Thursday, June 26, 2014

The most common non-education job held by education majors is...

The American Community Survey, a mini-Census conducted each year, began asking college graduates for their degree field in 2009. The new information helps answer a number of important questions about both the labor market value of different degrees and the skills possessed by different workers.

One question that's interested me for the past several years is how the skills of public-school teachers compare to the skills of other college graduates. A common view is that teachers should be paid like the average college graduate, but not all four-year degrees are created equal.  Elementary school teachers typically major in education, which is often considered one of the least rigorous courses of study. (Secondary school teachers, being more specialized, usually major in an academic field or in how to teach a particular field.)

One way to better assess teacher skills is to examine what happens to the wage of the typical worker who switches between teaching and non-teaching jobs. It turns out that people generally receive a pay raise when they move into teaching and a small pay cut when they move out, which implies that teacher salaries are at least adequate on average.

Another way to gauge teacher skills is to look at the types of non-education jobs held by education majors. If trained teachers tend to work prestigious jobs outside of teaching, that would suggest their skills are broadly valued and transferable. The first table below shows that 60.6 percent of people with a degree in education (and who have worked within the last five years) have an education-related occupation. The next table lists the top 10 occupations of the 39.4 percent of education majors who have a non-education job. The most common non-education job is administrative assistant, followed by retail salesperson, miscellaneous manager, childcare worker, and first-line supervisor of retail salespersons.


  1. Thanks for that data; I was looking for it when I wrote this post:

    Notice what you did in that second paragraph? It's so weird. People like you do it all the time. You want to know how the skills of "public school teachers" match up, so you look at education majors. Then--PARENTHETICALLY--you mention that not all teachers are education majors, and that you're really only looking at education majors who become teachers, most of whom are in elementary teachers. If you want to focus your efforts on K-6, then how much work is it to say that you're focusing on K-6?

    But then, you'd have to acknowledge that, while 60% of education majors are in teaching, and 37.3 of them are teaching elementary school, you don't have any idea how many non-education majors are teaching elementary school. Or if you do, you haven't mentioned it. And if you do, let me know, because I'm looking for that data, too.

    "If trained teachers tend to work prestigious jobs outside of teaching, that would suggest their skills are broadly valued and transferable. "

    Teaching skills don't have to be broadly transferable to justify teaching salaries. It's quite possible to have a narrow skill set or to be willing to take on a job with considerable constraints. I imagine a master chef who went into real estate might take a pay cut. Or a pediatrician who got an MBA to run his own consulting company.

    And there are skills and constraints in k-6 teaching. For example, you can't go to the bathroom whenever you want. You can't just go to lunch with friends. You have to deal with kids who occasionally pee their pants or vomit all over your shoes. You have to be able to motivate 25-30 kids to attend to your instructions and communicate academic subjects in a structured and age appropriate way. You have to do this while not swearing, yelling, or breaking things.

    These are largely non-cognitive skills, non-trivial, that would make a k-6 teaching job (hey, see how I keep on specifying grade level? something you should do) more difficult and thus perhaps a reason why they get paid more.

    Then there's the credential test, which is a significant cognitive requirement. A google of your name with "credential test" leads only to my blog, pointing out that you seem utterly unaware of them. If you think, as is common for those of your ilk, that the credential tests have a pass rate of 98%, you should learn, or at least remind yourself, that ed schools now require a passing score for admission. The tests themselves have relatively low passing rates, particularly for blacks and Hispanics. For K-6 teachers in most states, you have to have about a 10th grade knowledge of all academic subjects. Retail clerks, admin assts, and childcare workers require a much lower level of academic knowledge.

    So it's largely a waste of time to assess what education majors do if they don't teach, since you don't know if they passed the credential test (something only required in the last decade or so) , don't know if they had the non-cognitive skills that are required to succeed in k-6 teaching, and don't know if you are evaluating all k-6 teachers or just the ones who happened to major in education.

  2. This is the most amazing comment to an article I've ever seen. Well written/explained.