I know a lot of you have been waiting for my endorsement of a candidate for Rhode Island treasurer. I'm happy to announce my support for Tom Sgouros in this fall's election. I've become a fan of Tom's incisive writing on RI policy, including a piece he wrote in 2006 on education policy, "The Shape of the Starting Line," which includes this interesting data:
Though the underlying reasons are not perfectly clear, professional jobs in Rhode Island pay salaries competitive with salaries in our neighboring states, while blue-collar jobs pay far less. Table 10.2 compares state mean salaries for several professional occupations (not teacher, but veterinarian, psychologist, accountant, architect, and so on) with the mean for several blue-collar jobs (cashier, carpenter, hairdresser, butcher, etc.). In one list, Rhode Island ranks 8th in the nation, slightly behind our neighbors, but in the same league. In the other list, the one ranking blue-collar wages, we drop to 23rd. The only other states that skew this direction are California and the states of the South. Other states skew the other way, or not at all. This is a disparity that has nothing to do with government, since these are predominantly private-sector jobs. In other words, school committees who are criticized for their decisions about teacher pay are making essentially the same decisions that thousands of private employers have made about hiring accountants, psychologists and architects (Sgouros, 2005a).
It is suggestive that Massachusetts and Connecticut do not have the disparity between professional and blue-collar jobs that Rhode Island does. Table 10.2 shows that Connecticut ranks third in the country in professional pay by this measure, but it also ranks third in blue-collar pay. For Massachusetts, the ranks are 4 and 5, respectively. In other words, the average wage in Rhode Island is a number that means something very different than the average in both of these two states.
This suggests why our school performance looks more like a southern state as well.