Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Of teachers and hoopsters

Let me say right off that I think teachers should be paid more.

But I'd also like to challenge an oft-spoken notion that we value sports players economically more than teachers.

What has this got to do with this technology-based blog, you ask? Well, we here at JFKBits value education, and we value sports. And we also wrote a program to arrive at our featured statistic. So, there you go. On with the show.

Have you ever thought about teacher's salaries on a very small scale? For example, have you ever thought what it would take to go in with some other parents and start your own school? How economically feasible would it be? Looking strictly at the salary cost of a school, ten families hiring one teacher for a school year might need to split a low $40,000 salary into a $4,000 per family share. A K-12 school with equal numbers of students per grade works out the same way, each grade level is essentially a one-room school where each child's family splits the teacher's salary costs, plus some fraction for administrators.

The basic idea here is the cost of supporting a teacher is proportional to class size. Or, how many customers can a teacher provide services to within a given time period.

This ratio is far different for sports players. Far, far more spectators derive entertainment per individual basketball player than children can be effectively taught by a normal human teacher.

What I wondered then was if we treat the relatively few sports players as members of our larger community, as we automatically do teachers, and divide the aggregate amount they get paid by the size of the community.

To answer that I consulted USA Today's page on NBA salaries for the 2005-06 season. I could have added the table up manually, but instead spent a few minutes using a prerelease version of my company's software to scrape the web page, get the numbers, and add them up. I was glad I did this when I later realized that I wanted to re-do the calculation for a different season.

My computer-enabled calculations tally the total NBA salaries for 2005-2006 to be in excess of $1.6 billion. Whoa, that is certainly a big number.

But so is 300 million, a number which made the news yesterday as the current estimated population of the USA. I figure that means the entire NBA payroll for last year could have come by having each US resident contribute about $5.50.

In other words, you might say that economically, we value basketball players in this country to the tune of $5.50 a person.

You think we value teachers a little more than that? I think so. Remember our earlier estimate for supporting your own private school was in the thousands of dollars per family.

Picking a number from near the top of Google's search results for "total teacher salaries", I get an estimate of $140 billion spent on K-12 salaries in 2002-2003. Using an estimate of 280 million people in the US in 2002, that's an average contribution of $500/person nationwide to teacher salaries.

I reran the basketball analysis for 2002-2003, to compare on even basis with these education numbers, and found that the NBA salaries are actually right about the same. The population was lower in 2002, so we get an average contribution figure of $5.92 per person towards NBA salaries.

By that comparison, teachers were about 84 times more important, economically, to us than basketball players in 2002-03. You could add in football, baseball and other sports to even out the comparison. But I think this is a nice way to think about the comparison.

One way of understanding the difference is the scale of service provider to customer. A sports player reaches a large audience of paying customers while one teacher can handle only 20 or 30 students, which is more or less related to salary. But this ignores the question how much sports do we consume as a nation compared with the amount of education required? I think these figures of total expenditures, or dollars per US citizen, help to combine the answer to that question with the ratio of service provider to customer. While not everyone buys basketball tickets or merchandise or greatly influences basketball advertising budgets, closer to everyone, on average, requires the services of a teacher.

My conclusion is that I find that in 2002-2003, we spent 84 times more money on teacher's salaries than NBA player's salaries, and I think that's a pretty powerful argument that we value education more than basketball. An individual teacher makes less than an individual basketball player, but we already knew that due to the nature of teaching and classroom sizes versus the nature of spectator sport and the size of arenas and TV audiences. Teachers should still be paid more, but I hope this will reassure somebody that schooling is still ahead of hoops.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Buy that garage!

CNN reports today that Google has purchased the garage where the company got started. Google bought the property from one of its employees, Susan Wojcicki, the vice president of product management who originally rented the garage to cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin for five months to help her pay her California-sized mortgage.

The CNN report also includes this gem:

The busloads of people that show up to take pictures of the house and garage have become such an annoyance that Google asked The Associated Press not to publish the property's address, although it can easily be found on the Internet using the company's search engine.

I wonder how long it will take before someone uses Google's Sketchup to put a 3D model of the garage on Google Maps.