Late-night TV Misinforms on Teacher Salaries

Seth Meyers of the NBC talk show Late Night recently chimed in on the Detroit Public Schools controversies. And his comments have been picked up by national media, spreading a bleak portrait of the teaching profession.

Meyers focused on the compensation of teachers and said, "Clearly there is something wrong with the way our society values the work teachers do, and yet when teachers object to budget cuts or ask for increases in pay, they are dismissed and the politicians who dismiss them are often celebrated as straight-shooters."

“We often expect teachers to work for less and in worse conditions than we would work for ourselves,” Meyers said. “We think of teachers almost like volunteers.”

He continued: “Many teachers do their jobs because they love them and are committed to educating kids. But they should also be able to make a decent salary do it.”

The TV show then showed a graphic that stated that since 1999, teacher salaries fallen 8.4 percent in Michigan and cited the National Center for Education Statistics as the source.

It also stated that the average salary for a teacher in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience is $44,900.

ForTheRecord says: Late-night TV probably isn’t the best place to get information on public education.

Teachers’ salaries in Michigan have not decreased since 1999 unless inflation is factored into the equation, something Late Night host Meyers mentioned before displaying chart that showed Michigan teachers' salaries had fallen by 8.4 percent since 1999.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, the average teachers’ salary was $47,448 in 1998-99 and $61,978 in 2014-15, the latest year for which data is available. That $47,448 in 1998-99 increases to $67,502 in 2015 after factoring in inflation. That means there was a 8.9 percent decrease in salaries, adjusted for inflation, over that 16 year period.

But more importantly, statewide average salaries can be misleading when applied to the career tracks of individual teachers. That’s because if older, more experienced teachers retire, they are often replaced by younger, less expensive teachers, which would reduce the average salary of the teaching pool without any actual teachers taking pay cuts.

Here’s an example. According to data from a Freedom of Information Act request, an actual Plymouth-Canton teacher saw her salary start at $39,954 in her first year in 2006-07. Her salary in 2014-15 was $60,346. She was covered by a union contract so her experience would have been similar to other teachers in that district. That starting salary of $39,954 would be $45,672 after factoring in inflation, which would mean after nine years of teaching, that Plymouth-Canton teacher’s salary increased by 32 percent. Yet, the average teacher salary in her district in 2007 was $64,749 ($74,015 in 2015 dollars) and increased to $65,586 in 2014-15. By going with just average teacher salary, one may incorrectly assume if inflation is factored in, that individual Plymouth-Canton teachers are earning much less since 2007.

Editor's note: This item has been changed to reflect Late Night's comments. Also, information on the average salary of Plymouth-Canton teachers was added.