Skip to comments.Does the Average Teacher Spend ‘Nearly $500 a Year’ on School Supplies?
Posted on 06/01/2018 9:59:37 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
An honest teacher-pay debate requires careful attention to the facts.
This springs teacher walkouts have spurred renewed attention to the question of teacher pay. The topic is a serious one, warranting the extensive reportage its received. At times, however, the medias progressive sympathies, the allure of hard-luck tales, and concerted PR by teachers unions have yielded some questionable coverage. A recent case has been the spate of stories suggesting that teachers routinely reach into their own pockets to spend extraordinary sums on classroom materials.
There is no other job I know of where the workers subsidize what should be a cost borne by an employer as a necessary ingredient of the job, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten has thundered. Numerous recent stories have echoed her sentiment, repeatedly stating that the average teacher spends nearly $500 a year, unreimbursed, on school supplies. The average teacher spends $479 a year on classroom supplies, national data show, read a typical headline in Education Week. The Washington Post reported the same finding, in a story headlined Teachers shelling out nearly $500 a year on school supplies, report finds. A Time story explained, Nearly all public school teachers report digging into their pockets to pay for school supplies, spending nearly $480 a year.
Such claims make for attention-grabbing headlines. But, as with some of the other assertions made in the teacher-pay debate, they can be misleading. Its less that the coverage is wrong than that its credulous and sometimes deceptive. So, lets take a moment to clear things up.
The data in question are drawn from the 201516 National Teacher and Principal Survey, a nationally representative study of teachers and principals in public schools, conducted by the U.S. Department of Educations National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Using the survey results, NCES calculated average teacher spending for the 94 percent of teachers who said that they spent money out of pocket excluding the 6 percent of teachers who did not report such spending, though the coverage frequently skips past that qualifier. (Including those other teachers lowers the average by about $30 a head.)
In reporting the average figure, news outlets have made the odd choice to focus on mean spending rather than the more typical median figure. Theres a reason most such data are reported in terms of medians (e.g., median household income). The median, after all, is the figure midway between the top and bottom of a distribution, meaning it represents the middle of the pack. A mean, on the other hand, can be dramatically moved by a few outliers. Including Warren Buffet or Bill Gates in a sample of average household income would make the typical household look much wealthier than it really is; similarly, a small number of teachers claiming big outlays can move the mean a lot. Indeed, NCES says that just one in five teachers reported spending more than $500, and the median teacher reported spending $297 or about 60 percent of the widely quoted $479 figure.
Even these qualifications elide the real concern, however, which is the trouble with placing too much weight on a self-reported figure like this one. Journalists have generally ignored the problem inherent in asking respondents about how much they claim to do a good or noble thing. Self-reporting in such cases is highly susceptible to what social scientists term social-desirability bias: the tendency of respondents to say things that cast them (consciously or subconsciously) in a more favorable light. Studies show, for instance, that respondents substantially overestimate the number of days per week that they exercise, claim to watch the news three times as much as they actually do, and dramatically over-report their weekly worship-service attendance.
Now, lets be clear. We are not suggesting that teachers are lying about their spending. But we are suggesting that, when teachers filled out the survey, precious few probably took the time to comb through twelve months worth of receipts and credit-card statements. Most of them probably guesstimated, and its safe to assume that their guesstimates tended to be on the high side.
We have no desire to diminish the real sacrifices many educators make, much less to deny that some teachers do indeed dig deep into their own pockets on behalf of their students. Spending even $100 or $200 per year out of pocket, especially for a teacher making $45,000 per year, is a big deal, and we dont mean to suggest otherwise. But serious conversations about teacher pay should be informed by accurate data and careful analysis. Public deliberations about how much teachers should be paid, and whether raises ought to be funded by new taxes or cuts to other programs, are best served by reporting that meets that standard.
Frederick M. Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. R.J Martin is a research assistant at AEI.
I doubt it.
The average teacher nags her students to bring them to class and puts the burden on their parents.
My wife worked for over 40 years with LASD and there is a lot of waste. She did spend money for school supplies but I do not know the amount. I would ask but she is out right now.
Not necessarily “supplies”, but student related expenses, I believe it. Supplies, food, student personal expenses, fees, etc., I know from a friend that it hits a compassionate teacher from a lot of directions. From my 1040, teachers aren’t the only ones to have employer related business expenses
“Does the Average Teacher Spend Nearly $500 a Year on School Supplies?”........
NO, not your “average” teacher however, I personally know of several that DO JUST THAT. I have two grand daughters and know several acquaintances all who are teachers that actually do spend their own money on schools supplies, etc. for kids and in some cases clothing for them needed for special school related events, etc.
I did when I taught. Quite a bit of personal money.
Maybe they should form a Union to fight such outrages.
Being married to a public school teacher for 32 years, my answer is ‘yes.’
What teachers spend, out of their own pocket, is their business.
What other job would use charitable spending by the people doing it, to demand more pay?
We are paid so little, we have to give money to charity?
They always complain about how much teachers make, but, at least here in Georgia, public school teachers not only get well paid (last I heard they start at $50,000) but, get a Great Benefit package, including a pension plan that if you work hard, will leave you set for life at retirement.
Librarians are in that program too. I have no complaints.
I dont know about the average teacher but my wife spends at least that. We buy paper toner and ink. Pencils and pens. Toys for the prize box. Books. Composition notebooks. Art supplies. Did you know that kids love whiteout tape? Little storage boxes. Tools. Furniture. Now I admit we use ebay and thrift shops and back to school sales to keep prices down. And this also doesnt take into account the time on weekends and evenings spent looking for the stuff.
Average? I dont know.
NO, not your average teacher however, I personally know of several that DO JUST THAT. I have two grand daughters and know several acquaintances all who are teachers that actually do spend their own money on schools supplies, etc. for kids and in some cases clothing for them needed for special school related events, etc
I think that is nice of them, but I don’t believe they should get raises because THEY want to be charitable.
I know a few teachers as well, what they call “supplies” is often beyond the basic needs of students, stuff like seasonal (and general) decorations.
Teachers don’t even work a full year. They need to quit their griping.
I will take exception to that. Auto mechanics are usually required to purchase and use their own hand tools. Musicians are required to purchase their own instruments.
I agree that they buy things, but I think it’s more than pencils, pens, erasers, notebooks, and notebook paper.
This was the cry behind the Colorado walkouts. The gripe was that Colorado school spending is around 42nd in the country.
Teachers have to buy supplies for students.
An analyst pointed out that Colorado is 8th in the nation in spending dedicated to school supplies. He suggested teachers ask their districts where that money went.
The real issue is NOT how much an average teacher spends on school supplies, but how much time and money they voluntarily give up to teach.
Scoffers like to think that teachers are overpaid. That they only work 180 days a year and a 7:30 to 2:30 day seems pretty cushy.
That level of ignorance is amazing.
When its all said and done teachers probably give up THOUSANDS of dollars each year. Working after school, weekends, non-school days, etc. They give up THOUSANDS of dollars to do a job that pays so very little in comparison to other professional jobs.
Our educational system is deeply flawed. For many reasons. And teacher’s salaries are but one reason why.
All good teachers should teach at private schools.
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