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The Teacher Pay Gap Is Real

That anyone would question the value of paying teachers a salary equivalent to other comparably educated professionals is obscene.

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Teachers rally outside the Arizona Capitol in April 2018 during a strike over low salaries.

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In the spring of 2018, thousands of public school teachers , protesting , and that have prompted most teachers to .

Additional strikes followed in 2019 in , and .

While these walkouts, which enjoyed , were about more than teacher pay, were central issues.

And political leaders have taken notice. For example, presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, has made a part of her campaign. Her in federal funding over the next decade to increase pay for public school teachers and reward state and local governments for raising pay even higher, with the goal of eventually boosting teacher pay by an average of $13,500 per person. The proposal, which has been hailed as “” and , would be paid for by as-yet unspecified increases in the estate tax.

It isn’t enough to just say our teachers shape the future of our country, we should pay them like it. It’s past time we value and respect their work, compassion, and dedication to our kids.

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris)

From my standpoint as an expert on educational leadership and policy and as in the Michigan Department of Education, I see teachers as the most important resource in schools. Teachers’ impact on students . Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in the nation’s public schools requires , including competent and supportive leadership and a collegial environment. But pay matters.

Teacher salaries decline over time

Classroom teaching has never been a path to riches and, perhaps more than other professionals, teachers view their work more as a calling than as a way to make a good living. Still, teaching must compete with other occupations for talent. So how does teacher pay compare with the pay of other professions that require a similar education? By this comparison, .


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According to , the teacher “wage penalty” – how much less teachers make than comparable workers – grew from 5.5% in 1979 to a record 18.7% in 2017.

Teacher wage gaps vary widely from state to state, but pay for other college graduates. And it’s no coincidence that the four states with the largest gaps – Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Colorado – saw teacher protests in 2018.

In some states, teacher salaries have been so low that teachers have .

Fair comparisons?

How can teachers’ earnings be compared to those of non-teachers when teachers get summers off? The answer: Compare weekly wages. For example, a public school teacher in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree between 2013 and 2017, while a comparable non-teaching college graduate averaged $1,326.

Some may argue that teachers, on average, work fewer hours per week than other college graduates. However, a leading teachers’ union says that teachers often than their contracted work day.

What about teacher benefits? Instead of pay raises, are school districts giving their teachers generous benefit packages? No. While teacher benefits have accounted for a rising share of their total compensation as salaries have stalled and constitute a bigger share as compared with other professionals, this “benefit advantage” .

Even teacher pension plans, often criticized as overly generous and costly to taxpayers, are now found to be . In Massachusetts, for instance, teacher contributions to pensions plans will actually no matter how long they stay in teaching.

In 39 states, the average teacher salary 2010 and 2016 when you take inflation into account. And these declines were not the result of teacher turnover, with retiring and relatively well-paid baby boomers being replaced by entry-level millennials. A 2018 Brookings study found that teachers were . Teachers were older and more educated, with greater proportions holding master’s and doctoral degrees, the Brookings study found.

The pay gap gives rise to . These shortages do not show up as actual vacancies or empty classrooms. Rather, they appear as underqualified teachers – that is, more positions filled by teachers lacking full credentials and holding only temporary or “emergency” licenses. Shortages in math and science have been a for public schools, as non-teaching options have been much more lucrative for candidates in these fields.

Solving the teacher shortage problem, which to varying degrees, will require more than boosting teacher pay across the board. It will also take improving teachers’ working conditions, giving them more manageable class sizes and adding more support staff, such as psychologists, social workers, nurses and librarians. It will also take safe, well-maintained facilities and skilled principals who create the kind of school environments that make teachers want to stay.

, Professor of educational leadership and policy studies,

This article is republished from under a Creative Commons license. Read the .

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