Last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that America’s public school teachers are “desperately underpaid” and called for a doubling of teachers’ wages. A similar theme is touted frequently by politicians, media, and education unions.

But teacher compensation is much more than salary. The plush benefits given to public school employees are a large part of teacher compensation, especially pension benefits that are several times more valuable than typical private-sector retirement plans.

Teachers also benefit from retiree health coverage—rare in the private sector—and strong job security. Taking benefits into account, public school teachers often end up with a more desirable compensation package than those with similar skill levels in the private sector.

Teaching should offer competitive compensation and reward effective teachers, but rigid union contracts and benefit structures are impediments to rational reform. Rather than rewarding quality teaching, salary determinations and raises are often made across the board, regardless of performance in the classroom.

In the following video, Heritage’s Jason Richwine discusses the problems with teacher compensation with Choice Media TV’s Bob Bowdon.

To read more about teacher compensation, see “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers” and “A Better Way to Pay: Five Rules for Reforming Teacher Compensation.”

Teresa Shumay is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit