Matt Yglesias made the case recently that we should increase teachers’ salaries in order to raise teacher quality. He provides this graph showing teacher salary compared to per capita GDP in different countries:
Unfortunately for Matt, if he wants to increase teacher salaries the last thing he should be doing is telling people how much teachers make. A 2009 survey by Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance surveyed 3,000 people and split them into two groups. In the first group they found that 56% supported increasing teachers’ salaries and 46% supported increased education spending. The second group was first told the average teacher salary in their state and the average spending per pupil and then they asked them the same questions. Support for more teacher pay fell from 56% to 40% and support for more education spending fell from 46% to 38%. Apparently a majority of people favor higher teacher pay, but not when they know how much teachers currently make.
In reality the responses would probably be different if they were shown Matt’s graph rather than just told how much we spend. But the fact that people support higher education spending less when they know more doesn’t bode well for those who want to increase it.