,500 a month) or even Triple-A ($2,150 a month), where you’ll still be making less than the current starting salary for teachers in 47 states. But hey — it’s worth it if there’s a chance you could get called up to the majors, where the minimum salary is $414,000, right?

Maybe. But who will be evaluating your performance, how well will they understand what you are trying to accomplish, and what kind of pressure will they be under to keep payroll expenses down? I have a great boss, but what happens if he quits, and his replacement turns out to be the Larry Himes of school administrators? Unlike MLB teams, school districts can’t raise revenue by selling tickets or licensing collectibles with the star player’s face on them, so even if you’re the second coming of Jaime Escalante, you’ll be lucky to get to The Show at all.

Welcome to merit pay, rookie. And quit that sniffling. There’s no crying in baseball.