Right-wing propaganda aside, America's teachers are underpaid and need to make more if the United States is to compete internationally, writes Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times. "We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them," he says. In 1970, a starting public school teacher earned just $2,000 less than a starting lawyer at a good law firm—today, that gap is more like $115,000, according to a study by McKinsey (notably, a firm comprised of highly paid people who are not teachers). Citing another study, Kristof says that good teachers make a real economic impact on society—kindergarten teachers in the top 15% of their profession can add $400,000 to the lifetime earnings of a class of 20, while teachers in the top 7% add $640,000.
While criticizing teachers' unions, Kristof points out that their inefficiencies and excessive job protections do not mean that teachers are overpaid. Sure, he says, pay increases need to be tied to performance. "But the bottom line is that we should pay teachers more, not less," he writes, "and that politicians who falsely lambaste teachers as greedy are simply making it more difficult to attract the kind of above-average teachers our above-average children deserve."