Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Media Bias, Ignorance, or Apathy?

Word for word, here’s a recent story that appeared on the website of our local television station:

Federal numbers show that the majority of Virginia's teachers are paid more than the national average.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says Virginia teachers receive average annual wages from around $58,000 to $60,000, compared with a national average of $56,000 to $57,000.

Among Virginia's 10 metropolitan areas, only the Washington region has wages for all teachers that were significantly more than the national average.

Teachers in Richmond and in parts of southwest Virginia are paid significantly less than the national average.

Somehow, this report is supposed to be informative. If I did my job this terribly I’d lose it. Despite the “evil teacher’s union” too protect me.

My county pays teachers well compared to many others in the state. I’d guess we’re at least in the top quarter. Even so, a teacher with a Master’s Degree would have to make it to their 18th year of service to earn $56,000. (20th year with only a Bachelor’s)  That mean’s that about 75% of districts in Virginia require at least 18 years of service before a teacher hits the low end of the national average.

In our county, a teacher would not reach the minimum range of the Virginia average until 20 years of service. (24 years with only a Bachelor’s).

What’s the headline of this story? “the majority of Virginia’s teachers are paid more than the national average.” It just can’t be true. Simple statistics. Median and Mean aren’t the same thing, and this average refers to the mean.

Let’s simplify. Two sets of numbers. (1,1,2,2,3,3,10,10,10: Average- 4.7) and (2,3,3,4,4,5,5,6,6: Average- 4.2). The majority of numbers in set one is BELOW the average of set two, even though the AVERAGE of set one is higher than the average of set two.

In Virginia, average salaries by location range from $35,700- $76,874 ( . A simple comparison of state to national averages do not justify the statement “the majority of Virginia’s teachers are paid more than the national average.”

Are they simply trying to make the point that they think teachers are already overpaid?

The unfortunate truth of our local media is they only report what they're fed. They don't recognize that everyone feeding them is promoting their own specific agenda. And the public is left with a very skewed understanding of what goes on behind the walls of their own schools and a very unbalanced understanding of the nuance of education reform and policy.


  1. Yeah, we get paid less out here, but you get all the pollution from our power plants.

  2. Not to criticize this individual directly but a reporter’s job is to present a balanced story. Too often in today's world their job is simply to repeat. So repeaters might be a better job title. Sad.

  3. Yes, repeaters. Often you can google news items and find that even though the story is reported in multiple outlets, only one version of the story is available. And, just like this story, as easy as it is to provide a link to the reference online, it's nearly impossible to trace a story back to its original source.