Teachers, Rock Stars, and Millionaires, Oh yes!

John Cox, GOP candidate for California’s gubernatorial race, made headlines the other day when he said that he’d like to see teachers paid like “rock stars and baseball players.” Later in a statement, he sheepishly walked it back: “Of course our teachers will never approach the pay of a Beyoncé or a Lebron, but quite frankly, our classroom teachers influence, inspire, and change the arc of more lives than even these music and athletic superstars.”

Don’t give in so fast, Mr. Cox!

While the marketplace can’t assign a social value to a product, in this case, the work product of a teacher, the free market can certainly give it a price.  And where there are supply and demand forces at play, there’s ample evidence that the best teachers can make lots of money.

In South Korea’s private, after-school tutoring academies known as hagwons where the unfettered market reigns, talented tutors have rock star incomes.  The Wall Street Journal reported that top English tutor Kim Ki-Hoon made $4 million a year.  Mr. Kim worked about 60 hours a week, but only three hours giving lectures. His classes are recorded on video which students pay for by the hour.  At the article’s writing in 2013, the cost was just $4 an hour. He spent most of his week responding to students’ online requests for help, developing lesson plans, and writing textbooks and workbooks. “The harder I work, the more I make . . . I like that,” said Mr. Kim.

Amanda Ripley, the author of the Wall Street Journal article and the book The Smartest Kids in the World, wrote, “Thanks in part to such tutoring services, South Korea has dramatically improved its education system and now outperforms the U.S.”

While Asia dominates the tutoring business with investors as prominent as Goldman Sachs, tutoring services are also growing in the U.S.  CNBC profiled Nathaniel Hannan, a 33-year old Indiana native who has degrees from Notre Dame and Oxford.  Hannan is employed by Tutors International and makes up to $1,250 tutoring kids of wealthy families.

Closer to home, at PRI’s backyard in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, and where superior quantitative skills can propel kids to high-paying jobs at Google, Apple, and Oracle, top math teachers who want to supplement their teaching income can make up to $120 an hour tutoring kids of middle class parents willing to make the financial sacrifice to boost their kids’ grades and college exam scores.    The fact is, competition is already working in California.  The most respected teachers are getting the most students and can charge top dollar for their skills.  Unfortunately, this competitive marketplace takes place on Craigslist and not in our public schools and college systems.

“The Korean private market,” Ripley astutely wrote,” has reduced education to the one in-school variable that matters most: the teacher.” And if the goal is to encourage the best and brightest to the profession, says Lance Izumi, senior director of PRI’s Center for Education, merit pay would allow teachers to be rewarded for their efforts.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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