You may have heard about a study written by UNC-Charlotte professors Paul Fitchett and Tina Heafner, “Maybe not such a blue moon: The substantial phenomenon of teacher moonlighting in North Carolina” (PDF). The three-page report is available on the Public Schools First NC website and has been promoted by their comrades at NC Policy Watch.
Fitchett and Heafner use 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) to argue,
Stymied by constrictive policies and byzantine pay-for-performance schemes, teachers choose to moonlight to escape the workplace hostility and restrictive environments present in many of today’s schools.
They present no research to back their claim. In fact, the UNC-Charlotte research team only cites one study, a 2008 North Carolina Association for Research in Education Conference presentation. They do mention research “out of Auburn University” that addresses teacher moonlighting, but they do not provide a citation of it.
That’s OK. I am familiar with the study. In a 2010 article published in Applied Economics Letters, “Teacher moonlighting: evidence from the US Current Population Survey,” John Winters of Auburn University concluded,
I find that male teachers and teachers with advanced degrees are more likely to moonlight, but teacher pay appears to have little or no effect on the propensity to moonlight.
I guess it is no wonder why Fitchett and Heafner did not provide a citation.
Winters’ finding was consistent with prior research. In a 1995 Education Economics article, “Causes and Consequences of Teacher Moonlighting,” Dale Ballou wrote, “Moonlighting is shown to be highly insensitive to levels of teacher pay, even when controlling for variations in costs of living and local labor market conditions.” In an article published in The Journal of Educational Research a year earlier, L. Carolyn Pearson, Delos Carroll, and Bruce Hall found, “The results suggest that the act of moonlighting is not an expression of dissatisfaction with the teaching profession so much as it is an attempt to raise living standards.”
Silly me – I am doing the literature review that Fitchett and Heafner failed to do!
If Fitchett and Heafner examined the states that have a substantial part of the teacher workforce employed outside of the profession, they would have found few similarities. For example, the states with the highest percentage of teachers that moonlight are not necessarily those with the lowest salaries. According to the 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey, Maine, Kansas, Vermont, Colorado, and Massachusetts all had 20 percent or more of its teachers employed outside of the school system. Teacher salaries in those states vary considerably.
But earnest academic inquiry is not the point of their study, is it? Fitchett and Heafner published a piece to fit the narrative disseminated by Public Schools First NC and its allied groups, and they are using their affiliation with UNC-Charlotte to give it the credibility it does not deserve.